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Garry Platt


Senior Consultant

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Soft Skills: Hard results


'Transferring development into action doesn't have to be a challenge,' says Garry Platt.

Any soft skills development programme must result in workplace changes which contribute to the business. Often because of the nature of these types of events the content and the material used might be engaging and interesting but does not necessarily impact on work activity and organisational results and outcomes.
Upfront a needs analysis should have established what was required and what the outcomes should be. Then it should be entirely possible to identify what the developmental event should be achieving, what changes it should be contributing to in the workplace. Essentially we are looking for the outputs from the inputs.
"During the learning process the learner is given the opportunity to stop and reflect on what they have just acquired in terms of knowledge and skills. This  process should not seek to capture everything but rather the essential learning point."
Inputs     = Programme content in terms of knowledge and skills.
Outputs  = Changes in workplace activity, tasks and results.
Sometimes the argument made against this concept is that outputs are not so clear cut and apparent, especially when the participants or users are from varied backgrounds or different parts of the organisation, results becoming diffused and varied. In these circumstances a more creative approach must be adopted to ensure there is a real return on the financial investment.
A methodology to adopt in these circumstances concerns a process of agreeing and tracking how learning received on the programme is transposed into hard outputs back in the workplace. This is achieved through the interaction of three people: The learner, the facilitator and the line manager, each of these players must play their part.
The process is relatively simply and lends its self to be adapted and altered to fit into the culture and systems of many host organisations and companies. During the learning process be it classroom, e-based or work-based the learner is given the opportunity to stop and reflect on what they have just acquired in terms of knowledge and skills. This reflection process should not seek to capture everything but rather the essential learning points. The next step asks the learner to identify where this learning might be applied or used back in the workplace. At this point the learner has completed the first important steps, it’s hardly rockets science so far.
The next stage involves line management reviewing and agreeing what will happen next. Which aspects of the learning will be used and applied. Agreement should be reached between the learner and manager about what actions will be undertaken in the first month. What will be applied and used, this is the contracting stage. Finally, the results are reviewed; the application and outcome of the learning is discussed and appraised. Below is a very simple four column table for tracking both development and its use.

In this example the contract is still work in progress and originates from a management development programme the learner participated in. During the programme the first two columns should have been completed. In this instance three items were only partially finished, one appertaining to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the other NLP Eye Accessing Cues and the third Belbin’s Team Roles. In these examples the learner cannot see how they might apply or use the learning. Is this a failing in the delivery to contextualise the material? Or is the content without much merit, having little practical use? Or has the learner failed to establish the connection? What ever the answer, the learning has been of no use and surely a waste of time and money. The reasons for this should be explored.

In the given example three of the listed factors have been taken up by the learner’s line manager under the contract section (3rd Column) and further action agreed. The results in two of these cases, the Herzberg and Feedback content have produced tracked positive outcomes. The third item, relating to writing SMART objectives has failed to transpose into a successful outcome. The reasons for this should be explored.

The benefits of this approach are two fold. From the developer’s and deliverer’s perspective this analysis of the content and its use undoubtedly focuses the mind. Extraneous, irrelevant or frivolous topics are quickly exposed using this methodology and a much more trimmed, concentrated programme of development can result. From the learners perspective knowing what you’ve learnt will be reviewed by ones line manager and then its use and application monitored promotes a degree of attention and awareness during the learning process which otherwise might be absent.

In summary, the process of promoting the application of learning to the workplace follows a three stage process:

  1. During the developmental process learners are required to maintain a simple learning log, prioritising the key aspects acquired from the event.
  1. After the developmental event learners agree actions and tasks which will ensure transfer of the learning into the workplace.
  1. A brief review is undertaken from time to time after the contracting to confirm progress towards the set goals and targets.

By adopting this simply process high level evaluation of the use and benefits of learning can be analysed and hard evidence supplied to support further funding and continuance or clear facts that demonstrate that a programme should either be altered or dropped, either way, it’s all good.

Garry Platt is an experienced training consultant employed by the EEF with more than 25 years experience in the business. He has worked with a number of international organisations helping them to enhance their approach to training and development. Within the last 12 months he has worked with; Deutsche Post DHL, The Body Shop, Severn Trent, Virgin Atlantic Airlines and Network Rail.

Academically qualified to Masters Degree level in Education, Training and Development his work combines current research and study in Human Resource Development with a pragmatic and workable approach. Visit the EEF website for further details: Gary writes the Platts Puzzlings blog here on TrainingZone as well as managing the Transactional Analysis discussion group.

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Garry Platt

Senior Consultant

Read more from Garry Platt

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