Angela beamed as she left her manager’s office. She had gotten the promotion to senior analyst she had been working to earn for quite some time. She would have a team of analysts reporting to her in her first supervisory role.
“I better learn how to lead people,” she thought excitedly. She sat down at her desk and conducted a search for leadership articles and videos on the internet to help her.
You Can’t Beat ‘Em, So Join ‘Em
Does this scenario sound familiar? In today’s fast-paced business world, professionals often obtain their own development by simply conducting an internet search. This informal learning is intimidating to some training professionals; some organizations are asking their training function to manage and measure it.
For the purpose of this article, informal learning is defined as learning that occurs outside the realm of traditional instructor-led classrooms and asynchronous courses. The informalization of learning is a trend that is likely to continue and grow.
“Lifelong learning is no longer just a hopeful ambition; it will soon be a requirement of remaining relevant at work. According to a 2019 IBM report, the average time companies reported for upskilling or reskilling workers jumped from three days to 36 days in just the past five years,” said Brandon Busteed, president of University Partners at Kaplan.
When learners seek out their own sources of training materials, they are actually doing training professionals a favor by diminishing the time required to develop content. This allows trainers to get involved in strategic planning and performance support.
Regardless of the source of the training content, learning is of little value unless it prepares the participant to perform better on the job and makes a measurable contribution to organizational results.
There is strong agreement that formal training alone yields a fairly small portion of the results for any program. On-the-job experiences are the biggest source of learning for employees, according to the “Deconstructing 70-20-10” research report published by Training Industry. The on-the-job environment and culture significantly impact what employees do in their roles, regardless of their knowledge.
Here are practical tips learning professionals can use to add to and demonstrate the value of the informal learning that is likely already occurring in their organizations.
Define the Desired Outcome
The first step in creating and demonstrating training value is to define the desired organizational outcome that the training is supposed to support – the Level 4: Results. For example, as a new supervisor, Angela could spend countless hours engaging in all kinds of leadership development training on a variety of topics. However, she will get the most impact if she first defines the specific outcomes her organization believes are most important for her to accomplish in her role.
As a senior analyst, Angela is responsible for providing accurate, timely reports to support good organizational decision-making, so the company achieves the highest possible level of profitability and mission accomplishment with the information and resources they have.
Identify Performance Standards
From there, a training professional should assist Angela in identifying specific tasks she can perform on the job to ensure that her team’s reports are accurate and delivered on time (Level 3: Behavior). For example:
- Discuss the purpose, timeline and due date for each report with the team.
- Check report progress at predefined points throughout development.
- Review and approve each report prior to submission.
Defining performance standards is a critical step in creating a plan that will produce results, yet it’s often the one most overlooked. Invest time in discussing exactly what training graduates should be doing in their work – in observable, measurable terms – that subject matter experts and supervisors believe will have the biggest impact on desired results.
Make sure the conversation centers on actual behaviors the employee should exhibit rather than competencies that define skills and traits. What the employees must do to be successful must be clearly and specifically defined to both trainees and their observers.
In Angela’s case, success would be easy to determine if each report had a stated purpose, a defined timeline and due dates announced. The other performance standards are similarly observable and measurable.
Locate Targeted Training Content
The performance standards identified for Angela help define the training she may require. Training professionals should facilitate conversations between trainees and their managers to assess their current level of experience and proficiency in performing the new behaviors. Any gaps represent potential areas to target with training.
From there, the training professional assists in curating content, or in Angela’s case, she could find it on her own. The key is that the search is targeted to preparing employees to perform the defined behaviors.
Identify Trackable Metrics
Little to no difference exists between evaluating the effectiveness of the informal learning in Angela’s scenario and any other type of training. As you define the outcomes and performance standards also identify metrics to measure if they are being accomplished, as well as methods to perform the measurement.
If multiple employees have similar responsibilities and performance standards, ask questions about the training content that they located and used and whether or not they would recommend it to others with similar learning requirements. A group-sourced library could be a valuable, time-saving tool.
Create a Strong Performance Support Plan
Training value is realized when people use their learning on the job, and therefore perform better. Invest the time formerly spent developing training in creating and implementing multi-functional plans to support on-the-job performance and accountability. The degree to which a performance support plan is created is the biggest determinant of program success.
Examples of ways performance can be monitored and supported include:
- Job aids and checklists.
- Check-ins to see if training graduates are performing newly learned behaviors.
- Reports or dashboards to show progress.
- Meetings or conference calls to discuss overall progress, results and, if needed, revisions to the plan.
- Self-reporting processes or tools for training graduates.
During training, tell participants about the resources available to them, and let them know how their performance will be tracked. Use the job aids and other tools in exercises, so they become familiar with them and can practice incorporating them into their daily work.
Monitor Performance and Results
Once program implementation is underway and performance is being tracked, there will often be surprises. Expect and welcome changes to the plan. Continual monitoring allows you to support and enhance performance and results. This is far more valuable than simply surveying people after training and documenting what did and did not occur. Instead of just reporting what happened, you are increasing the positive outcomes. You are also reducing the risk of mission failure by identifying and fixing problems before they lead to unacceptable final results.
Do not underestimate the power of simply checking in with training graduates via phone, text, email or in person and asking them how they are applying what they learned in training. If they know they will be asked, they will be looking for ways to tell you that they have been applying their learnings and accomplishing positive outcomes.
Elevate Yourself from Trainer to Performance Consultant
Following this plan, training professionals give themselves a promotion from trainer to performance consultant. By working with the people you train and assisting them in reaching their goals as quickly as possible rather than spending your time developing the training content itself, you become a valuable and sought-after team member.
If you are wondering how to get started, contact a manager or supervisor you have good rapport with, and see if you can pilot this approach to help them with an important initiative or existing need. Learn as you go, and formulate a plan that you can institutionalize for upcoming training needs.
Start with just one or two programs that serve as beta tests for implementing these new ideas. Document which tactics worked and which did not. Do what you can to publicize the successful strategies and increase their usage for the beta test and in other initiatives.
Celebrate all steps in the right direction, and build on them. Soon, positive organizational change will occur through the productive involvement of the modern training and performance consultant.