How to Make Training Stick? Keys to Effective Follow-Up
We’ve all seen it happen: Businesses invest heavily in training, but the instruction doesn’t move the needle because it isn’t implemented throughout an organization. It’s common knowledge that training requires follow-up. However, that’s only part of the story. The nature of the follow-up makes the difference. So how do we make training pay off?
Business leaders and managers need to integrate lessons from training into everyday work and behavior. They have to support, encourage, and shape desired behavior changes over time, leading to engagement versus mere compliance. To foster across-the-board participation and empowered workforces, executives and supervisors need to cascade learning to help employees manage themselves when the boss isn’t there.
Focus and repetition are important. Instead of trying to apply hundreds of things learned in a training session, it’s most effective to hone in on one or two behaviors or skills and guide employees in repeating them daily in many situations for incremental success. Steady improvement in small behaviors adds up to meaningful strides toward meeting business goals.
Experience points to two key approaches leaders must learn to pull training lessons through an organization, from the C-suite to the shop floor. Training built around these techniques helps drive the desired behavior.
5 Questions for Effective Touch Points
Engaging employees in boosting their work results trumps telling and directing. In coaching for rapid change—an increasing business necessity—managers walk around every day and hold one-on-one conversations lasting three minutes. Daily team meetings also promote sharing of best practices. More short discussions are better than fewer long ones. Showing interest and asking employees to describe what they do well is more reinforcing than conventional forms of recognition and reward.
In one-on-ones, managers ask employees questions such as the following (questions may be tweaked to fit particular needs):
- What recent accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What did you learn today that you didn’t already know?
- How did you modify your approach to make it work better?
- What did you do that worked well today?
- How did you do that? (Ask this question when you see something you like.)
5 Tips for Facilitating Interactive Meetings
Formal group meetings are best kept short. Strive to keep them under 20 minutes. Make them interactive. Use questions and drill down.
Follow these tips to clarify the point of a meeting, ask better questions and ultimately foster more productive talk:
- Clearly define, and gain the group’s buy-in on, the point or outcome of the meeting. Keep in mind this quote, attributed to pragmatic philosopher John Dewey: “A problem well put is half-solved.” A jointly understood problem definition at the outset increases the chances of reaching an effective solution.
- Ask questions to encourage participants to share ideas. The second or third question often works, so ask a series of follow-up questions. Prepare a few questions ahead of time.
- Ask open-ended questions that begin with “what, “how,” or “why” to prompt discussion. Ask closed-ended questions, which can be answered with “yes” or “no” or multiple choices, to confirm understanding.
- Gather ongoing feedback in real time to gauge the value of a question or activity. This will help keep the focus on intended outcomes.
- End the meeting by asking how the group did compared with the objective agreed to at the beginning. Create a quality feedback loop.
A Case in Point
These approaches are proven in business settings. A prime example involves a manufacturing company that my consulting firm counseled.
It was critical for this company to cascade training on its Lean manufacturing methodologies from the 10-member senior leadership team to all 1,000 employees. The company had spent significant time and money on Lean manufacturing training over many years, but, due to inadequate follow-up, the instruction wasn’t advancing results. While complying with training requirements, the company wasn’t achieving productivity, quality, cost, or engagement goals.
To close the gap between training and implementation, the company adopted the right kind of follow-up to secure front-line employees’ commitment to use the new tools daily. With supervisors often not on site, employees learned to manage themselves better. Training lessons were translated to on-the-job practices as managers helped connect the dots.
Three-minute one-on-one conversations and 20-minute daily morning team meetings were utilized fully to encourage, share, and reinforce positive application of the training. Managers used touch-point questions and facilitation tips to increase the value of these discussions and meetings.
Employees mastered and repeatedly applied one or two tools from training to multiple tasks. For example, if one tool could solve a problem once and for all, employees were able to do the job better and achieve a critical result, such as running a machine better or improving safety, quality, or housekeeping.
Asking how an employee achieved a better result benefited performance and lifted engagement. In one team meeting, a 20-year veteran described an idea he put to work every day that had led to the best-ever performance of a machine. The employee said he shared this information because managers demonstrated they were willing to listen. If you treat people like valued, intelligent human beings, they will do better work, own their work, and take pride in their work.
By strengthening post-training follow-up, the company gained maximum return on its training investment and executed its business objectives. Thanks to consistent application of desired behaviors, the workforce has enhanced productivity, quality, cost structure, and employee engagement year over year for the last five years. For example, employees have reduced waste by approximately 36 percent and increased labor productivity by roughly 24 percent per year on average over the five-year period.
The key is that follow-up is helpful, encouraging, positive, and ongoing. In addition, as skills in touch points and facilitation have cascaded through the organization, training has been expanded to include all employees, where everyone shares responsibility for improving business results and workplace quality.
Joe Laipple, Ph.D., is senior vice president, Strategic Services of Aubrey Daniels International. He is a frequent conference presenter and author of Rapid Change: Immediate Action for the Impatient Leader and Precision Selling: A Guide for Coaching Sales Professionals.