Learning That Sticks, Part 1 of 2
Taking steps to create a structured learning journey multiplies both the impact of training and its value to your organization.
Many organizations approach learning and development with mixed emotions. Whether we like it not, “learning” is difficult to evaluate in terms of Return on Investment. It’s often difficult for an organization to put its finger on what works and what doesn’t; or to measure the value that “effective" learning brings to the whole organization. Exacerbating this are a number of common issues that negatively affect the impact of coaching or training.
Three of the problems that we encounter time after time concern the following: the nature of the learning experience itself; the tendency for the learning experience to be abused; and assumptions about how the value of the learning experience is multiplied within an organization. These three problems are unpacked in the next three paragraphs.
Despite all the research, it is still common for training companies to sell workshops as if the workshop itself will solve your problem. Unfortunately, at best, that usually comes down to what can be squeezed into and imparted in one day (or even just half a day); at worst, it comes down to some technique or gimmick. With an emphasis on “short and sweet”, there is little attempt to design or structure a learning “journey” that flows back into the workplace. Personal milestones might be identified; but few that serve both the attendee and his company or absent colleagues back in their shared work environment.
Motivation has a large effect on whether or not learning sticks. It is quite easy to abuse coaching or training by treating it as a perk or reward. Time after time we see coaching or training viewed as just a way to get away from the office. Perhaps it is a chance to visit a different city, stay in a hotel, meet new people, and get entertained in the evening. Often there is no process in place to verify what was learned by the attendee, or to hold them accountable in any way.
Learning that sticks isn’t like a revolving door. One erroneous assumption is that if you pass as many people as possible through a single learning experience, then it must have a positive, lasting effect on your organization. If enough people learn something – anything – then surely something will stick. We discuss this in the article The Sheep-Dipping Effect. In reality, you can’t wait until everyone gets through the door; the benefits quickly dissipate in the absence of a structured learning journey that extends beyond the initial learning experience. Also, the window of opportunity to implement lasting change is very narrow.
Structure the learning journey
While it is true that ROI on coaching initiatives for your staff is notoriously difficult to measure, and while the above problems are all too common, there are ways to ensure that you are receiving value for your time and money as you invest in your staff. However, to maximize the potential impact of learning requires some effort to structure the entire learning journey of your staff.
Before learning is to take place, you will want to consider who is to receive the coaching or training, the quality of that training, and how it is relevant to that person and to your organization. You will also want to consider an accountability structure that sets expectations for the attendees.
After learning takes place, you will want to monitor accountability, and ensure that the learning impacts and benefits your organization in measurable ways. You will want to verify that some learning has taken place, and multiply that learning so that its impact grows throughout your organization.
Be somewhat critical of the individual coaching and training courses that your staff undertake. In our experience, if a learning process is to have lasting benefits to your organization it is crucial for that learning process to include coaching both within a group workshop and a couple of personal follow-up sessions. Any coaching that claims to achieve its goals purely within a limited workshop setting is suspect. You may be offered glowing testimonials, but these are typically collected immediately following a workshop and totally outside of the context in which the learning is to be used within the attendee's organization.
Learning that sticks results in changes in behavior
Determine that coaching and training, once completed, will have a positive impact on your organization. Don’t use it as a reward mechanism. Expect changed behavior as a result of coaching or training, and hold attendees accountable for reasonable changes in behavior that directly relate to the content of the learning experience. To increase the chances that learning will stick, help attendees turn a one-off learning experience into a journey by facilitating milestones and follow-up sessions.
In the Sheep Dipping Effect, we explain how in the final analysis, positive impact is largely measured by changed behavior -- both the behavior of the staff that actually received coaching, and those around them. Changes in behavior can be monitored; and while still difficult, ROI can as a result be measured in some tangible way, both internally and externally — for example, through saved time or resources, improved services, improved relationships with clients, etc.
In part 2 of this series, we discuss specific mechanisms that will increase the impact and value of learning within your organization.
Contact us to learn more about how KnowledgeWorkx can help you develop Inter-Cultural Intelligence in your organization. You can also start your culture learning journey from our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.