Six ways to strengthen the link between training and business performance

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Running on lowWhen training goals are linked to employee performance, the leap to business improvement seems clear. Yet, all too often, progress stalls and new skills are underused. Kepner-Tregoe has identified six key actions that will encourage employees to change and use new skills. Ron Vonk explains.

1. Set expectations before training begins

People are enrolled in a workshop and know the date and time it begins. But do they know what to expect, how to prepare, or how the learning is relevant to their work?

A pharmaceutical company with operations in over 60 countries tracked a direct relationship between setting training expectations and achieving results in several North American facilities. The company had received an FDA warning letter citing their backlog of open investigations and failure to consistently get to root cause. Select employees went through our train-the-trainer programme to become programme leaders, certified to conduct our workshops and facilitate action programmes. The programme leaders conducted workshops for all employees involved in the writing of investigations and implemented corrective action programmes using troubleshooting skills learned in the workshops.

In one facility, the programme leaders also conducted hour-long pre-workshop meetings that set expectations for the workshop participants. This facility outperformed all others in reducing backlog and finding root cause. In addition, the departments in this high-performing facility that had managerial participation in the pre-workshop meetings outperformed the other departments.

"Taking the time to set expectations and provide management support helps learners to understand what will be expected of them and how the training relates to their work."

Taking the time to set expectations and provide management support helps learners to understand what will be expected of them and how the training relates to their work. Management involvement demonstrates that the organisation is committed to the training and considers it a priority.

2. Provide coaching to support success

Many organisations recognise that applying new skills in a day-to-day work environment can be daunting. A good facilitator can make this transition easier. Following our troubleshooting training, our clients often turn to us or to their in-house trainers to provide this function. Coaches can guide employees as they apply their skills on the job and ensure that skills are used properly. Supplementary training can help trainers develop advanced coaching and facilitation skills.

A further critical factor for success that coaches can provide is feedback. People need feedback if they are to improve. Practice makes permanent; feedback makes perfect. Coaches can use feedback to address application errors in real time when leading individuals or a group. Plus positive feedback of work well done encourages others to take the extra effort and risk of using a new skill.

3. Require evidence of application of new skills

Once people have received training, they are ready to apply the ideas. But they may not know that they have the opportunity to do things differently, especially when surrounded by others who do not share their new skills. Requiring learners to overcome on-the-job barriers and demonstrate their use of new skills quickly transitions training to application, integrates skills into the workflow, and accelerates the return on training investment.

"Training is a key resource when the opportunity is in place for people to excel. This is achieved by setting clear priorities for how training should be applied."

4. Create a work environment that supports the use of new skills

If the work environment makes it difficult to use new skills, training dollars are wasted. Programme leaders at one of the world's largest paper manufacturers had trained employees at one of the company's paper mills, but no one was consistently using the troubleshooting process learned in training. This became apparent to the plant manager when he observed a group of operators standing at a malfunctioning machine discussing possible causes. He asked a programme leader to guide them through the process to address the issue. Within half an hour the problem was solved.

A week later, he observed the same group of operators, standing at a machine and making no progress on resolving another problem that had developed. His initial reaction was to provide a refresher course, because he knew the process worked if people used it. On reflection, he realised that this was not the appropriate response—the crew had successfully used their training a week earlier. The difference was that the week before, the manager clearly communicated that he wanted them to use the new troubleshooting process and gave them a suitable work environment.

The manager took action. He provided programme leaders with facilitation training so that one would always be available for each area of operation. He set expectations that the process should be used after no more than 20 minutes of downtime. Finally, he provided a dedicated workspace with log books, easels, white boards, and coffee. Within two months, facilitators were trained, the new skills were used, and downtime was significantly reduced.

5. Integrate new skills into routine activities

Training is a key resource when the opportunity is in place for people to excel. This is achieved by setting clear priorities for how training should be applied. The skills learned in training need to become the rule rather than the exception. One way to accomplish this is to incorporate the intent of the training into daily operations.

6. Monitor ongoing application of new skills

Your people have received training and have begun to apply the ideas. But how do you encourage them to continue to use what they have learned in the future? Under stress, people revert to their comfort zone, the way things have 'always' been done. Managers need to provide encouraging consequences to people for changing the way they work. If managers maintain an interest in the use of the new skills, so will the people they manage.

Ron Vonk is director of Kepner-Tregoe's European client account services team. Ron uses his engineering expertise to help organisations by identifying improvement opportunities, implementing projects and embedding processes.

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