How often have you gone on a training course and not changed a thing in your working life? Darren A. Smith of Making Business Matter, trainers to the UK grocery industry, advises us to think before we book…
The Association for Talent Development reported in its 2014 State of the Industry Report, that ‘…the number of learning hours used per employee…is 31.5 hours…’. That’s four days of training per year. Losing four days per year is not the end of the world. After all, it only represents a loss of 2% of your working days. And we think very little of working 45 hours, rather than our contracted 40 hours, a voluntary increase of +12.5%. But here’s the rub…
Losing and gaining
The loss aversion model says that we are more concerned by what we might lose than what we might gain. For instance, we are more concerned about losing a ‘fiver’ than gaining a ‘tenner’. On a training course this means that when we arrive our attitude towards the training course is of the day that we are losing at work, rather than the amount we might gain through learning. Over the last 15 years of training I have seen learners trying to cram conference calls into the short training breaks, check their emails during training, have one-to-ones with their colleagues, and try to leave as early as possible. The focus is on what is being lost and not what could be gained. If the reverse were true we’d see attendees maybe staying late to pick the brains of the trainer to extract the most from their knowledge and experience, or challenging the trainer to help them solve a problem. The learner’s intuition has concluded that they should attend, but only if they can limit the collateral damage on their job.
Let’s look at training courses from the line manager’s perspective. Ten years ago a CIPD Learning and Development survey concluded that 23% of line managers do not take learning and development seriously; there is still evidence to say that this has significantly changed. We suspect that a further 50% pay some attention, leaving only a quarter of line managers who are actively supportive. And who can blame them? A line manager’s training experience is like the attendees and they too are concerned about the loss of a working day from a member of their team. Add to this that they have seen very little change after someone has attended a training course. It is no wonder that the downward spiral of little, or no return on time invested from training, is further perpetuated by the line manager.
Getting your manager on board
Gibb stated that line managers can improve the quality of training activities, since line managers are best placed (compared with HR/personnel specialists) to understand both organisational needs and gaps in an individual’s skills or knowledge. It only takes a throwaway comment from the line manager, let’s say at the water cooler, of “see if you can get that report done in the breaks” for the team member to significantly reduce the importance of the training.
All too often the team member attends the training day with the stock reason for being there of “My line manager asked me to attend”. The problem this represents is a lack of engagement because the attendee is there for someone else, not for themselves. In contrast, imagine the attendee getting a new mobile phone; they are motivated to discover what it can do because they are interested. Training courses, where people are ‘sent’ do not have the same motivation for the attendee. So, the attendee spends eight hours at someone else’s behest. Not there for themselves. Not there to solve a problem. Not there to improve a specific performance metric. The objective is to attend. They are an attendee; they are not a learner. The objective is to tick the box for their line manager and then carry on with their work.
Slides stuck in a drawer
At most training days the attendees are given the slide deck at the start. The purpose being to enable them to follow the day as it unfolds. The problems with doing this are threefold:
- The material is presented in the trainer’s style. This means that that attendee does not need to digest and regurgitate the material in their words, their pictures, their style, which means their engagement is much lower. It is all there for them, though not in a way that is easy for them to digest because it is not theirs.
- Having the slides makes the attendee lazy because they feel as though they only need to half concentrate. All the information is there to read after they have checked their phone, or for reading later in the office, which, of course, they’ll never do.
- The slides provide the attendee with a format for note taking. Unfortunately, all too often the attendee, in an impromptu filing cabinet clear out, throws away the slide deck six months later. Albeit with some reluctance and some regret, they do, convincing themselves that they have either taken from it what they needed to, or that they haven’t got the time to go back through it.
Back at the office is where the learning should happen because ‘knowledge without application is just entertainment’, and so much of what is learnt remains just entertaining. This was the foundation of the 70:20:10 learning model. Charles Jennings, along with the Centre for Creative Leadership, lead the way concluding that learning was not just about what happened in the ‘classroom’. The model suggests that for learning to be successful, and that meant achieving behavioural change, there had to be a blend of learning. Formal training (classroom) – 10%, mentoring & coaching – 20% and one-the-job learning – 70%. The model is the on-trend model in the Learning and Development community, yet too many are struggling because they are trying to implement literally as 70:20:10, whereas Charles Jennings was talking more of a principle around blended learning. The emerging model might be more useful because it talks of 33:33:33. A mix between social, formal and informal learning.
Making training work all year round
Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, was famous for the ‘Forgetting Curve’. His ground breaking research in the mid 1800s, concluded that we forget what we learn over time. In fact 80% is lost after 30 days, and a great proportion of that within the first 24 hours. Whilst this insight should not astound anyway today, we still accept that what is learnt on one day training courses will be forgotten. Though we are 150 years on. Ebbinghaus also added the importance of ‘Spaced Repetition’. That if we did not use what we had learnt again and again then soon afterwards it would be lost. For training course attendees, this means that eight hours will be wasted unless what they learn is used quickly and repeatedly. Stephen Covey, the author of book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was an advocate of encouraging people to teach someone else what they had learnt within 24 hours, to help them to retain what they had learned.
Let’s take the principle of the Forgetting Curve and Spaced Repetition one stage further. The ultimate goal is to achieve behavioural change on a skill that will make a significant difference to our performance. I suggest that the option is to either not attend the next training course because it will add no value, or the alternative…
Take these 7 steps to get a significant return on the time invested in a training day:
- Identify, with your line manager, a habit that you want to gain that will make a significant impact on your performance. For example, writing and using a Project List on a time management course.
- Make sure that it is a SMART objective and focus on that goal right through the learning journey because Edwin Locke’s research back in the 1960s told us that if the goal is specific and challenging we are much more motivated to achieve it. One easy way to focus is to write it down and keep it with you in a place that will disrupt your behaviour, e.g. In your paper diary.
- Email the trainer and tell them what you want to achieve.
- Organise your workload, telling colleagues and clients that you will not be available on the training day.
- Learn how habits are formed and use this knowledge to help form your habit.
- After the training day meet with your line manager for 20 minutes to agree how you will start doing the habit and how they can help you.
- Arrange lunch with a colleague from the training course every two weeks to discuss implementing your habit.