We are officially throwing caution to the wind and thinking outside of the box we usually confine ourselves in when drafting this column. Ready for “old school interactive”? Here you go:

  1. Take out a piece of paper and a writing instrument of your choice. Put the following words across the top of the page from left to right – before, during, after.
  2. Next, write the following words on the far left-hand side of the page from top to bottom in the following order – manager, trainer, trainee.
  3. Finally, draw horizontal and vertical lines between the terms (four lines that create nine boxes).

If you followed along, you have in front of you the framework that researchers Mary Broad and John Newstrom first offered in the late 1980s – referred to as the transfer matrix. Simply stated, it remains the most useful tool we have for learning professionals who are genuinely dedicated to driving targeted behavior change.

The absence of evidence that connected learning to behavior change inspired the impetus for Broad and Newstrom’s research. Even though nearly everyone in the extended training community was familiar with Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation, there was only one that received any true attention – Level 1: Reaction. In theory, if you did a good job raising a trainee’s level of knowledge and understanding during training, that newfound insight could be applied on the job to produce results. Unfortunately, there were few indications or outcomes anyone could identify to confirm that was the case – Level 3: Behavior.

Broad and Newstrom asked two questions that remain relevant to this day:

  1. What role-time combination (from our matrix) is currently responsible for training transfer (outcomes focused on behavior change)?
  2. What role-time combinations should be responsible for training transfer?

The primary answer to the first question shocked no one but was troubling nonetheless. The trainer during training was the big winner. Furthermore, most of us would suggest we have direct experience with that reality. You may have facilitated a learning experience that went very well. There was active participation, deep reflection and the well-intended articulation by participants of their plans to apply what they learned back on the job. As you close out the experience, you do your best to reinforce all that and encourage those in attendance to contact you with post-program comments, questions, successes or setbacks. From that point, you get on with your life, and the learners get on with theirs.

The answers to the second question were more evenly distributed throughout all nine role-time combinations, but the clear winners were the manager before and after training. A number of thoughtful studies have confirmed this reality. If you aspire to change the behavior of those attending training, you need to elicit the active support of nontraditional stakeholders, particularly the manager of the trainee.

Consider for a moment how much more motivated and prepared learners would be if they met with their direct supervisor before training and:

  • Discovered the potential importance of what they were about to learn.
  • Had the supervisor schedule a post-training discussion to explore what they learned, how they plan to implement it and how the learning will impact productivity.

It simply stands to reason that a well-designed learning event – proactively positioned and immediately reinforced by a legitimate source of on-the-job influence – has the highest probability of yielding desirable behavior change.