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Your Impact on Your Direct Reports' Training

Recently I attended a webinar with Bob Pike on his top 10 tips for training. Bob is widely known as "the trainer's trainer" and is considered a master trainer by many of us in the training industry. I've attended sessions with him in person and online and knew I could expect a reinforcement of things I already knew as well as some fresh perspectives. This webinar lived up to those expectations.

The fresh perspective I got this time was on the manager or supervisor's role in training transference (i.e., applying what is learned in training back on the job). Mary Broad and John Newstrom did some research on training transference and identified three critical roles and three critical times that increased the transfer of training to the actual job. The three roles are manager (or supervisor), participant, and trainer. The three times are before the training, during the training, and after the training. Put on a grid, there are nine critical moments of truth, like below.

Training impact

Bob Pike asked us, of these nine moments, which we thought had the most significant impact on transfer of learning. Which do you think has the greatest impact? 

The Biggest Impacts on Training Transfer

The answer is the manager before training. I was a little surprised by that until Bob explained. If your direct supervisor tells you to go to training without giving you much information and without making sure to clear space in your workload to accommodate the training, how motivated might you be for the training? Unless it is training you requested or that other people have been talking up, you might not feel much motivation in these circumstances. At ICMI, we see this again and again where people show up for training with no idea what the training is about or why they are attending. This sometimes leads to resentment that they even have to attend training and the trainer has to work hard to engage these people in the learning, wasting valuable training time. 

On the other hand, if your manager sits down with you, tells you about the training and the two of you set some learning goals for you in attending the training, how motivated might you be to make the most of the training? Probably pretty motivated. You will come into the training looking for specific things to bring back to the job because you have learning goals that your direct supervisor and you have crafted together. So the manager impacts transfer of training most strongly even before the training begins. 

The second most powerful impact on training transfer is the trainer before the training. The trainer should design the course with the manager so that the course solves a problem for the participants. The trainer should also brief the manager on the goals of the course so that when the manager talks to their direct report about the training before the session, the manager has concrete information to inform the learning goals the two set. 

The third biggest impact on transfer of training is the manager AFTER the training. At this point, the manager needs to provide time and encouragement for the participant to apply their new knowledge and skills. This is part of the day-to-day coaching the manager should provide, and to do this effectively, the trainer should give the manager practical suggestions and an overview of the major points of the training in an easily digestible form. 

Here is the complete grid filled in with the impact on training transfer. Number 1 would be the moment that has the most significant impact on transfer, and number 9 would be the moment that has the least effect on transfer. 

Training impact, figure 2

The Rest of the Impacts on Training Transfer

#4 is the trainer during the session. The trainer should be participant-centered, give people enough time for reflection, and create a climate that maximizes learning.

#5 is the participant during the session. The participant is fully engaged, fully present (as opposed to answering emails and text messages on their smartphone), and actively looking for ways to meet their learning goals and to apply the learning to their jobs. 

#6 is the participant after the session, making sure to implement the action plan very assertively after the training. 

#7 is the participant before the session, who prepares other people for their absence, puts an out-of-office message on their email, provides alternative contacts, and minimizes potential disruptions to the training. This is also where the participant, whether with their direct supervisor or on their own, thinks about their personal learning goals for the training.  

#8 is the manager during the training. The direct supervisor is minimizing disruptions for the participant and being genuinely supportive of the person being away from the job for the duration of the training. 

And the least impact on transfer is the trainer after the training. If the trainer has done their job before and during the training, then the manager and the participant have what is needed to transfer the training to on-the-job performance. They may provide reminder prompts and answer questions after the training, but their main work is already done.

Are you adequately preparing your direct reports to get the most out of every training opportunity and supporting them to really transfer the learning to their jobs? If not, you are making your direct report and the trainer work a lot harder to transfer the knowledge and maybe actually undermining their efforts. It's time to think differently about your role in training your direct reports.