Training Transferability: Training for Enduring Change in Behavior to Elevate Work Performance & Improve Business Results…

“Training should not be seen as an end, but as a means to achieving the organizational objective. The changing of behavioral patterns is a long-term undertaking which, to be successful, needs to be continually monitored and reinforced” ~P. Taylor

The state of the economy has presented a challenge to learning organizations as they seek to provide an adequate level of service to their audiences with less money and perhaps fewer staff. Moreover, current and future trends around the urgency of hiring and developing productive management and sales organizations presents a heightened dilemma. In order for learning organizations to help improve performance through behavior change, five elements must be present:

  • Identify the person(s) for behavior change
  • Acknowledgement of the need to change
  • Agreement to accept and work toward change
  • Skill or knowledge-based learning interventions
  • Reinforcement of the learned concepts, and practice

When this process is used, the learning organization will have successfully imparted real and lasting change in the individual. Learners reach a new level of satisfaction with themselves and their jobs when they experience real and lasting performance improvement through behavior change. In the end, individual contribution increases, company performance rises, turnover is reduced and the bottom line is improved; one person at a time.

In the article “Training Has To Change Behavior!” by THF Team writes: Conventional training programs disregard training transferability. Transferability means determining whether the skills, abilities, or knowledge acquired in the training program are useful in getting organizational tasks accomplished. If it is, then there has to be empirical evidence to prove that! This simply means that the transferability has to be measurable.

The only certain way to do so is to assess work behavior linked to a particular training program before and after the training is imparted. However, the most critical issue is the lack of understanding that training is about learning. And, learning is about developing and maintaining an enduring change in work behavior. Unless a training program is able to do so, learning does not happen. If learning is about enduring change in behavior, then a training program should be about behavioral modification. Therefore, when a learnt skill or knowledge produces desired work behavior, only then can the skill or knowledge be said to have transferred…

In the article “Nuts and Bolts: How to Evaluate Learning” by Jane Bozarth writes:  Most instructional designers and training practitioners agree: we spend far more time on design and delivery than we do on ‘evaluation’. We often treat evaluation as an afterthought and focus on measures that offer little real information, or just don’t do evaluation at all.

The amount of talk about evaluation of training vastly outweighs actual efforts to conduct evaluation. This is due to a number of factors, among them; difficulty in establishing useful measures, challenges in collecting data, lack of priority, and so it just doesn’t get done... In 1959, Donald Kirkpatrick published the taxonomy (not a model, not a theory) of criteria for evaluating instruction that is widely regarded as the standard for evaluating training. Most often referred to as ‘Levels’, the Kirkpatrick taxonomy classifies types of evaluation as:

  • Type (Level) 1: Learner satisfaction
  • Type (Level) 2: Learner demonstration of understanding
  • Type (Level) 3: Learner demonstration of skills or behaviors on the job
  • Type (Level) 4: Impact of those new behaviors or skills on the job

Jack Phillips later added a fifth level, Return on Investment (ROI) of training, purporting to offer calculations for demonstrating cost effectiveness of the training intervention.  Those who’ve attempted to employ the taxonomy have no doubt noticed some challenges in using it. To be fair, Kirkpatrick himself has pointed out some of the problems with the taxonomy, and suggested that in seeking to apply it, the training field has perhaps put the cart before the horse. He advises working backwards through his four levels more as a design, rather than an evaluation, strategy…

An approach by Robert Brinkerhoff takes a systems view of evaluation of training, believing it should focus on sustained performance rather than attempting to isolate the training effort: “Achieving performance results from training is a whole-organization challenge. It cannot be accomplished by the training function alone…” Brinkerhoff’s ‘Success Case Method (SCM)’ helps to identify both positive results and the organizational factors that supported or hindered the training effort.

