Leaders: Maximize Employee Training

by Jennifer Miller on September 24, 2010

in Leadership, Training Delivery

“How do we begin to change the culture of expectations in our organizations where instead of being held accountable for participating in learning and development activities, people will be held accountable for applying and using and changing their job performance?” —Robert Brinkerhoff


This quote appeared in the August 2010 issue of T+D magazine. Brinkerhoff was a panelist along with several other industry experts on training evaluation at the ASTD 2010 International Conference & Exposition.

I’ve been a huge fan of Bob Brinkerhoff for many years because of his high-quality blend of academic research with practical front-line applications. Nearly two decades ago, I first attended a conference break out session offered by Bob on evaluating the effectiveness of training. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him speak on how to get people to use the stuff we teach them after they leave the training room and re-enter the real world. He’s conducted research that proves what we corporate trainers experience every time we facilitate a learning session:

Employees who have managers that support the training experience report higher usage of the skills taught during the class—or, “training transfer”, as the training industry calls it.

My own anecdotal evidence supports this as well. In one large-scale leadership training project I helped develop, we built in a “check in” system that connected the training participants to their supervisors throughout the six-module learning series. Participants were accountable for creating action plans, reviewing them with their supervisor and then sending their “Action Sheets” (with the supervisor’s signature) to the session facilitator.  At the end of the session, guess which participants reported higher number of attempts at new skills and better overall success in using the new leadership behaviors? You got it— those who consistently returned their Action Sheets and had conversations with their supervisor.

So what does “support” look like? What’s an über-busy leader to do when trying to maximize his or her training investment? Many training professionals (including me) counsel using a simple Before/During/After approach.

Before the Training.  Arrange to talk with your employee a week or two before the session starts.  Ask:

  • What are two objectives you have regarding attending this session?
  • How are we going to ease your workload for the time that you are gone?
  • After the training, how do you plan to communicate with me about what you learned?

During the Training. Think there’s no role for you to play while he’s at training? Think again. What you do while your key contributor is away speaks volumes about your commitment to continuous learning. Resist the urge to calll or text him while he’s in the class. It sends conflicting signals. When others in the organization squawk because your key contributor isn’t available to put out their fires, stand strong. This training is an investment in your employee. Lastly, be sure to find a way to ease his workload while he’s gone. “Just find a way to squeeze it all in” isn’t acceptable coaching advice.

After the Training. Review what the two of you discussed in the pre-training meeting. Make a plan for revisiting progress on the learning objectives in a 30/60/90 day format.  If possible, find a way within two weeks of the training for the training participant to recap or demonstrate what was learned.  Ideas:

  • If it’s a technical skill that was taught, ask for a demonstration
  • If it’s a “people skill” ask the person to list scenarios in which she would use this skill
  • Ask the person to create a 5 minute recap at the next department meeting on “3 Things I Learned that Will Benefit the Team”

There are so many other ways you could facilitate training transfer. I’d love to hear about them:

  • If you’re a leader who sends people to training sessions— what steps do you take to ensure that your team members actually use the information they acquired during their training experience?
  • If you’re an individual contributor—how do you maximize your learning experience?


Photo credit: © Lars Lindblad istockphoto.com

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Colburn September 26, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Hi Jennifer,
I loved Brinkerhoff….I had him for a couple of classes in my Master’s program at WMU. He has a 7 stage needs analysis that includes the application of skills….I love his model that supports both employer and employee ownership of implementation of the new s/k/a’s. I remember going to a conference and coming back to the office–no follow-up, no accountability, no transference of skills. Brinkerhoff’s studies and your recommended 30/60/90 day follow-up plan give due value to the expense of corporate training.

Jennifer October 1, 2010 at 9:38 am


How wonderful to hear from someone who knows Dr. Brinkerhoff personally! Thanks for stopping by The People Equation.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: