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One Company - Two Business Units

Two Distinct Results for the Same Training Program! A Mini Case Study

Just recently, I was having lunch with a friend who works for a large organization based in Boston. She heads up the Learning & Development (L&D) group and was working with two business units to deliver a training program for improving written communication skills.  Both business units interacted with clients – internal and external – regularly.

Communications developed by the business units were varied and could sometimes be quite complex.  The company was growing – globally and expanding their client base – and communications both internally and externally would become even more vital to the success of the organization in the near future.

The head of L&D spoke with the Vice Presidents of each business unit to discuss with them how to make sure the program would be valuable to the participants.  She wanted to work in conjunction with the business unit vice presidents to develop a plan for applying the skills back on the job to ensure that the participants improved in their written communications.  In Business Unit A, the VP agreed to participate and collaborate on development of a plan for training follow up; in Business Unit B, the VP decided that the training would be sufficient and there was no need for follow up or any kind of planning.

My friend always felt those business units where the VP and supervisors were actively involved and supportive of the training had the best results over the long term.  She tried to convince the VP of Business Unit B of this and showed research that supported her claims.  However, given how busy the unit was, he didn’t have time to put any effort into anything over and above letting his employees out of work for 2 days for the class.

And the story begins…

Business Unit A

The VP of Business Unit A was interested in how to ensure that the 2 days away from work would be most valuable for his staff.  In conversations with the head of L&D, they decided that a pre-work component and a follow up program to the 2-day Improving Communication Skills class would help the participants to get the most they could out of the class and increase their retention of the skills by enabling them time to practice and use those skills.

The program structure for Business Unit A participants looked like this:

  • 1 week prior to the class, each participant would submit two written communication pieces – one to an internal customer and one to an external customer.
  • Participant would attend 2 day written communication class which will cover:
    • Best practices for communicating effective in writing with others – whether via email, direct mail, in brochures, press releases, etc.
    • Review of the written pieces they submitted – with feedback from others in the class
    • Practice writing specific communication pieces and reviewing others’ work and providing feedback to other participants in the class
    • Addressing irate customer communications effectively
  • On the last day of the class, participants will complete at Action Plan, with their direct manager, as to how they will apply their new skills moving forward and what support they need to do so.

To download a template of the Action Plan used, see the Templates section of the blog.

Example Action Plan of one of the class participants developed on the last day of the class.

Goal: Improve written communication to external customers around new products and services being offered by the company.

Improvement Strategies:

  • Develop communications that follow best practices learned in the classroom.
  • Work with another participant to provide review of each other’s communications prior to sending them out.
  • Work with supervisor to ensure communications meet best practices.
  • Develop skills by branching out and taking on additional communication projects within department.

Tasks/Actions Steps

Support/Resources Needed

Timeline (Complete by)

For the next week, have reviews done of all communications completed to ensure they meet best practices.

  • Peer review (another participant from department who was in the class)
  • Review of immediate supervisor

1 week from last day of class.

Develop new communication pieces to develop skills – such as press releases and brochures

  • Immediate supervisor
  • Partnering with another person in department who works on these types of pieces regularly

Within a month

Support another participant by reviewing his communication pieces

  • Time allotted in schedule to spend time with other participant for peer review, support of each other’s efforts

1 week from last day of class and ongoing as new communication projects are introduced.

Implications for Professional Development: Given the expanded operations of the company, the business unit has additional communication work both internally and externally that requires much more thought around creation (global nature) – improved skills are required to manage these communications effectively and ensure the company’s brand image is protected.

Success Criteria:  Improved communications both internally and externally that require no rewrite or correction or retraction after release.

Proof of Goal Reached:  100% of communications both internal and external meet the best practice criteria developed for communications.

The action plan would be followed up by the immediate supervisor of the participant on a weekly basis to check progress and provide any necessary support and resources and to provide opportunities available for continued improvement of skills.  The supervisor would update on progress to his/her VP (VP of the business unit) on a monthly basis.

The following additional follow up surveys would be completed:

  • 3 months after the class ended, a survey was to be completed by all participants and their immediate supervisor to gauge success in applying new skills.
  • 3 months after the class ended, a survey was to be sent to the VP of the business unit and the senior leadership team to determine their thoughts on the success of the communication class and the application of the skills learned.
  • 6 months after the class ended, a survey was to be sent to both internal and external clients to determine if they noticed a difference in the communications they received and whether the difference was a positive one.

Business Unit B

The VP of business unit B was fine with a pre-work component to the class as defined by the head of L&D and the business unit A VP, but did not want to have to be concerned about after class follow up via action plans.  He felt that the 2 day class would be sufficient for his staff and neither he, nor the supervisors who reported to him, had time for following up on action plans.  He also didn’t want the participants to be concerned about action plans after the 2 day class ended.  As it was, the participants being away their regular job for 2 days would likely set the unit back in workload to be completed.

