Soapbox: Old Habits Die Hard

Somebody needs to be in charge when it comes to helping employees remember and use what they learned. Managers need to step up their training reinforcement efforts.

By Tim Hagen, President, Sales Progress

At a time when new technology and new ideas constantly are being put into practice, it is important that everyone within a company is constantly learning and keeping up to date. Because if you aren’t, your competitors certainly are. Many organizations give tips, tools, and techniques that can help employees enhance their performance and businesses increase their revenue, but most of the time, articles are read and seminars are attended, and that is where the learning stops. It’s not a mistake that the saying goes, “Old habits die hard.” The key to successful learning is training reinforcement.

Training reinforcement is the idea that learning should be continued after employees have attended a training program or workshop. Continuous learning does not mean for just a week or even a month. The information is more likely to be remembered if employees are made to recall new techniques for an extended period of time. Attending a training program and pushing your employees to make their training relevant should be a long-term commitment, not a one-and-done deal. Research

conducted by Sales Performance International found that employees forget half of what they learned within five weeks, and 55 percent of participants listed lack of training implementation as a weakness of most managers.

How many times have you seen employees come back from a workshop motivated to put their newly acquired skills into action, just to watch them fall back into their old routine weeks later? Training reinforcement is a series of small lessons or learning activities that support a core concept or skill, and by continuing to teach what was learned at a seminar or training program, employees will not only remember more, but they also will be more likely to apply it to their everyday work.

Why Managers Should Coach

It does not make a whole lot of sense to spend so much money on a seminar or training program when people are going to forget what they learned weeks later. Somebody needs to be in charge when it comes to helping employees remember what they learned, and that is where managers need to step up. Consider these statistics:

  • Employees will yield a 57 percent greater discretionary effort if they are engaged with management and continuously learning. (Leadership Council Study, 2007)
  • When sales managers are used to reinforce sales training, retention is increased by up to 63 percent. (Ventana Research)

Managers have to be involved from the beginning to the end. They need to understand where their employees need help, and then they need to find ways to help them improve in certain areas. Managers must be able to communicate and listen to their employees. They must be able to quantify the results and evaluate whether or not the program worked. To do this, managers can ask salespeople, for example, questions such as:

  • What client(s) have you successfully applied this training to?
  • What you were taught? E-mail me how you integrated that into your day-to-day activity.
  • What are two positive interactions you have had with a prospect or client since the seminar and training reinforcement sessions?

By asking these questions, managers can get a real look at how effective all the training and time put into teaching has been. If it was truly beneficial to the employees, then a manager should be able to see and measure the results. Before training even begins, managers should set benchmarks and attainable goals for their employees; that way, they can justify the money and time spent. When there is proof that there is progress, higher-level management will be more likely to continue giving the tools for success.

Coaching Methods

To create a sustainable learning environment, managers need to step up and involve themselves with reinforcing training. Hold group meetings so everyone can share what they learned that week or what they did to improve their bottom line. Another technique that works is one-on-one coaching. By sitting down with an employee, a manager can see exactly what their issues are, coach them through their problems, and keep track of any problems or setbacks the employee has. Plus, one-on-one meetings allow for instant feedback so the employee does not continue a bad habit over weeks or months. You also can set up peer-to-peer coaching sessions. This lets employees talk freely, and they can learn from one another. Pair two employees with opposite skills and have them help each other improve in certain areas. This encourages communication and builds teamwork.

In the end, it is important that businesses provide employees with the opportunity to keep learning and improving in their field, and it is even more vital that they continue that teaching back in the workplace. Companies and managers should engage in post-training and reinforcement in real-world situations.

Visit to read about the three levels of training reinforcement.

Business coaching and adult education expert Tim Hagen has been in the consulting industry for more than 15 years and currently is president of his company, Sales Progress, which offers the Progress Coaching system and Coaching Generator technology. Specializing in employee coaching and training reinforcement, his services focus on sustainable employee development and growth, leading to increased return on employee training investments. For information, visit, call 262.240.1077, or e-mail

Lorri Freifeld
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.