Got a training problem? Then stop pushing from the top down and change directions. Try training sideways—peer to peer.
I’ve seen training sessions fail for a multitude of reasons, including poorly designed events, failure to address participants’ beliefs, and the push from the top for instant changes in performance. But another notable reason for failure is managers’ belief that they can train people.
But there’s a difference between managing and training. Robert Mager’s book What Every Manager Should Know About Training identifies management as creating a positive work environment and giving individuals feedback on performance in one-on-one settings. Training is about creating a safe environment to learn and then ensuring that staffers gain the confidence to use specific skills after the event is concluded.
In Transfer of Training, Mary Broad and John Newstrom stress that training succeeds only when the performer has used the skills after the event and thus has “transferred” the skills into the workplace. But their research found it isn’t the participant’s responsibility to make the transfer. Rather, the most influential factors were (in order of importance) 1) the manager’s role prior to training; 2) the trainer’s actions during the event; and 3) the manager’s follow-up after the event.
That’s right: If your people don’t get it, it’s the manager’s fault. It means the manager must know how to get the right people on the bus, as Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great. It also means the manager must know the game plan for success, whether the training is for sales, computers, safety, or any other business discipline. Then, after the event, a manager must possess the leadership skills to observe behaviors objectively and coach performers in the workplace.
At my company, we have proven a system that helps managers make training stick after the event. I call it “lead one individual at a time.” Instead of trying to change the behaviors of an entire staff in a training event, emphasize the power of a follow-up game plan. Prove a process with one performer, and others will follow.
In countless interactions with clients, we’ve identified advocates who commit to actually using the skills after the session is complete, and then show over time they took those skills to heart. The success of a few individuals breeds belief in a new system. It also generates a team approach to learning where, instead of a manager pushing for change, a peer demonstrates the benefit of adopting the new skill.
Among many successful post-training shifts, my favorite occurred with a salesman who reluctantly sat in on the training sessions and openly said he was unlikely to change. Then a funny thing happened; his peers used the system and eventually surpassed in sales this high-level performer. Eighteen months later, the veteran performer came around and was mentored by one of his peers. This is a typical outcome!
Your training plan should address individual performance during and after an event. In some cases, particularly with something like computer skills, the training itself should be conducted one individual at a time; anyone who’s ever attended a group computer training session knows it breaks down into silos within minutes. Whether you host a group event or private lessons, the training must include a plan for follow-up to validate the transfer of skills after the session … one individual at a time.
Instead of constantly dripping training from the top down, build advocates who train each other. Train sideways.