Learning transfer is a decades-old, global problem. Businesses have grappled to understand how to increase the performance of their workforce in order to improve productivity, efficiency and engagement. As an industry, we have moved from training to learning and development, and we have become very good at delivering content to the right person, at the right time, in a multitude of ways.
But the problem of learning transfer still exists. It is widely recognized that only around 10 to 20 percent of new skills and behaviors are applied back in the workplace. Therefore, most training is not having the required impact or adding the value expected by executives.
Recent learning transfer research from Lever – Transfer of Learning and Lentum Ltd. surveyed 270 respondents primarily from the U.K., U.S. and Australia to understand what’s happening on a global level, right now, with this important and often neglected issue. Based on this research, learning leaders find that their organization’s investment in learning is far superior when leaders practice and demonstrate coaching at every level. Nearly 25 percent of the individuals at organizations where coaching is demonstrated also said that their organization’s efforts to support learners in sustaining their behavior change are highly effective, compared to only 5 percent from individuals at organizations where coaching is not used. Organizations with a high level of coaching capability are also twice as likely to be viewed as a strategic partner to the business for learning.
Although organizations vary in the level of coaching they use, on the whole, it seems this modality is highly underused. However, it is clear coaching will be essential in creating personalized and successful learning transfer support within organizations. With annual performance conversations shifting to ongoing performance conversations, coaching is also likely to support on-the-job learning on a weekly and monthly basis.
Aligning Learning Transfer to Organizational Coaching Maturity
L&D professionals should choose their approach to solving the transfer dilemma in the context of the maturity of their leadership capabilities. With coaching as a core leadership capability, to assess your organization’s readiness for learning transfer, consider this question: What is the level of the manager’s coaching ability? Wherever you are on the scale of organizational coaching maturity, consider what you can do to support learning transfer based on that level.
If you are low in leadership coaching maturity, consider what other internal or external resources you could use to support a coaching environment. Could you upskill an internal group of specialists – possibly from within the HR or L&D community – or develop the role of your human resource business partners? You could also look toward high potentials within the business or use external specialists. Consider introducing managers to a great learning transfer experience so they will see the value in supporting learners with coaching.
If you have medium maturity levels, think about whether your managers need more skill or will. Could you link KPIs, rewards or recognition? What tools or frameworks could help them develop their coaching?
With high levels of coaching maturity, consider what tools or frameworks could support your managers further. Review and evaluate whether their coaching is linked sufficiently to learning and learning transfer.
For those familiar with Frederic Laloux’s organizational model, it’s interesting to note that some teams within self-managed organizations with higher levels of cultural maturity will actually have a coach rather than a manager. Forward-thinking organizations, including Google, are experimenting with this approach.
There is a diverse playing field in terms of what learning transfer options are available to you depending on your organizational culture and maturity and the strategic importance of your learning initiatives. Start small, gather the data, create business outcomes from the learning, and use the change this process delivers to boost the perception of learning in your organization and the results you deliver.