Whether you are a project manager or a line manager (or both), there will come a time when you are asked to release members of your team for training. In a leadership role, it’s in your interest to help those individuals get the most they can from their time on a course because it pays back. They will use their skills to improve how they contribute to your project or department – at least, you hope they will.
That’s where the transfer of learning back to the workplace comes in. As a manager you can make a huge difference to whether it happens or not by supporting your team members before, during and after their training course. Here’s how.
Review training objectives
Probably the most important thing you can do as a manager is to set your team member up for success by reviewing the training objectives before they attend the course. Talk through the course content and ask which bits the trainee is feeling most and least confident about. Explain what you expect them to get from the course and the elements that you feel are most relevant to their job.
Make sure they are attending with a clear understanding both of the course objectives (i.e. what they will learn) and what you expect them to get out of it.
Time is a really important resource. It’s hard to get the most out of training – or even to feel that it’s worthwhile – if you don’t have the time to do your pre-course work. Many business-related courses ask delegates to research practices in their own organisation. For example, a leadership course I did a few years back required us all to arrive on day 1 with details about the organisation’s vision, mission and objectives as well as a copy of our departmental or company strategic plan. Not everyone is going to be able to lay their hands on that kind of document easily, so managers can really help by making themselves available to discuss and help source any information.
It’s the same for project management training: delegates may well be asked to bring with them the details of the in-house risk management approach, project assessment process or any other element that’s relevant to the course. Project managers can help their team members get the most from training by ensuring that they understand how the process currently works.
Measure the learning impact
Talk about how you are going to measure the impact of the learning. This isn’t in terms of financial return on investment for the course (although I expect you could work out a way to measure that for some courses) it’s more around what changes you expect to see from the individual when they come back to work.
In the ESI study into transferring learning into the workplace, over a third of managers report that they use informal or anecdotal feedback to do this, for example, emails from colleagues or conversations about behaviour in the corridor. There are more formal methods that you can use. These include:
- Formal interviews or discussions such as 360 degree feedback
- Documented learning plans.
Motivate for knowledge transfer
Is it worth the employee’s while to spend time working out how to transfer their learning back to the workplace? In many cases managers don’t take the time to explain what the employee is getting out of the training. Technical training may be a requirement of the job, to enable the individual to deliver the software elements of a project, for example. Health and safety training is mandatory. I’m sure you can think of other examples where the actual value to the employee is not discussed apart from the unspoken understanding that it helps them keep the job.
You will get better results and a better return on your training investment if employees feel motivated to use their new-found knowledge at work – something that’s especially important for stretched project budgets. Nearly 60% of managers report that the possibility of more responsibility is a motivating factor for trainees. The impact on their performance review is also a large motivating factor, although to me this seems more to me like a carrot than a solid justification for a change in behaviour – apply this learning and you’ll get a better rating at the end of the year.
Trainees are also motivated by knowing that their new skills will give them what it takes to advance in the company (a key reason why some employees take on project work to start with) or gain a salary increase, although only one in five managers feel that a pay rise is a motivating factor when it comes to transferring knowledge back in the workplace.
Of course, everyone is different and your team members might be motivated by something else. A discussion with them will help identify what’s important to them and then you can see how that can be tied into their performance management. Here are some other motivating factors:
- Contribution to professional certification or a higher degree
- Career development more generally, such as a lateral move
- Efficiency gains which might help their work/life balance
- Overall benefit for the business – some people are motivated by wanting their organisation to succeed!
- Recognition from peers or managers.
How can you make sure that the employee gets the right kind of motivation for transferring their knowledge to the workplace or project after the course?
Support after the course
When the individual comes back to your team after the course, make sure they have the resources they need to apply the learning. This could include changing their level of responsibility so that they have the authority to implement what they have learned.
Hold a feedback meeting when they come back to the business to discuss how the content of the course is applicable to their role and relevant to the work they are doing at the moment. They’ll also need time to apply it: it’s unrealistic to think that from day one back at work they will be star performers in their new skills. Unless they’ve picked up the skills, tools and techniques remarkably quickly they will get better with practice, so give them a chance to do so.
Use your discussions with them to ensure they have the desire to apply the knowledge they’ve learned. If you don’t see that, this is a good opportunity to discuss why they don’t feel they can (or don’t want to) apply the course content.
Underpinning all of this is the need to choose the right course. The team member should meet the pre-requisites – it’s no good sending them on something that’s too basic or vastly beyond their capabilities as they won’t get anything from it (and neither will you).
It should be one that offers post-training tools like a support network or templates that can be used on the job. A great course won’t just stay as a distant memory and a course handbook, it will become habit. That’s your goal as a manager: get your team members to create new habits with their new skills as fast as possible.
What techniques do you use to make sure that your team members get the most from the training they attend? Let us know in the comments below.