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How do you make development stick?


Skicking plasterHow can you get the most from your training investment, asks Jan Hills, who discusses the measures that training professionals can take to ensure staff capitalise on their initial development.

We are always seeking a formula for making development worth the investment. One of the most common issues with training staff is that all too often the focus rests on the actual course or development event rather than on the ongoing development of the team.

Photo of Simon Callow"Most people are aware that the event itself is simply a catalyst for change, but often... neglect to capitalise on it when the team go back to their day jobs."

Most people are aware that the event itself is simply a catalyst for change, but often, through lack of time or clear direction, neglect to capitalise on it when the team go back to their day jobs.

When planning a personal development event, it is easy to focus solely on what will happen during the day and neglect to consider what happens next, when people return to work. If there has been too much focus on the event itself, and application in the workplace hasn't been considered, or is simply an afterthought, it is more difficult to get attendees to practically apply what they have been taught as the learning pattern will have been broken.

It is essential, therefore, to design the transfer of leaning into the development event rather than think about it as an add-on or afterthought.

Encourage learning that sticks

There are however, many techniques trainers can use to encourage learning that sticks. Some of these can be incorporated during the event itself. For example, instead of fictitious case studies during the training, try working on real examples from your business, as this will make the transfer of learning to the workplace easier. Rather than focusing on theory, include lots of practical tools and techniques for application in everyday work situations.

Other development techniques can continue after the event, like setting up a buddy or coaching scheme. The buddy approach involves pairing two people with similar development issues during the event so they can support one another's learning on their return to work.

Alternatively, with internal coaching, or co-coaching schemes, peers either coach one another, or someone in the organisation with coaching skills can take on the coaching role - again, wherever possible, these people should be introduced during the event. If there is no one in your organisation with these skills, look at using external coaches.

Another option is using mentors, where individuals in your business are given the responsibility of keeping up to date in a particular area they excel in, and then mentoring others who want to improve their skills in that area.

You can also try giving each person from the event one of the recommended books to read, insert a comment card inside the back cover and encourage them to read the book, note the most relevant or insightful sections and then pass it on to someone they think might find it useful (whether that person attended the development session or not) to help extend the learning into the practical environment.

If you have a company intranet, you can use this to set up a virtual learning community which gives access to the materials, websites, books and any other tools used in the training for individuals to continue to use. You could also add a chat forum for the exchange of ideas to help to ensure that the learning continues to be discussed and applied.

"Build a learning community of those who have attended an event, a network of 'alumni' who can continue to learn together, and extend the knowledge and learning throughout the workplace."

Other ways to ensure continuous development include setting up 'lunch and learn' sessions, where people bring their lunch and listen to an external speaker who is an expert in the subject matter of the event. Or you could use this as an opportunity to re-visit materials from the course.

You might also look at setting up 'action learning sets', which are facilitated groups that come together periodically to share learning and be challenged on how they are applying it in the workplace. As well as going over material covered at past development events, you can also add additional training content to these sessions.

Build a community

The aim of all these ideas is to build a learning community of those who have attended an event, a network of 'alumni' who can continue to learn together, and extend the knowledge and learning throughout the workplace. The advantage is that the learning is not forgotten and can be applied as new issues come up in your business. The development event becomes not an end in itself but a catalyst for long-term change.

People will naturally be attracted to the ways of learning that suit them best and this will differ for different people in your organisation, so it is important that a range of techniques are used to give people access to learning in ways that suit them. If these are built in to the course design from the beginning, there is more chance that they will stick.

Finally, try to create a workplace culture that encourages learning, and where those who learn are recognised and respected. Some companies have a culture where it is frowned upon when staff are taken out for a day for training, or it is seen as 'skiving', but this mustn't be the case if you want development to stick. In workplaces where the learning is ongoing and the results show, then this attitude is less likely to prevail.

Jan Hills is from HR With Guts</atrong


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