The program structure for Business Unit B participants looked like this:

  • 1 week prior to the class, each participant would submit two written communication pieces – one to an internal customer and one to an external customer.
  • Participant would attend 2 day written communication class which will cover:
    • Best practices for communicating effective in writing with others – whether via email, direct mail, in brochures, press releases, etc.
    • Review of the written pieces they submitted – with feedback from others in the class
    • Practice writing specific communication pieces and reviewing others’ work and providing feedback to other participants in the class
    • Addressing irate customer communications effectively
  • 3 months after the class ended, a survey was to be completed by all participants and their immediate supervisor to gauge success in applying new skills.
  • 3 months after the class ended, a survey was to be sent to the VP of the business unit and the senior leadership team to determine their thoughts on the success of the communication class and the application of the skills learned.
  • 6 months after the class ended, a survey was to be sent to both internal and external clients to determine if they noticed a difference in the communications they received and whether the difference was a positive one.

Survey results

My friend’s expectation, and certainly research and studies supported this, was that the individuals who followed up the training with action planning, and were supported by their immediate supervisors to take the time to practice and apply their new skills, would show better results.

In order to separate the results from each of the participant groups (Business Unit A and Business Unit B), surveys were sent out specifically related to work done by the participants in a particular business unit.  In this way, my friend and her team would be able to compare the same class – one with action planning in place and one without.

Senior leaders were provided examples of written pieces from before the class and after the class from participants from either business unit A or business unit B and surveys were coded for the particular business unit they were evaluating.

For internal and external clients, they were asked to evaluate particular communication pieces they had received and were provided the appropriate survey coded to either business unit A or business unit B depending on the pieces they were evaluating.

The results shown below are high level, summarized results of the 3 surveys completed.

Survey Type

Business Unit A
Summarized Results

Business Unit B
Summarized Results

3 months survey completed by all participants and their immediate supervisor

  • Improvement in written pieces – clarity, clear purpose, short and succinct, even with no extension in time to work on them (participants noted their immediate supervisors asked them about the class and specifically to share with them the best practices).
  • Significant improvement in time to get new pieces created and “out the door” (reduced by 3 days from 5 days = 2 days)
  • Supervisors noted that communication pieces looked more professional overall.
  • Slight improvement in written pieces – clarity, clear purpose, short and succinct when individual had extra time to work on them (participants noted they had quite a backlog of work when they returned and were asked to get pieces out the door as quickly as possible. Those participants who had a bit extra time managed to apply the best practices learned.)
  • Slight improvement in time to get new pieces created and “out the door” (reduced by 1 day from 5 days = 4 days)
  • Supervisors were unable to detect much of a difference in communication pieces with the exception of a couple of class participants who seemed to make some changes to their pieces that were improvements.

3 month survey completed by VP of the business unit and the senior leadership team

 

  • When writing new pieces – less time (3 days as opposed to 6 in the past) needed to get up to speed and create pieces that were considered “perfect.”
  • Senior leaders felt that the pieces they saw showed tremendous improvement over past pieces and had received positive comments from Board members and others on the improved communications.

 

  • When writing new pieces – a slight change in reduction of time needed to get up to speed and create pieces that were considered “perfect.” (5 days as opposed to 6 days).
  • Senior leaders felt that the pieces that they saw showed some improvement – a couple of participants definitely had made significant improvement in their writing, others showed minimal improvement and with practice it was felt they would show significant improvement.

6 months survey completed by internal and external clients

  • Internal clients felt that the communication pieces they received about new services and products to be released were very clearly written and provided them information they needed in easy to read and accessible formats.
  • For those pieces that were written for internal clients to provide to others, they were completed 4 – 6 days earlier than in the past (timeline for completion was usually 8 – 10 days).
  • External clients felt that the communications they received from the company were much clearer than in the past – they understood the point of the communication and what was needed from them (such as completion of forms, etc.) – additionally, when information was needed from the client – instructions were clear.

When compared with the past, customer service noted that when communications went out to external clients that required action, they received 72% fewer phone calls to clarify and provide further instructions.

  • Internal clients felt that the communication pieces they received about new services and products to be released showed improvement in some cases (more basic communications) and no improvement in other cases (more complex communications).
  • For those pieces that were written for internal clients to provide to others, they saw no difference in the time to complete (held at 8+ days).
  • External clients felt that the communications they received from the company were a bit clearer than in the past, and instructions for completion of simpler forms were significantly approved than in the past however more complex tasks or forms were still not clear and required them to contact customer service for support, such as they had in the past. There was no change in this situation.

When compared with the past, customer service noted that when communications went out to external clients that required action, they did not receive a significant difference in the amount of phone calls they received to clarify and provide further instructions.

 

The Bottom Line

It was apparent to the VPs of the business units and senior leadership that when action planning (supported by others and followed through) was a component of a training program, the results over the long term showed increased and sustained improvement in the application of a new skill or knowledge learned.

After one year, another survey showed that there was continued and sustained improvement in Business Unit A participants while Business Unit B participants either showed no additional improvement, or, in many cases, went back to their old ways of doing their work.

L&D re-ran the 2 day communication class after a year with the same Business Unit B participants with the full support of the VP of the business unit to use Action Planning, to get them to the same point that the Business Unit A participants were at, thereby increasing their productivity and performance within the organization.

Morale of the story…follow up any training program – regardless of how minor it may seem – with action planning for the best long-term sustained results in performance.  This will significantly increase the value of training programs and show them to be the worthwhile investment within the organization.

Your thoughts?  What success have you seen with following up training with a plan to apply the skills back on the job? Please share in the comments field below. Thanks!

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