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Ensuring Behavior Change Occurs From Your Training Programs

Consistently clients tell me that one of the major disappointments from training programs their employees attend is that the employees come back to the job and do not apply what they have learned in the classroom. There are many reasons this might occur, including, for example:

  • The training program did not provide the opportunity to apply the skills learned through practical, hands-on activities (it was lecture-based training)
  • Lack of organizational or management support
  • The employee did not learn skills that were applicable immediately to his/her job
  • No follow up (e.g., action planning, “check ins” to see how it is going)
  • Inability to focus in the classroom due to frequent interruptions for work assignments

Ensuring that the training program will actually enable change in behavior and that the participant is able to applyTraining what they are learning immediately back on the job is not easy and certainly takes some careful pre-work and significant planning.

This post will discuss some options to ensure the training program will change behavior back on the job.

According to the Training Evaluation Pocketbook, the “8Ps of managing training transfer” include:

  • Performance improvement plan
    • Training should be linked to the objectives in the training participants’ performance improvement plans. For example, if a participant is less effective in negotiating contracts, any training program linked to improvement in that skill should be focused specifically on negotiating contracts with others.
  • Participation
    • The participants’ immediate supervisors should be involved in the development and delivery of training programs to ensure that they support the objective of the programs.  This might include asking the immediate supervisors to kick off a training program to show their support or to be available throughout and after the training program in order to understand what the participants have learned.
  • Pre-course briefings
    • A pre-course briefing between the participant and his/her immediate supervisor might include what the participant will learn in the program and how she/he will apply what is learned back on the job.
  • Preparation of a learning log (Action Plan)
    • Development of a learning log (or action plan) between the participant and his/her immediate supervisor to map out a plan of how the new skills and knowledge learned will be applied back on the job.
  • Program support
    • Ensure that supervisors support the training program by providing uninterrupted time for participants to attend and ensuring that their workload is covered when they are out of the office (which reduces worries about work piling up!).  Ensure that supervisors provide time for participants to engage in any pre- or post-work assignments.
  • Post-course briefings
    • Ensure that the participant and his/her immediate manager schedule time to discuss the course the participant attended, along with the skills and knowledge gained from the course and how the participant will apply those skills and knowledge back on the job.  This is a perfect opportunity to continue development of the action plan!
  • Peer and team support
    • If the participant is part of a larger team, such as a project team or a specific business unit, it provides greater support to the participant if his/her peers and team members can assist with transferring the new skills and knowledge learned from the program back on the job.  For example, if a participant is taking a class on how to better facilitate meetings, he/she should be prompted to work with the meeting attendees to review what the participant has learned and ask their support in ensuring he/she is able to apply those new skills during the meeting.
  • Prizes and sanctions
    • A “well done!” from a participant’s supervisor and that supervisor’s manager goes a long way toward making the participant feel proud of his/her accomplishment.  Ensure that during the next performance review the participant is recognized for his/her efforts in improving and utilizing his/her new skills and knowledge.  Regular feedback – maybe on a weekly basis – helps to keep the participant on track.  If possible, reward the participant for a job well done with a gift certificate or a bonus.

Knowledge Transfer and Skills Improvement

There are a variety of ways to help ensure that the knowledge and skills learned in the training program will “stick” and are applied back on the job, both immediately and over the long term.

First, in order to demonstrate that the knowledge being imparted is being transferred to the participant and he/she is actually learning from the training program, some methods to be used to “check” the learning include:

Quizzes:  For example, at the start of each day, the facilitator may use a quiz to test the knowledge learned from the day before.  The quiz can be part of a game.  In groups, the students answer questions posed by the facilitator and win a prize for the team that gets the most correct answers.  Another option might be a “Jeopardy” type quiz where the facilitator provides the answer and students provide the question.  Possibly each morning, a team of students recaps the prior day’s lessons.  All of these are ways to ensure that the students understood the material presented in the classroom lesson.

Tests: Tests might be used at the end of the course, or at a mid-point for a longer program, to ensure an understanding of the material presented. A pre-test, prior to the start of the program, will enable the facilitator to gauge the increase in knowledge when compared to a post-test at the end of the program.  A pre-test will also enable the facilitator to determine the needs of the individuals and use that information to “tailor” the class to ensure those needs are addressed. A pre-test and post-test option provides the facilitator the ability to check the improvement in skills based on the participant taking the training program.

