A system-approach to training that sticks – Chief Learning Officer

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A system-approach to training that sticks – Chief Learning Officer

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The past year produced many organizational disruptions. The focus for some industries was surviving with less business. For others, it was finding innovative ways to meet a higher demand while operating within new parameters.

Whatever the organization’s status or size, the majority of their senior executives and managers began thinking outside their existing work culture box. Now there is a new disruption and challenge. Referred to as the Great Resignation, the World Economic Forum projects a 41 percent turnover of existing employees. A study conducted by Microsoft raises the number to 42 percent in the United States, and another study reports a projected 38 percent turnover in the U.K. and Ireland.

This sounds dismal, but there is great opportunity here.

This article proposes a strategic, collaborative approach to learning and development founded on four years of business, education and psychology group dynamic research and subsequent validation to address the question: What is required to build an ethical, quality-focused, productive, successful and collaborative group of working people?

A superior approach embraces a collaborative intersection of these three disciplines. It supports the business case for connecting L&D with business initiatives while tracking measurable outcomes in an organization’s financial bottom line.

This intersection presents a collaborative sweet spot — an advantage of a human-centric system designed to further organizational goals and initiatives with fewer employees. Sustainable collaborative learning systems promote psychologically safe training follow-through that streamlines how learners advance through the four stages of the learning curve. The four stages are unconscious Incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence.

The results of these efforts are measurable when they are tracked. They are visible in the financial bottom line and often appear as cost savings and productivity improvements.

As an example, perhaps you or your colleagues have attended day-long trainings and team building events with the hope of improving how employees and leaders communicate. The training or event was fun and engaging, but when you returned and applied what you learned in the workplace, nothing changed. In addition to what you already know about how much information people retain from training or events like this, there are two additional reasons why there wasn’t sustainable learning retention and change. The first reason is workforce inertia, and the second is recognition.


Inertia is the tendency for things to stay the way they are. Or, if something is already moving in a direction, it continues to move that way.

An infant’s mobile moves when you push it or a breeze catches it, but what eventually happens to that movement? Unless you continue to push it or apply energy to wind it up, it stops due to resistance. The same thing happens in organizations with regard to how people learn and what they retain.

Employees already have predictable and known ways of doing things. They have their relationships and connections, and know who irritates them and why. Perhaps they have had past experiences with offering suggestions or making mistakes and were punished or ridiculed. Perhaps colleagues were fired or humiliated. As a result, they don’t want to practice new behavior that leaves them feeling vulnerable or unprepared.

This is especially true when a work culture is internally competitive rather than collaborative with high levels of employee cooperation already in place. In internally competitive organizations it is often rare for employees to feel psychologically safe enough to make mistakes as part of their growth and learning. The fear of repercussions is often too great.

So, a couple of weeks after an excellent team intervention or training, everything returns to the status quo. The exception is when there is continued focus on transferring new skills and knowledge to improved skills, behavior and attitudes, or — and this is a big reason — people want it.

One strategy that transforms inertia into improved skills and attitudes in a sustainable way is developmental coaching and preferably developmental peer coaching. 

Let’s take this concept a step further. When it comes to coaching, you reinforce what employees learned by overseeing the performance of the new skills and attitudes and by giving them something to practice. Depending on the training course, what employees practice or work on should benefit your organizations’ bottom line. A couple of examples are tasks that result in cost savings or productivity improvements for the organization, which are outcomes that can be measured.

Our licensed professionals report how the employees and leaders they work with love challenging practices. When they use what they have learned, it sticks. When they are recognized for being successful at the conscious incompetence level of the learning curve, they understand what to do next time and repeat it. This moves them forward more swiftly in integrating new skills, behaviors and attitudes.

The exponential value of post-training learning circles

One of the best ways to help a group of employees integrate and transfer team process skills, such as problem-solving course work, is to create a problem-solving post-training learning circle — a topic-specific learning affinity group formed around a shared interest or common goal. When filled through employee self-selection as a post-training event, you engage employees who want to practice what they learned because they see the career advantage in it. It also builds better cohesion and work relationships between virtual and on-site employees.

Provide a meeting facilitator, perhaps one who attended the same topic-specific learning circle previously, to lead the group. Ideally, this person is someone you are considering for a project team leadership, cross-functional team appointment, or supervision or management role. This gives your potential leader-in-training practice in facilitating helpful, employee development conversations and helps them demonstrate their team leadership skills, too. This also gives your leader-in-training a team to facilitate and reinforces their own problem solving skills. 

