What to Focus On
These six best practices dramatically increase the likelihood that what is learned in the classroom makes a difference in job performance:
- Link to Business Strategy
- Gain Executive Sponsorship
- Create a Communication Plan
- Integrate Expectations, Processes, and Tools
- Prepare Managers
- Drive Coaching and Reinforcement
Why These Best Practices?
Here’s why each practice is important.
1. Link to Business Strategy
Training initiatives that originate from business strategy become a priority for everyone in the organization. These initiatives capture and hold the attention of executives, managers, and the learning audience. A powerful link to business strategy helps learners and managers understand the importance of the initiative. If the link is missing, business as usual takes over and executive attention wanes, managers manage the way they already manage, and learners have little motivation to try new behaviors.
2. Executive Sponsorship
Active sponsorship from the top of the organization and/or the business unit has a direct impact on participation, commitment, and application of learning to the job. When “the boss is driving the bus,” others quickly jump on board and the likelihood of sustained behavior change increases significantly. Without ongoing executive sponsorship, learners and managers perceive training as a distraction from their immediate work objectives.
3. Communication Plan
The most successful learning leaders make sure that everyone affected knows what’s coming, how it supports the strategy, what’s in it for them, and exactly what role they are expected to play—both before and after the core learning takes place. When linkages and expectations are consistently communicated, learner motivation and manager commitment to coaching and reinforcement dramatically increase. Without communication, people show up for programs and passively participate without knowing what’s at stake.
4. Expectations, Processes, and Tools
For learning to translate to real-world application, the concepts, skills, and behaviors must be integrated into day-to-day work processes. Let learners know they will be coached, supported, and managed as they try new behaviors when they go back to the job. Build job aids, checklists, and other tools. Don’t leave it up to each learner to figure out what to do differently back on the job. Form a pilot group or team of high performers to create and beta test plans and processes for ensuring new skills become part of the workflow. Skipping this best practice guarantees learners will revert to old habits and patterns.
5. Manager Preparation
Manager involvement has a greater impact on ensuring the application of learning than any other factor. In order to recognize, reinforce, and/or redirect behaviors, managers must know how to coach on the specific skills their people will learn. Sidestepping manager preparation means that managers won’t be equipped for their role—a huge loss when you consider what research shows about the power of manager coaching.
6. Coaching and Reinforcement
Many programs include reinforcement components and coaching tools. While these tools are a great start, be clear about when and how these tools get used. Coach the coaches. Develop concrete coaching plans and accountabilities and ensure managers and/or champions are following through with coaching, conducting best practice sharing meetings, and leading application sessions. Without this step, new skills won’t get used and new behaviors won’t be sustained–and you won’t see the business impact you need.
Addressing Resistance to the Best Practices
None of these best practices are trade secrets. Most training professionals can generate a similar list from their own experiences. So why do we so often avoid doing what we know we should do? The reasons for not using these practices are as familiar as the practices themselves: “It’s too hard . . . I don’t have the budget . . . I don’t have time.” Maybe a more productive question is to ask, “When do we take a stand for including the best practices?”
To help you decide where to invest your time, use this chart to rank your projects in terms of how each compares to other projects your team or department is working on this year—the higher the score, the higher the stakes. The higher the stakes, the more you can make the case that you can’t afford to risk the consequences that come with neglecting the best practices.
Create an Implementation Team
These six best practices remind us what to do. There are many different ways to accomplish the how.
The key is to choose actions and activities that work within your own organization and are aligned with the importance and visibility of your initiative. You might bring training designers and facilitators together with a sampling of the learners’ managers and other stakeholders. Ask the team to brainstorm possible actions and activities in support of the best practices, and then sort and select the activities that will have the greatest possible impact. Assign a person to execute each action so the strategy becomes a reality.
You wouldn’t roll out a training program without scheduling a classroom, inviting participants, and ordering materials. Make the strategic side of implementation just as automatic by incorporating as many of these best practices as you can. Can you leverage the best practices in this article or perhaps come up with some of your own? Can you carve out some time when planning your important initiatives to stop and ask, “If we want this learning to get used back on the job, what will it take?”
Given that neglecting the best practices can actually sabotage your efforts, can you afford not to make these six best practices a priority?