At the risk of oversimplifying his approach, he suggests we can learn best from the outliers, those who have been most and least successful in applying new learning to work… In looking at evaluation strategies, choose those that will get you what you need, e.g., are you trying to prove results, drive improvement… And above all, remember: some evaluation is better than none…

In the articleWhy Sales Training Succeeds, Or Fails by Ron Willingham writes: Organizations around the world spend billions of dollars on sales training and most of which is wasted. If you assume that the purpose of sales training is to equip salespeople to increase their sales, then most fails. Most sales training is delivered in one, two, or three day seminars, where people are only taught sales skills. The assumption is that if we teach people sales skills they’ll; (a) hear it, (b) remember it, and (c) practice it. But, guess what? After 21 days of attending this training, people forget around 95% of everything they heard. No new habits are developed.

No new unconscious beliefs are formed. Nothing causes old, fixed habits to be broken or changed. Little, if any, sales increases result. Not only do most sales training programs not increase sales, they actually can cause lower sales.  If training isn’t designed to help people develop ‘unconscious behaviors’, they won’t reach their true potential in sales production. According to research, now commonly known as the ‘Johari Window’, we must move salespeople through different levels of competence following the model:

  • Level 1: ‘Unconscious Incompetence’; not knowing what we don’t know.
  • Level 2: ‘Conscious Incompetence’; knowing what we don’t know.
  • Level 3: ‘Conscious Competence’; knowing what to do, but thinking.
  • Level 4: ‘Unconscious Competence’; knowing what to do, without thinking.

In the article Why Most Training Doesn’t Transfer to Changed Behavior in the Workplace by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D. writes:  “Most leader and team development programs don’t produce significant changes in behavior. The evidence of this fact has been in front of us for many, many years. Talented trainers’ present excellent programs, participants usually enjoy the programs, and many of them come away enlightened and motivated.

But in most cases, many months later, there are few if any noticeable changes in behavior to justify all the expense and effort.” In the world of HRD, this challenge has been referred to as “transfer of training”. The fact that what is learned in the classroom often doesn’t transfer to improved behavior patterns on the job—where it counts.  Skill learning is not an event, but a gradual physical process that takes place in the brain. And, it takes months of consistent, persistent repetitions of new behavior pattern with continuous reinforcement…

In the article “The Real Key to Demonstrating Value and Driving Strategy by Jim Kirkpatrick writes:  The best demonstration of value occurs when learning translates into lasting behavioral change. For example, several years ago, executives from a midsized Midwestern bank set out to implement ‘Total Quality Management (TQM)’ across organizations. Significant money and effort were invested into many rounds of training. When the coursework was completed, most of the workforce was able to diagram value chains and flowchart processes, measure progress, and develop process improvement plans. But one year later, only a handful of those same employees still used the methods.

On the surface, TQM seemed to be the right approach for the bank. Participants enjoyed the training and received certificates for demonstrating that they had learned the new concepts and techniques. So, what went wrong? Apparently, there was little transfer of learning to behavior because senior and junior-level managers never fully embraced the benefits of TQM.

In a nutshell, they did little or nothing to create accountability or support new behaviors. Lack of managerial support and participant accountability is obviously much more than a training concern. The bank’s strategy, for example, didn’t get executed effectively, and the organization never realized all the possible positive results. But the consequences can get worse: Leaders might question the program’s value and the training department’s competency. That’s a reality no trainer wants to face…

“What if I told you that we have a “Trillion Dollar Training Problem”? That’s right, trillion with a “T.” The problem is transfer of learning–that is, that only 15-30% of learning transfers into actual use on the job to improve performance. Here’s how I see it. Last year organizations spent $134 Billion dollars on training in the U.S (according to ASTD). That means that somewhere around $100 billion of it was wasted!!! And that is only the direct cost of training–not the salaries of the people who sat in the classroom. That alone is a huge number that ought to get us alarmed.

But wait–it gets worse. Research also tells us that an 8:1 return on investment is quite achievable for the right learning given to the right employees. That means that the $100 billion we wasted would have returned about $800 billion in performance improvement–if we had done the right things to make learning transfer happen. Throw in some money for all the wasted wages and salaries of the participants and we have a: “Trillion Dollar Training Problem”. ~by Dr. Ed Holton