Now, let’s expand this concept a bit wider. When employees from different departments fill learning circles for post-training follow-through and practice, you have laid potential groundwork for cross-training and cross-functional problem solving teams by simple default. You have also introduced positive new employee relationships.

At the post-training leadership level, you spark the potential for enhanced interdepartmental cooperation. The psychological advantage of employees who have friends in other departments is that they tend to be more careful in handing off their work to a department where their friends work. This is measurable. It can show up as less shrink and rework, improved information flow and more timely delivery on goals.

Then, in this problem-solving coursework example, give the learning circle some uncomplicated problems that keep resurfacing in your organization to practice solving at the root cause. It can produce a huge benefit for your organization with opportunities for team recognition. It also helps your senior executives and directors understand the importance of training and L&D follow-through on employee learning retention and organizational improvement. This is because the business case could produce measurable improvements in your organization’s bottom line.

Here’s an example. Early on in my career, an organization hired me to develop five high transference day-long leadership trainings for new supervisors as part of a merger and reorganization. I met with the organization’s chief financial officer and we discussed this project and how the supervisors applied their new skills and attitudes from the training and where it might show up in the organization’s bottom line.

I brought some HR statistics with me about the costs of turnover, and we found where these costs show up in the balance sheet. When I asked what the next biggest cost was aside from employee HR expenses, I was told risk management and insurance rates. We noted that sick days overlapped between HR and risk management.

The leadership training did have a positive impact on HR. There was less overtime, sick days and turnover. When I asked about the nature of the sick days and risk management the CFO was eager to share. Here’s why.

Improved leadership skills resulted in fewer upsetting disrespect episodes for employees. Employees were more focused and less distracted and, therefore, paid better attention to what they were doing. There were less injured fingers, pulled muscles, back issues, OSHA reports and sick days. After two years and the roll out of the pilot program to 25 of their locations, the ROI on my fee was more than 500 percent in cost savings and productivity improvements in risk management alone.

Learning and performance management interventions that improve collaboration between employees and departments benefit from coaching — preferably peer coaching — and practical application that is measured.

This leads to the second reason why learning and high-performance teamwork often fails to transfer to training that sticks, which is lack of recognition.


The best strategy for ensuring recognition is to give your employees the measurement feedback that you are tracking. When they see how transference is helping the organization and how their learning circle involvement is helping their own career development, it builds personal satisfaction and the recognition received is personal validation.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you simply want to see an improvement in collaboration over internal competition. One of the benefits of improved collaboration is an increase in discretionary actions. Discretionary actions are any helpful action taken because a team member wants to help your organization or another employee whether it is part of their job description or not.

An example is jumping in to help someone with their most profitable goal after personal work is done. This helps the entire team achieve a goal ahead of schedule. Being ahead of schedule is the measurement. This saves money and clears the way for new goals. The number of successful goals accomplished during the year is another measure.

The psychological advantage of employees who feel validated and who understand how what they do makes a difference displays as less stress and more happiness, engagement and cooperation.

To review

A sustainable collaborative system is tied to business initiatives that benefit the organization as a whole. The system impact is measurable through cost savings and productivity improvements that are visible in the organization’s bottom line.

Unless employees apply and practice new training in a meaningful work-related way, your performance training might not transfer to improved skills and attitudes. Further, you must track and manage for improvements through training.

When you are transparent in sharing the financial impact of improved skills, behaviors and attitudes along with the employee experience of success in their new skills, they want to repeat it. The end result is human nature and motivation working for you and not against you.

Training sticks when there are opportunities for practice in a psychologically safe way. Post-training follow-through structured for employee self-enrollment and selection helps employees receive coaching from their peers as they practice new skills. It also builds more cohesive work relationships between virtual employees and co-workers who work on site while laying foundations for future cross-functional teamwork and cross-training. Celebrating small successes after training and in a structured learning circle helps employees move through learning curves faster and with more confidence.

A collaborative system for training that sticks will reward you with the ability to do more with less with fewer employees and help organizations improve within the collaborative learning design.

Dianne Crampton is the founder and president of TIGERS Success Series. TIGERS is an acronym for Trust, Interdependence, Genuineness, Empathy, Risk and Success, the six principles Crampton has discovered as necessary for work teams to succeed. To comment, email [email protected].

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November 9, 2021 at 04:12AM

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Dr. Sharon Lamm-Hartman