Create the Space have many years of practical experience with corporate audiences, and this has allowed us to develop the following simple rules for ensuring your training delivers lasting impact in the workplace.
Each one will have a positive impact in isolation, but, as you might expect, applying a total package that incorporates all the rules will deliver vastly greater results. The list is not exhaustive but they reflect our experiences of the things that would be common to all organisations, and that together optimise the lasting impact in the workplace.
One word of caution – just because they’re simple does not mean that they are easy.
Successful execution involves more than just the L&D team, but if the business is serious about improving soft skills then it would be worrying if they weren’t up for the part they play – and it’s your job to help them see and accept this reality.
Let’s get to the rules then…
We are of course assuming that you have conducted a training/learning needs analysis and are confident that there is a training need.
1. Start with the end in mind
Take the time to reach a clear understanding of what you want the training to deliver and how you will know. It sounds obvious I know, but so often there is an assumption that all parties have the same understanding and expectation, whereas in reality, opinions might vary considerably. You need to know what the business defines as good soft skills (what good looks like), how they know these soft skills are not being demonstrated now, how big is the gap, and how they will know if they are being demonstrated after the training. Agree clear measures/levels of performance that the training is expected to deliver. These are invaluable terms of reference for the whole project – communications, design, evaluation and reporting of success.
2. Develop a communication strategy
Map out your stakeholders (learners, senior managers, line managers, etc.) and develop a communication plan for each category. Make sure you take into account what their role is, what’s important to them, what you need from them. Then plan out what you need to communicate before, during and after the training to keep them engaged and focussed on what part they play. Remember to feedback progress, recognise their efforts and highlight what more they can do to help.
94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development
3. Engage your audience
Talk to your learners to help them understand the context for the training and why it is critical to the business and them. Highlight what’s in it for them personally, such as skills that are relevant for the future, promotional prospects, and personal growth. Make sure they understand that in return for this investment in their skills development, you expect them to take the time to apply their learning and that their managers will support them in this. Let them know how you’ll be tracking progress and how they will receive feedback on how well they’re doing
4. Provide engaging and powerful learning experiences
At the heart of the learning will be the training intervention that challenges mindsets, develops skills and builds confidence. Make sure that it represents the very best design and delivery practices that fully consider modern learning principles (neuroscience, social experiences, etc.). Remember that soft skills by their very nature, will require human interaction and relevant practise with realistic problems to solve or challenges to overcome. The training environment becomes a critical factor – you need to provide a safe environment for people to come together to learn from each other and build confidence. This is the area that you will probably have most direct control of, which makes it all the more concerning that only 1 in 3 talent developers would be willing to recommend their own programmes.1 Don’t let this be you!
5. Provide transfer tasks and workplace challenges
Probably the most critical moment for any training is when learners return to the workplace and are faced with the first potential opportunity to apply their learning. It is quite common for learners to lose their nerve at this point and convince themselves that ‘they’ll give it a go next time’. This is a slippery slope and the more they convince themselves to do this, the less likely they are to apply their learning. You need to manage this moment, influence learners to activate their learning as quickly as possible on return to the workplace. One of the most effective ways is to provide transfer tasks that bridge the gap between the training and normal working routines – a suggested conversation, an activity with their team, a practised response to a common situation, etc. These also provide a useful link to the next point as they present a practical way to make it easy for managers to get involved.
Managers account for at least 70% of employee engagement scores - they can actually negate the positives of learning and development programmes. (2)
6. Involve managers
The biggest challenge for L&D is getting employees to take time for learning. Involving the managers is by far and away your best strategy for achieving this as they are one of the biggest drivers of employee engagement. 2 out of 3 employees say that they would be motivated to learn if their direct manager was involved. We can’t know this and not do everything in our power to make sure managers are involved and supporting learners in the workplace.
Managers are generally time poor, constantly prioritising where to focus their attention for optimum impact. It’s important that you do not accept this as an excuse, but rather see it as a challenge to make it as easy as possible for them to get involved.
They will be aware of the context of the learning and what role they play in it from your communications strategy. Develop straightforward tools that help them have the right conversations with their employees at the right time without the need for time-consuming preparation e.g. suggest the questions they can use to discuss learning and agree how it can be applied, develop observation tools that will help them provide feedback and coaching to embed learning, structure a team briefing for them to focus the whole team on applying their learning and supporting each other.
Perhaps the simplest way to achieve this would be to ask the learners what support they would like from their manager and ask the manager what support they would like to give and what will help them achieve this.
7. Evaluate impact
Evaluation is your superpower. It is what enables you to report back to the business whether the training delivered on expectations and if not, in what ways it fell short. Never underestimate the critical importance of this.
We already know that only 3% of training delivers an organisational impact, so if your training falls within this 3%, you want to be able to shout about it and get the recognition you deserve. Conversely, if your training falls short, without robust evaluation, the assumption will be that the training you provided wasn’t very good.
Proper evaluation allows you to identify the barriers that contributed to lacklustre results; perhaps the execution of the communication plan was weak, maybe the budget wasn’t sufficient to deliver a best in class training intervention, most likely you weren’t able to reach the level of manager involvement and support that was required. This isn’t about blame. It’s about educating the wider business and understanding the opportunities to improve. You already know what to measure, because this was agreed in point number 1 (start with the end in mind). You just need to put the mechanisms in place to capture and analyse the data (‘inspect what you expect’) then report your findings. Don’t forget to make recommendations and capture lessons learned for continuous improvement.
It really is your superpower because it will give you an extraordinary ability to summon the support you need from the business to ensure you are empowered to implement training that delivers a lasting impact in the workplace.
Create The Space is a training consultancy, specialising in learning and performance. We work with large organisations to improve engagement, develop new skills, and change behaviour. We are experts in the transfer and application of learning in the workplace.
To speak to us about any issues related to L&D, call one of our team on 0121 232 4644.
1 LinkedIn Learning Workplace Learning Report 2018