By Bruce Tulgan
Last June I found myself talking through an age-old challenge with a longstanding client, the director of training at a well-known insurance company: “What do we need to do to make our management training really stick?”
Indeed, we have been trying to answer this question since we first began offering management training programs in 1995.
Like so many of our clients, this training director was confounded. We had done one management skills seminar after another to rave reviews from managers in every part of the company—sales, claims, actuary, accounting, financial planning, IT. Still, real measurable behavior change among the managers was hard to maintain over time.
Was it the content?
My client insisted the content was not the problem. She said, “Participants tell us consistently that the content is exactly what they need.” In fact, we had worked hard over the years to customize the content through advance surveys, zeroing in on the specific management challenges faced by the managers in each group, fine-tuning the examples so they were real world, and focusing on immediately actionable best practices.
Still, she said, “The uptake of the learning is hit or miss. Not enough of the managers are changing their management practices and then sticking with the changes.”
No Lasting Change
We see this so often. Our research since 1993 shows that, even with the most successful management seminars, only approximately 30 percent of participants make real lasting change in their management practices. There is always some percentage (10 to 20 percent) of participants who make no changes whatsoever. Meanwhile, typically, the majority of participants will adopt some new tools and techniques and make some changes as a result of the training. But the frustrating reality is that, even among managers who improve measurably, often those improvements fade over time as most managers return largely to their pre-training behavior.
Why doesn’t most management training stick? The main reason, according to our research, is simply that most management training is event based, creating time and place limits on attendance, and creating a short-term post-event spike among participants in attention, enthusiasm, and commitment. As the event fades, so do the attention, enthusiasm, and commitment. Event-based training is removed from the day-to-day work environment, and when participants return to the workplace, they tend to be distracted by “real work” from applying the lessons. Over time, they forget much of what they learned, aside from the “ahas” and slogans.
For those reasons, we—like so many others in our field—have been experimenting for years with various methods to create ongoing reminders and reinforcement for training participants. Since 1996, we have sent training participants regular reminders of best practices, first by fax and later by e-mail. Starting in 2007, we added short videos. We’ve sent these regular reminders to tens of thousands of training participants over the years, and the results have been promising. Our research shows substantial increases in skill uptake and behavior change among training participants who receive these regular ongoing reminders in short text and video reminders. Among those who engage in online dialogues about the reminders, the impact is even greater.
Using Social Media to Make Training Sticky
This all sounds like a great argument for social media-based training. So then, why do most business leaders balk at using social media to make management training more “sticky”? When I raised the possibility with my client, the training director at the insurance company, she said, “We just can’t have our managers out on YouTube or Facebook discussing the company and its employees. Plus, you never know what they actually are looking at or what they might say online… Even if they go find management training content online, you never know what source they are going to find. We want them all on the same page…and we would want them discussing the training with each other, not with their friends from high school.”
These were exactly the same concerns we have been hearing from clients since we first began studying social media-based training. Here’s the problem: Social media is demand-side technology. With social media, the assumption is that the user decides everything. The user decides what content to view and discuss, how often, with whom to discuss it, in whatever venues, and with no supervision of the conversation whatsoever by management.
For several years we had been working on solving the demand-side problem with using social media to deliver training. What if we could create a command-driven social media system? Maybe social media-based training would be every bit as sticky with learners, but much more attractive to business leaders if management could make all the decisions about what content will be viewed, how often, with whom it will be discussed, in what venue, and with supervision.
As it happened, the conversation with the training director came at the perfect time. We were just about to go into testing with our brand new command-driven social media-style learning system. So I asked her, “What if we could deliver the training to managers in an ongoing series of short video lessons with online discussions in a secure private social-network that YOU control? YOU decide the training content. YOU decide how often the lessons are sent. YOU decide who is in each discussion group. YOU decide on the security settings. YOU can put the whole thing on autopilot, and it runs thereafter without expiration. Or YOU can monitor the discussions every step of the way to see who is participating and what they are saying. YOU can make adjustments at any time. Would that do the trick?”
Video Lessons with Management Supervision
This is exactly what we designed in our new patent-pending learning system at our new training site: www.talkaboutthework.com. Among the nine initial programs on the system, one was based on the back-to-basics management seminar we had delivered live to great reviews for the managers in this company. The online program organized the same content into 59 short video lessons to be delivered in sequential order by e-mail notifications, so the managers could watch the video lessons anywhere any time and discuss them with each other in their own secure private social network.
We went into testing with a secure private group of sales managers from that insurance company the next week, alongside more than 30 other test groups from dozens of organizations.
As with the other test groups, once the training director decided who would be in the private group from her company, chose the training program, and set a schedule for pushing out the lessons, the rest of the process was automated. The managers in her group received an introductory e-mail and, thereafter, received ongoing e-mails notifying them of each lesson, every Tuesday and Thursday in this case, the schedule she had determined.
The results so far have been exciting:
- Group members have a high incidence of viewing each short video, while the online discussions have been dynamic and largely focused on applying the lessons in the day-to-day workplace of the group.
- Providing the lessons in the regular course of business has encouraged participants to think about and apply the lessons in their regular course of business. Many of the online discussions include participants sharing the results of applying the lessons and getting feedback from each other.
- As participants watch the videos and discuss them in their private groups, participants have developed a shared language and understanding.
But is the management training sticky?
“So far, so good,” according to the training manager. “The participants appreciate receiving the bite-sized chunks of information and best practices and being able to discuss the lessons privately among themselves. I appreciate the fact that the subscriptions never expire and the lessons keep coming automatically and continuously. The training never ends, so it will stick over time through the regular ongoing reminders.”
So far, so good…
Bruce Tulgan is the author of numerous books including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (2009), “It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss” (2010), and “It’s Okay to Be the Boss” (HarperCollins 2007). He is a consultant, speaker, and management trainer. His free blog is available at www.rainmakerthinking.com. His Web-based subscription training programs are available at www.talkaboutthework.com. Follow him on twitter @brucetulgan