A lot of time, effort, and money is spent on training employees for a wide range of needs—training on compliance-related issues (e.g., harassment, safety); training for skill development (e.g., customer service, sales); training to work with new equipment, machinery, or technology; and training related to corporate culture (e.g., communication skills, teambuilding, etc.).
The Importance of Transfer of Training
But what happens after the training event takes place? Hopefully, employees go back to their jobs and apply what they’ve learned. Unfortunately, in many cases, steps aren’t taken to determine whether that happens.
Transfer of training, or training transfer, applies to ensuring that what employees learn through training efforts is used in their jobs to help improve their performance. It’s also represented in Level 3 (Behavior) of The Kirkpatrick Model for evaluating the effectiveness of training.
Here are some ideas for how you could boost transfer of training through both strategic and tactical efforts.
Quantify the Need and Establish a Baseline
You can’t determine whether transfer of training has occurred unless you first have a specific idea of why you are training the employee and the results you hope to achieve. The training effort should be tied to some desired outcome. For instance:
- Harassment training could be tied to a reduction in the number of reports of inappropriate behavior, which could be measured at a department level.
- Safety training could be measured by a reduction in various types of safety concerns at a department level.
- Customer service training could be measured through feedback from customers (internal and external) and measured at both the department and the individual level.
- Various types of soft skills training could be measured through the performance evaluation process and input from internal and external customers.
The idea is that you start with the end in mind and have a clear idea of what success will look like.
Enlist Managers in the Process
In most organizations, supervisors and managers are the closest point of contact with employees. Their input should be sought when both quantifying the need and establishing a baseline, as well as pre- and post-training.
Before training, ask managers to list specific things they expect to see from an employee afterward that relate to the employee’s job. What signs will indicate what he or she has learned is being applied? For instance:
- After being trained on a new technology, the number of questions an employee has about the technology will decline, or, by self-report, the employee will indicate he or she feels comfortable using the new technology.
- After receiving training on presentation skills, the employee’s comfort level in giving presentations will increase based on self-report, and, through observance and evaluation, the manager can identify areas that have improved—e.g., using effective transitions, clearly stating a call to action, effectively responding to questions, etc.
- After being trained on a new process, the employee will follow that process, without deviation, at increasingly higher levels—e.g., 50% within the first month after training, 75% within the second month, and 100% after the third month.
At a basic level, one simple thing you can do to help boost transfer of training is simply ask managers to check in with employees before and after the training—having a discussion beforehand about how they could exhibit what they learned on the job and checking in at certain intervals afterward to discuss whether they have been able to apply what they’ve learned.
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It’s a simple application of the Hawthorne effect, a phenomenon whereby individuals modify their behaviors based on the awareness that their behaviors are being observed.
Enlist Employees in the Process
When participating in training, employees should be asked to consider how they will apply what they learn to the job. This can be done explicitly during the training session itself.
In addition, employees may be asked to report back to the trainer and/or training department or manager following the training to share how they have applied what they’ve learned.
The following are some additional tactical efforts that can be undertaken before, during, and after training to boost the odds that employees will be able to apply what they’ve learned to the job:
- Create a pre- and post-assignment employees will be required to do that is tied to some element of their work. For instance, a marketing employee might be asked to write a news release before attending a training session on writing releases and then rewrite the release after the training. The employee might also be asked to indicate whether he or she improved from the first to the second release.
- Tie the training directly to a project or task the employee has been assigned or will be working on. For instance, an employee has been assigned to a project team that will be undertaking a major initiative; they will be using a specific type of project management software as part of the process.
- During the training session, have employees write prompts to their future selves—e-mail messages or actual hard-copy cards with specific objectives they plan to meet 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and a year after the training program, for instance.
- “Buddy up.” Ask employees to team up with another attendee and share goals together for on-the-job application of the training material and to provide each other with feedback on success. This same concept could apply to a mentor relationship that emerges from the training session.
- Tie training material directly to the performance management process. After the training, require that the employee and manager meet to identify at least one item related to the training that will become part of the employee’s next evaluation.
Effective transfer of training should be the outcome of any training session. If results aren’t seen on the job after the training, clearly, the training investment was wasted. By taking steps to explicitly, and strategically, consider how transfer of training can be achieved before the training event, training and development professionals can help trainees maximize the value of the company’s training efforts.