Case Studies:  The use of case studies enables participants to apply what they learn to a real life scenario.  Working in teams, participants use a case study to apply what they learned to solve a business-related problem.

To test for an improvement in skills learned during the training program, there are various methods that can be deployed that enable the participant to practice what they have learned.

Observation: By observing how the participant applies their new skills, the facilitator can understand how well the participant will be able to apply what they learned back on the job.  For example, if the program focuses on improving presentation skills, the facilitator may have each participant develop a presentation and record them giving that presentation to the class.  By videotaping the presentation, feedback can more effectively be provided to the participant and they have something they can walk away with to use later to improve upon their skills.  In this example, you might use a “pre-test” (where you have the participant do a presentation before the training program begins and videotape him/her giving that presentation) and then a “post-test” after the training program ends (where you have the participant do a presentation after he/she has learned best practice skills for making presentations and videotape him/her giving that presentation) to show the improvement based on the training program.  For example, using role plays (see below), the facilitator can observe how well the participants can apply their new skills.

Role Plays: Role plays are another great way to have participants practice, in a safe environment, the skills they are learning in the class.  Role plays work well with a variety of courses, such as negotiation, conflict management, team leadership, conducting performance reviews, etc.   Depending on the situation, you may allow the participants to develop their own situation to role play (based on an upcoming issue they must address or an area where they feel they have the most difficulty) or provide scripted role play situations for the participants.  Using video to record the role playing, similar to recording presentations, enables the participants to see themselves in action and allows the facilitator and other class participants to provide feedback to help the participant improve his/her skills.

Simulations: A computer-based simulation (and there are many available!) simulates a real-life situation with all of the challenges and difficulties that are common.  For example, a project management simulation will enable participants to work in a team environment to work through the challenges of bringing a project to completion.  The team may encounter challenges that they would find in any real project – such as loss of team members to other projects, reduction in their budget, a shorter timeline to meet a client’s demand, or unskilled team members slowing down progress.

Simulations are possible even with using a computer-based project.  For example, real stakeholders could be brought into the classroom to work through gathering requirements for a project with the participants in the program.  The program participants would use their newly learned skills and knowledge on effective requirements gathering to draw from the stakeholders their specific needs for a particular project.

Once the program has completed, make sure you follow up with the participants and their managers to see how well they are progressing in applying their new skills and knowledge. Some options to do so include:

Action Planning: Action plans provide the participant with a plan to move forward in applying their new skills and knowledge.  Ideally done in conjunction with the participant’s immediate manager, the action plan might include the following components:

  • Goal the individual is working toward
  • Strategies to work toward improving that goal
  • Tasks individual will take to meet that goal
  • Support and resources need to ensure success
  • Timeline for completion
  • Implications for individual’s professional development
  • How will the individual know if he/she is making progress
  • What evaluation process will be used to determine that the goal has been reached

Surveys/Interviews: Surveying or interviewing the participants and their managers a period of time (maybe 3 months) to check in and see how it is going and how well the participant is applying their new skills and where they may need further support/encouragement.  You even choose to interview/survey individuals working with the participant or his/her direct reports, along with the immediate supervisor, (360 degree questionnaires) to get their perception on behavior changes and skill improvement.

Follow-Up Session: A follow-up session may be planned for a period of time after the participant has completed the program and had time to apply the new skills and knowledge to check-in with all participants so they can share their experiences of applying their new skills and knowledge and provide support to each other.  This enables the facilitator to provide additional support to the participants and also enables the participants to support each other.

Support Portal: A portal can be set up with references/materials/downloads from the training program that the participants can log in to for access.   This would also be a great central location for participants to support each other and rely on subject matter expertise/support from the facilitator.  As an example, let’s assume the program focused on effective negotiating skills.  A portal might provide the participants from the program access to the following:

  • Mentoring support from the facilitator to assist in preparing for negotiations
  • Support from other class participants to offer advice, share their stories, etc.
  • Downloadable documents such as a negotiating model, checklists, reference documents, best practices, etc.

This portal should be accessible to the participants for a period of time (maybe 6 – 12 months) after the program ends to provide them continued support in applying their new skills.

What are your ideas to ensure that behavior change occurs from training programs? What has worked? What hasn’t?  Share with others in the Comments field below.  Thanks!


Transferring Learning to Behavior: Using the Four Levels to Improve Performance (Donald L. Kirkpatrick and James D. Kirkpatrick)

Training Evaluation Pocketbook (Paul Donovan and John Townsend)