I’m constantly amazed at how employees and managers seem to consider training for themselves and their people not as an important opportunity but as a fringe benefit, reward, or social occasion, with little if any plan or expectation on the part of attendees or their managers to maximize the investment. This is a shame.
I find that with a minimal amount of forethought, the effectiveness, retention and practical application of almost any training opportunity can be greatly enhanced. This is true whether it is a presentation, classroom lecture, experiential learning situation, or even an internship. Here are three steps to follow to make sure training has a real impact on your organization.
Step 1: Set learning goals prior to training.
Before any learning experience, set goals for yourself and with your manager of what you hope to learn during the training. Just as we read faster and with better comprehension when we read with questions in mind, learning goals help us focus our attention and retention of concepts discussed in training.
For example, after you read the description of a training session, make a list of specific questions you would like to have answered while you are in the training. Ask how the session applies to your current or future job responsibilities. Then talk about your expectations with your manager and others in your immediate work group. Their comments might prompt you to form additional questions or learning goals for the training. The clearer your expectations for what you want to get out of the training, the greater the chances you will achieve those expectations.
Step 2: Use real-life applications in the training.
Once you are in the training, consistently try to apply what is being discussed back to your job and work group. For example, if the course is about communication skills, consider how to apply this learning with your employees, manager, and colleagues. If there is a chance to role-play, use someone you are having difficulty communicating with in your work group as a case study for your activity. If the course is on leadership, make it an opportunity to actively define your philosophy of leadership with examples to illustrate your beliefs. If the course is about problem solving, select one or more problems from your work environment to address during the seminar.
With other attendees and with the instructor, during a break or at the end of the day, discuss the application of the concepts to your focus area. Also, before the session ends, check your list of questions to be sure all items have been addressed.
The more you can view training as a chance to pause and examine problems and situations in your work setting, the more apt you are to get lasting value from the program. Even if the training doesn’t call for it, make an action plan so that when you’re back on the job you will be able to implement learnings and insights you gained in the program.
Step 3: Follow up on learnings once you are back at work.
As soon as you are back on the job, get out your original learning goals and see how many you achieved. Share what you have learned with others—your manager, your peers, or your employees. Having to explain things you learned will help you integrate those concepts into your own behavior.
Identify at least one change you can make right away to gain momentum for making other changes and to keep from slipping back, unchecked, into the status quo. With others in your work group, share your action plan for doing things differently as a result of the seminar and seek support for the changes you plan to make. Even the most determined person can benefit from the support and encouragement of others when trying to change his or her behavior.
Set a time in the not-so-distant future to review your plan and your progress. Hold yourself accountable by sharing your plan with your manager or others in your department. The extent and frequency of your follow-up is crucial to maximize the practical application of your learnings.
These three rules are not difficult to apply—in fact, you can have fun doing so. The time invested in getting the most out of training will help to increase your learning and its application and retention so that the initial investment in the learning activity will be paid back time and time again.