How you can Fix your Application Bridge

Our Kirkpatrick tools and methods, and I think common sense also, tell us that if organisational training and development do not result in new skills or behaviours applied at work they are simply waste. In my many engagements with organisation clients and learners I have never been offered a counter-argument to this proposition.

I can understand that learning that is not applied is a valid undertaking in many circumstances, but within organisations is not one of them. As an avid learner myself I understand learning for qualifications, learning for pleasure and learning for ‘the uncertain future’. None of these are done for short-term payback and are mostly funded by the learner and not by the organisation.

Organisations invest in learning to improve skills and behaviours on the job and, consequently organisation results. They want a results payback soon.

Sadly, many training and development initiatives don’t produce changes to skills and behaviours on the job, nor to better results for the business. Often knowledgeable facilitators are engaged, good tools and methods are learned about and practised, and learners return to work highly confident about application and committed to the effort that requires. But the learning just doesn’t get from the workshop to the workplace. This is because the bridge between learning and application is broken. 

So, what is the problem with the bridge and how can it be fixed?

The problem lies in what happens to learners when they come back to work and how they are supported there to apply what they have learned. Often they return to backed-up emails and a desk covered in work waiting for their attention. Apart from a cursory “how was the workshop?” from a colleague or two they simply resume where they left off before the workshop. The high levels of confidence about application and commitment to the required effort simply vanish.

Fixing this problem is simple – have your supervisors, team leaders and managers do what you are already paying them to do – supervise, lead and manage the people who report to them. Require them to dialogue with the recently returned learners – "What new skills and behaviours would you like to apply at work?" and "What time and resources do you need to do that?" and "What active support can I provide to you?" And make sure they follow through with action.

Failure to engage your line managers in the application process converts your learning investment into waste.

Your next best choice is to engage your training provider to provide one-on-one or small group follow-up at work. This is very expensive relative to line manager support – and the application process pretty much ends when the training provider’s contract finishes.  You are back to reliance on your line managers – so why not engage them from the start?

Line managers need to be prepared for their role of learner support. Design your training programmes to brief them from the outset. Give them the skills they need to carry out coach-like conversations. Incentivise and follow them up to assure they are doing a good job.

At ODI we are committed to supporting and evidencing the application of new skills and behaviours at work and providing the evidence that this is happening. Talk to us about helping you to fix your application bridge.

Kyran Newell
October 2013