If you define yourself as a training or learning leader, you have imposed a limitation that will make it difficult to be successful. Why? Training alone yields behavior change only 15 percent of the time, on average. Eighty-five percent of training graduates fall prey to a myriad of factors that influence them to do something other than what they learned, including the on-the-job environment, the direction of their supervisor, the influence of peers, the availability of resources, time pressures, and the basic human nature to do what is most convenient at a given time.
So, training is the easy part. The more difficult part is influencing what happens after training and creating a favorable environment for people to do what they learned and produce the intended outcomes. The 85 percent majority needs to be addressed for any initiative to yield a reasonable level of results, but seemingly, no one really wants to claim it.
If the training function claims influencing behavior change as part of their territory, game-changing outcomes can occur. Instead of being a learning leader, you could be a learning and performance leader. Or better yet, a strategic business partner. There are ways this can be accomplished, even from a distance.
The four levels comprise a framework that is useful for this approach:
Level 4 Results: The degree to which targeted program outcomes occur and contribute to the organization’s highest-level result.
Level 3 Behavior: The degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job.
Level 2 Learning: The degree to which participants acquire the intended knowledge and skills based on their participation in the training.
Level 1 Reaction: The degree to which participants find the training favorable, engaging and relevant to their jobs.
The End is the Beginning
The first step in changing behavior is taking a step back to determine very specifically what result you are trying to accomplish. Your goal is to discover and understand the underlying problem that generated the training request, and what would indicate that the problem has been solved.
In a leadership development program, for example, you may be trying to reduce turnover, increase employee morale and influence key financial or organizational metrics such as productivity, sales and profitability.
The more specifically you can define the desired outcomes, the better target you have to focus your efforts. You will also want to ensure that the stated outcomes are at the organizational level. For example, “Train our new leaders on effective communication skills,” is not an outcome. You need to know if new leaders use effective communication skills, what kinds of positive outcomes would occur?
Value Must be Created Before it Can Be Demonstrated
When you are clear on the desired outcomes, find out what would need to happen for them to occur. This may sound very basic, but it is often overlooked.
Countless people have participated in leadership development programs with clearly defined outcomes and a robust curriculum, but no specified actions the training graduates are supposed to take. This approach is a recipe to accomplish 15 percent of the intended program results, because only mind-readers and extremely dedicated training graduates will figure out on their own how to accomplish the program goals and hold themselves accountable to doing it.
Increase the odds of program success by engaging in a two-way conversation with experienced supervisors and managers about exactly what training graduates need to do on the job to produce the desired outcomes. A small number of clearly defined critical behaviors should result. This is a process in which you define in literal, observable and measurable terms, exactly what people should do on the job to make the desired outcomes most likely to occur. You convert an abstract concept like leadership into tangible, trackable tasks.
For example, in a leadership development program, you might determine that new leaders should conduct daily team meetings to discuss the status of key projects and address any challenges to accomplishing milestones and goals. Perhaps they should meet regularly with direct reports to discuss their role in key projects and identify where additional support might be required.
Monitor and Report on Program Progress
Once you have defined these critical on-the-job behaviors in observable and measurable terms, you have something to monitor and support. This puts you in a position to influence and maximize performance and results, instead of waiting for a period of time after training and simply measuring what happened.
This is part of how you cross the bridge from being a training provider to a business partner. Instead of simply providing training and leaving the rest to someone else, you become part of the team that drives performance from start to finish.
This is not to say that training is solely responsible for monitoring and encouraging performance of critical behaviors on the job. Rather, roles and responsibilities during this critical time period should be discussed and included in the program plan.
For example, senior managers could require new leaders to report at the end of each week the team meetings and individual sessions with direct reports they held, the duration, and key topics addressed. The IT group could provide online templates and tools to make this easy. Training could assist new managers who, for whatever reason, are struggling to hold the meetings, or to keep them focused.
And Now…You Can Build Your Training Content
Once the desired on-the-job critical behaviors and the key business metrics you hope to influence are defined, the outline of your training curriculum has been created. Build content that will prepare people to perform the defined behaviors on the job. Allow them time to practice and discuss the importance and meaning of what you are asking them to do.
Introduce job aids and allow training participants to practice using them. Explain what type of support to expect when they return to work, and how they will be held accountable for performing the specified tasks.
It is also important to build in time for open discussions about any concerns participants have about what they are being asked to do, and to surface any anticipated roadblocks that need to be addressed for them to be successful. Capture this information and provide it to their supervisors and senior leaders in an aggregated, anonymous fashion, and if possible, participate in a discussion about how these issues will be resolved.
Maybe it Isn’t So Difficult After All
Using the four levels in reverse provides a straightforward process to build training that works and elevate yourself to a position of learning and performance leader.
If these ideas sound daunting, select the most important, mission-critical program on your plate. Try to gain leadership support from an executive who sees the value of the program and will act as a champion. Treat the program as a pilot and try different methods to see what works.
Spending time talking with and creating trusted working relationships with your program sponsors and line managers will show them that you are working towards being a true strategic partner. Communicate both successes and setbacks as you go. Sometimes admitting challenges and explaining how they were overcome is a more compelling story than simply sharing a success. It builds trust, and it will build a team of core believers.
As the team of believers grows, an organizational evaluation strategy will develop. Soon, every important initiative will have critical behaviors and desired results defined and tracked, and outcomes will be maximized. Simple in concept, and maybe in due time, not so difficult in practice.