Creative group of business people
ATD Blog

How to Make Training Stick

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Many trainers kick off their sessions as if their participants just landed in Las Vegas: What happens in training stays in training! And while this statement may provide a sense of psychological safety, it’s also a portent of the struggle to come.

The moment training ends, myriad influences pull participants back into their familiar, comfortable patterns. While participants may leave the learning experience on a high, they often walk naively into a world organized to see them fail. The first hiccup in their journey results in them feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. This means L&D leaders’ substantial learning investment is largely wasted unless they’ve prepared their people for the struggle they’ll face the moment training ends.

In his book High Impact Training, Robert Brinkerhoff notes that people spend 80 percent of their learning and development on the aspect that accounts for 20 percent of results—the training session itself—and ignore the aspects that have the largest impact on change—what happens before and after training. The most effective way to ensure skill transference is to engineer the post-training experience. Below is a strategy to help you maximize your investment.

The Six Sources of Influence

Start by understanding the forces that influence and drive behavior, from paychecks to colleagues to personal interests. These aspects influence whether or not we behave a certain way. This is especially true with new behaviors.

We group these sources of influence into six categories:

  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Personal skill and knowledge
  • Social pressure and norms
  • Coaching and modeling
  • Incentives
  • Physical environment

To make training stick, these six sources must be viewed as the behavioral barriers that pull against learners and driving them to the status quo. When learners are engaged in a tug-of-war against a host of influences, they’re almost certain to lose the fight to practice new skills. So, start by understanding what learners are up against when they leave the classroom.

Use the six sources as your guide:

  • Intrinsic Motivation: Will learners want to use their new skills? Do they fit their values and desires? Do they find them unpleasant or tedious?
  • Personal Skill and Knowledge: Do learners know how to use their new skills even when it’s difficult?
  • Peer Pressure and Social Norms: How will others respond? Will their colleagues encourage or discourage their use of new skills?
  • Coaching and Modeling: Will supervisors coach learners and model the skills?
  • Incentives: Does their performance review align with the new skills? Are they incentivized to do these new behaviors or continue old habits?
  • Physical Environment: Are there enough reminders and cues in their environment to trigger learners to use new skills when they need to?

Next, removing as many of these opposing forces as possible. But don’t stop there. Over-engineer success by influencing those sources so they promote rather than prevent change.


Here are a few ideas:

  • Intrinsic Motivation: Find ways to connect the need for changing behavior with people’s core values and the organization’s values. For example, tell powerful stories that illustrate the benefits gained when people used the skills from training. Help people desire a new, brighter future.
  • Personal Skill and Knowledge: In the training, give participants guided practice in real situations and immediate feedback until they are confident they can use the new behaviors.
  • Peer Pressure and Social Norms: Enlist the help of team and organizational opinions leaders (informal leaders people respect and listen to) to serve as models of the new behaviors or have them lead the training courses.
  • Coaching and Modeling: Assign each learner a coach or mentor to provide just-in-time assistance to prepare for and overcome setbacks.
  • Incentives: Adjust the formal rewards to incentivize use of the new skills. This can be as simple as adding the use of the behaviors to performance reviews, KPIs, or goals, and using them as criteria for “employee of the quarter” type recognition practices.
  • Physical Environment: Use visual cues like posters, written reminders through email or Slack, publicly displayed personal or team metrics, and so forth, to keep the skills “top of mind” for learners.

Research shows the people best at influence don’t use these sources of influence in sequence (such as, “This year we’ll focus on revamping our incentive structure. Next year, we’ll set up a mentorship program.”). Instead, people use them in combination. Those who use all six are 10 times more likely to ensure that what happens in training doesn’t just stay in training.

Become a VitalSmarts certified trainer and share crucial skills with your teams, colleagues, and organization. Now you can certify without leaving your home or office through VitalSmarts line of VILT course and certification workshops. Learn More

About the Author

Justin Hale is a speaker, training designer, and master trainer at VitalSmarts. He has been a lead engineer in designing training courses and facilitated classes and delivered keynote speeches on the skills and principles to 300+ clients and audiences around the world.

About the Author

Steve Willis’ contribution to the training industry spans a career rich in corporate change strategy, research, delivery, facilitation, and speaking. Steve has advised senior executives in a wide range of Fortune 500 companies. He has helped them become measurably more vital through implementing change and organizational development strategies to overcome challenges with union negotiations, productivity improvement, organizational change, and leadership effectiveness.

1 Comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
These 6 sources are great to have in the back of the mind to consider - both pre & post trainings. Can even influence what the trainings themselves look like if we're making them! We commonly don't even stop to think about how we determine if a training was effective.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.