There are many studies to determine what percent of skills actually do transfer to the workplace. The range reported is not encouraging—somewhere between 10 and 50 percent, depending on numerous variables. That means that more than half of the investment made in developing people is lost!
Clearly our accountability as talent development professionals extends beyond building capability. We must be held accountable for taking actions to ensure that learning converts to doing. However, we do not control the work environment to which people return following a learning experience. So what can we do?
Our Requirements for Ensuring Skills Are Used On-the-Job
Here are the four actions I believe each of us needs to take to ensure the investment made in learning yields impact to the organization:
Partner with a leader who “owns” the performance and business needs for the initiative (the client).
Obtaining performance change is not something we can do alone; it can only occur through a partnership with the leaders who have the most to gain or lose from the initiative’s results. Each of us will have accountability to ensure success. Determining who the true client to partner with is, and then gaining access to that individual or team, is our responsibility. And with this individual we must determine what are the results, in terms of performance change and business impact, the client seeks. These results become our North Star—we continually ensure that actions we take are on track to facilitate achievement of those results.
Determine the work environment’s readiness to support the skills to be introduced.
Once we have determined the performance we wish to enhance, and the skills needed, it is our responsibility to determine the degree to which the work environment that surrounds the employees will be supportive or not. Consider the need to enhance coaching skills and performance of leaders. How many times are those skills provided through quality learning experiences only to find, months later, that little has changed in terms of the amount and quality of coaching these leaders are doing on the job?
There are numerous environmental reasons why this occurs. Are the leaders being held accountable and incentivized to coach? Are their job priorities clarified so that time spent in coaching is considered one of their significant responsibilities, or is it falling to the bottom of the to-do list? What are the consequences if leaders do not coach? These are just some of the conditions that talent development professionals need to assess through conversations both with the clients of the initiative and some sample of the audience for the program itself.
Influence the client to take actions on work environment barriers to transfer.
When potential obstacles to success are identified, it is the client’s job to remove them or find ways to mitigate their impact. This is something we can support; it is definitely an action we need to influence the client to take. Perhaps we can help locate the resources needed to address the identified barriers. Is the problem associated with the compensation and the type of performance it is incentivizing?
Then we may need to engage an HR partner to assist in addressing that issue. Is the problem that roles are confused and in developing skills, we could engender role conflict? Perhaps we can facilitate sessions with leaders to resolve those potential problems before they are encountered. If the need is to have an enhanced data access system, then engaging IT in addressing that need becomes important. What is certain: If there are barriers to transfer and we do not address them, the investment made in learning will likely be wasted.
Push back when the client is resistant to taking action.
This is a technique used when there is a lack of alignment between what the client indicates is required in terms of results and the solutions the client is willing to implement. Perhaps we learn that one reason sales reps are not achieving revenue goals is that they are spending too much time fixing billing problems generated by the accounts payable department. The client is unwilling to work on that problem and still insists that we develop and deliver a training program on selling in a competitive environment. This is the type of scenario when pushback is required. To not do so means we are implicitly endorsing the belief that learning, alone, will provide the desired business and performance change this client is seeking.
Those are the four actions I believe we need to take each time we are engaged in an initiative that is designed to enhance on-the-job performance of people. What do you think? Share your comments below.