Successful Training Starts and Ends with Managers

When managers are closely involved in training before and after, employees are more likely to learn and retain more, yielding a higher ROI.

“Learning experiences are like journeys. The journey starts where the learning is now and ends when the learner is successful… The end of the journey isn’t knowing more, it’s doing now.”

Julie Dirksen, Learning Strategy and Design Consultant

Much attention is given to training but not enough to learning and follow-through. Although they may be intrinsically linked, there’s a major difference between the two. You can train someone to shoot hoops, but that doesn’t mean they’ve learned to be a great basketball player. The real assessment must be in what was learned and will be applied over the short and long term to achieve predetermined business goals. If behavior hasn’t changed, the training yielded no return on investment (ROI).

True story: A trainee attended a session, “Stories and Storyboarding: The Key to Presentation Success,” before making a formal presentation hoping to be awarded a large grant. Instead of preparing a standard PowerPoint presentation, this trainee learned to prepare a storyboard for a compelling oral presentation with a few handouts. He applied what he learned and rose above the five other finalists who delivered hackneyed PowerPoint presentations. As a result, he was awarded the grant, and the organization got a huge ROI for its training dollars.


Relevant training starts with managers, but too many measure success by the number of people who attended. That’s not a measurement, just checked boxes. Beforehand, managers should determine key performance indicators (KPIs)—measurable progress toward intended results. They must be able to measure if employees learned what they were supposed to and if they’re applying the new knowledge to meeting business goals. This should include:

  • Parameters to measure success
  • Formulated questions and/or matrices
  • When and how often to measure
  • Trainees’ investment in the outcome

A critical consideration is method. Consider blended learning pathways to meaningfully engage diverse learners: instructor-led, in-person sessions; videoconferencing; eLearning; mobile learning; gamification; microlearning; or any combination.

When the training is mandatory, managers must communicate its importance and set short- and long-term expectations. Too many managers think these are obvious. They’re giving their employees a gift when they make expectations clear.

Managers need to foster a continuous learning culture—leading by example, attending training sessions themselves, and using daily interactions to reinforce that learning is a priority.


Asking trainees to fill out evaluation forms immediately following the session is one way to assess the trainer and the training (not the learning). While everyone is still aglow over the trainer’s personality shining freshly in their minds, evaluations tend to be high. Conversely, some may judge a boring instructor poorly, even if the session contributed significantly to learning objectives.

These evaluations are based on emotions and should be regarded as snapshots in time—not success. There are two basic types of training: hard skills and soft skills. They go together like peanut butter and jelly and are equally important. For example, someone may have incredible technical skills but may lack time management, strategic planning, or critical thinking skills. The lack of these soft skills can derail a project.

Soft skills such as teamwork, communication, critical thinking, time management, problem solving, cultural awareness, dependability, and the like are critical to an individual’s achievement and a company’s success. Many managers may argue that they don’t want to spend money for soft skills training because the ROI isn’t measurable. Au contraire. The following are some qualitative (quality) measurements:

  • Customer satisfaction surveys
  • Employee morale and retention
  • Sharing learned knowledge with others
  • Self-assessment questionnaires
  • Rubrics
  • On-the-job observation
  • Collaboration and partnerships
  • Periodic evaluations from managers

Note: Feedback from peers and managers often is used, but be wary of secret-police-style reporting that can be threatening and destructive. Also, two or more people making the evaluation may reach different conclusions, as opposed to documenting how many widgets someone processed in an hour.

Hard skills relate to specific technical proficiencies learned through formal schooling, training, certifications, or real-world experience. These may include aptitude in languages, inventory control, business analysis, bookkeeping, coding, computers, and such. These are quantifiable and can be graphed or charted for yields, error rates, productivity, and other variables to measure ROI.


Instead of (or in addition to) an evaluation following the training, ask trainees to write down two to three of the most important things they learned that they’ll apply over a specified time period. Ongoing check-ins with managers are a must to promote accountability. They should consist of continuous affirmation and support, opportunities to demonstrate the new skills being applied, and timely and targeted feedback.

When managers are closely involved in training before and after, employees are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and successful. They’ll feel that management supports their growth and development. Everyone wins!

Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts
Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts has been a training professional for the last 25 years. She’s the author of 25 books, including “New Rules for Today’s Workplace,” “Speaking Your Way to Success,” “Technical Writing for Dummies,” “Storytelling for Dummies,” and several other Dummies books. She’s been quoted in The New York Times and other publications and has appeared on radio and television networks throughout the United States.