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Beat the Learning Dip


Angela Pinnington, programme manager, of Leeds-based business improvement company Boxwood explains how to make sure that skills learnt in the training room have real effect when staff get back to work.

Companies that invest in training should be prepared to anticipate and support the needs of employees who return to their desks armed with newfound skills.

The danger is to assume that trainees will instinctively want to apply their new skills to the workplace.

In the absence of adequate support, however, they may be more tempted to file them away, along with the cumbersome training course manual.

Training related to new systems is almost certain to be implemented eventually.

Although a ‘learning dip’ will inevitably hamper implementation, employees have little choice but to apply their training without resistance, gaining confidence and proficiency over time.

But training that’s not directly linked to operational systems requires a different tack. When applied to softer skills – such as leadership, creativity and project management - the trainee may feel negative or overwhelmed if the onus to act falls entirely on him.

People often register enthusiasm that they have enjoyed a training session and expect it to improve their performance, only to fail to apply it when they return to work.

Set Targets
But managers can proactively circumvent this. Motivation is the key.

By providing the right support, resource managers can substantially increase the chances of effective new skills being embedded quickly into day-to-day activities.

Performance targets are vital to this.

These should be set, discussed and agreed between managers and staff - preferably prior to training - so that trainees approach the course and its content with a clear notion of what is expected and why.

Take, for example, a participant on a project management course.

Ideally, the trainee should be asked to produce a plan, based on the training, for each subsequent piece of project work.

There’s no advantage in delaying this challenge. New skills are quickly forgotten if they are not immediately put to good effect.

Targets should also be put into context.

Inform trainees of what is expected in terms of time, cost and quality and, if necessary, provide guidelines to help them decide which of their new skills are appropriate to which types and size of project.

Equally key is the provision of resources for staff to fulfil the ambitions of the training.

Such back up might include, for example, an understanding of corporate priorities and a clear knowledge of the financial, human and equipment resources available.

Make sure, too, that business models reflect the new ways of working and that, if necessary, jobs are redesigned to match the training goals.

Confusion can otherwise set in, driving old and inappropriate behaviour.

Incentives and Feedback
A clear incentive to use new skills should also be built in.

At the very least, it is imperative that training does not cause negativity.

Ensure that trainees can apply new skills without feeling inconvenienced, hassled or de-motivated by additional work.

Above all, people need regular feedback.

This should relate to pre-agreed targets and promote a structured system that encourages achievement.

People invariably go the extra mile when positively affirmed and this is especially the case when change, fresh techniques and new working practices are involved.

Provide feedback appropriately, therefore, making sure it is related to performance, frequent, based on accurate data and always delivered constructively.

Find time as well to ensure that trainees can readily see the business benefits of their endeavours.

This approach will pay dividends in helping trainees to enjoy the deployment of new skills, not least because it will make it easier for them to do so.

It should also prove useful in reducing the length and depth of the ‘learning dip’ that naturally accompanies any move to change the way people do their jobs.


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