From Learning to Performing (Part 1)

Ensuring knowledge is retained, from the trainerメs point of view.

By Neil Shorney, Director, Naturally Sales Ltd.

In the early days of my career, I attended a lot training courses: about time management, the energy industry, 3G telecommunications, how networks work…And I gained a lot of information from these courses. I still have most of this learning—it’s in my attic, just in case I ever need it.

Isn’t this a common problem? Employees attend professional training courses to learn vital new skills, yet those skills are “filed away” once they get back to the office, never to be seen again. Many people, particularly the participants concerned, might not see this as a big deal, but when we consider that the training industry in the U.S. is worth approximately $56 billion, that makes for some awfully expensive book-ends.

As trainers, it’s our responsibility to ensure our clients are getting maximum return on their training budget. To operate ethically, we need to turn our training courses into life-long skills adoption. And it’s not just a moral responsibility—if we can’t bring change to our clients, they’ll find someone else who can.

So how do we go about ensuring knowledge is retained? In most training relationships, there are three relevant stakeholders. Let’s look at the part each of these can play in the application of new skills in the workplace.

Stakeholder 1: The Trainer

As a trainer, it is our ultimate responsibility not to, as someone said to me recently, “give a performance” (although this is helpful, too), but to pass on knowledge and develop skills in the students. If you want to merely give a performance, become an actor! But how do we ensure, particularly in a mixed group, that these skills are passed on and subsequently utilized in the workplace? We need to ensure we’re speaking to every student as an individual, rather than to a homogeneous group. The trainer needs to understand each student and relate the learning objectives to that student’s personal and business “hot buttons.”

Stakeholder 2: The Student

Although the student is a key player in the success of a training program, we have to take personal responsibility for giving the student the desire to implement new behaviors developed during the course. We can do this by creating enthusiasm for change. We need to paint a vivid picture, with the student at its heart, of the new situation as it will look after the new skills have been implemented. We then need to galvanize the student to embrace this potential when he or she returns to the workplace. Skilled trainers do this through real-life discussions during the training course aimed at showing how much better learners’ situations could be if they approached challenges in a different way.

Stakeholder 3: The Student’s Employer

Having worked for 12 years in the training industry, I’ve found that one of the biggest barriers to skills being utilized back in the workplace is the support of the student’s employer. When I connect after a course, I always ask whether students met with their managers before the course to set expectations, and whether they met with the managers after the course to discuss the application of learning into their role. When I reconnect with these same people six months down the line, those who had regular meetings with their manager found they got much more value from the training program, and were using more of the skills covered in their day-to-day work. Employers often overlook this point, so it’s up to the trainer, or the training organization, to provide this kind of feedback to customers. After all, if the students use more skills, the employer has received a better ROI.

The important point to remember about these actions is that they are all the trainer’s responsibility. Trainers need to do everything within their power to maximize the learning from the event, and not just focus on getting a good evaluation after three days in the classroom. By considering the trainer’s own “performance” during the course, how this affects the students’ experiences, and liaising with the employer to provide the necessary support, the trainer can ensure that new behaviors are adopted quickly and consistently back in the workplace, and develop long-term relationships with clients.

Neil Shorney is a director of Naturally Sales Ltd, a British business that provides sales training in London ( and a program of Microsoft Excel Webinars to a global audience. Through a combination of many years of training professionals, and ongoing experience leading an international sales team at one of the world’s largest project management training companies, Shorney brings his clients cutting-edge training and consultancy from the front line of global business.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.