Why managers matter

In a rare training-related article in People Management magazine, Evaluating Performance Gain from Training, my attention was drawn to an interesting study conducted by training outsourcing specialists KnowledgePool, with input from more than 10,000 learners and their managers over a three year period. The data was collected from an online survey issued three months after the completion of training, and focuses on the degree to which the transfer of learning has taken place and the effect this has had on performance. The results are summarised in a downloadable white paper, They Think It’s All Over.

Quoting from the People Management article, the following were the main two findings:

  1. “The majority of learners (69 per cent) used what they learnt and experienced significant performance improvement. A further 6 per cent didn’t use what they learnt, yet they experienced an improvement in their performance anyway. But 25 per cent of learners did not experience significant performance improvement as a consequence of learning. Of these learners, most also said that they did not use what they had learnt.”
  2. “Line manager support to help learners use what they had learnt was a major factor in tackling the lack of performance improvement. The study found that where learners did receive line manager support, 94 per cent went on to apply what they had learnt, and performance improvement invariably followed.”

It is interesting to compare these results with those achieved by Mary Broad and John Newstrom in 1992, which were repeated with similar results in 1998 (see Transfer of Training, Basic Books, 1992). They found that “…merely 10% of the training dollars spent result in actual and lasting behavioural change.” Now, a number of factors may explain the difference between these results and those from KnowledgePool (10% v 75%):

  • UK training is much more effective than it is in the US.
  • Effectiveness has improved dramatically in the past 10 years or so.
  • The US and UK studies were based on very different research methodologies.

I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions.

On the other hand, the second KnowledgePool conclusion accords more closely with the findings of Broad and Newstrom. When assessing what made the biggest impact on transfer of learning, they looked at three different parties – the learner’s manager, the trainer/facilitator and the learner themselves – at three stages in the process – before the intervention, during and after. They found that the greatest impact was made by the learner’s manager in setting expectations before the intervention; next most important was the trainer’s role before the intervention in getting to know the needs of the learners they would be training; third most important was the manager’s role after the intervention.




Learner’s manager




The trainer / facilitator




The learner themselves




Both KnowledgePool and Broad and Newstrom acknowledge the critical role that the manager plays in determining the outcome from a training programme. But while the former has focused on the impact that the manager makes after the intervention, Broad and Newstrom show that what happens before can have even greater impact.

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