After formal training, then… what?
“You’ve just been on a course… you’ll get over it and be back to normal in a day or two…”
How often do we confront the unpalatable truth that for many learners, learning stops at the end of the training course and is confined within it, or as Delahaye (2011 p. 418) refers to it, ‘encapsulated’, where the learning is purely within the learning situation, and stays there. Of the various tools we have to maximise transfer of learning to the workplace, a key one is the learner’s Boss. Having just completed a project with 70 or so team leaders going through the NZ equivalent of a ‘Cert IV’ program over a 9-month period, it was starkly evident which of the learners had managers who were prepared to spend time with them post-training to help them apply the learning.
From Kolb and Vroom, mature models both well researched and tested, we know the importance of providing a transfer platform via the ‘reflection and testing’ aspects of Kolb’s experiential learning, and the ‘can I do it and is it worth it?’ arguments of Vroom’s Expectancy/Valence models. That can’t happen in the training room. It has to happen before and after. Who is the one person in closest touch with the learner at those points? The manager. Delahaye (Ibid p. 418) again points out that recent research ‘irrefutably demonstrates that deep learning depends on the combination of both knowing and doing’ and that ‘transfer of learning is heavily dependent on the supervisors in their role of workplace HR developer’ Wait a minute… did he say that supervisors have a role in HR Development?
Cox (2008, p. 194) uses the expression ‘constructivism’ where learning ‘is an active process where experience is used by learners to construct new learning’ and while the trainer can design workplace projects to help the transfer, it is the manager who is there on-site to provide immediate help. Assuming of course, that they want to.
Unfortunately it’s sad but true that managers may be better at identifying performance problems than they are at helping employees solve them, a point made by Kramer (2011, p. 450) at the same time as saying that effective coaching can improve employee career progression and success by enhancing employee self-esteem, motivation, and skills and knowledge. So what’s in it for the manager?
Well… what about more effective staff who are better at doing their job than they were before, less reliant on manager time and help, staff who have enhanced self-esteem and more job satisfaction and thus figure less often in the turnover figures. What if all that meant less stress on the manager? What about the effect on the manager’s own self-esteem, those who have some altruistic genes, where Maslow talks about self-actualisation, the contributing back, the growing of others. I well remember a Station Officer in the Fire Service who, at nearly 60, had never applied for promotion in the 20 years since he achieved that rank. When I asked him why, he replied ‘I can look at all the young senior officers out there, and I trained quite a few of them. I’m happy…’ A reminder perhaps, that one of the functions of management is to grow people, up and an over the manager sometimes. A reluctant manager-coach would be worse than nothing at all – Cox (2008, p. 195) again: ‘There must be voluntary, intrinsic motivation – it must not be coerced or extrinsic’.
If we can’t motivate our managers to coach, how can we provide Delahaye’s ‘Positive transfer climate’: providing our learners with opportunities to reinforce and further develop, giving them informational and motivational feedback, in a supportive atmosphere? I remember being trained by reluctant ‘seniors’ in my youth – the feeling of being considered a ‘chore’ was not exactly motivational to my learning…
Delahaye (ibid p. 462) in discussing workplace transfer gives us 4 elements for ‘Extended Learning’:
- Learners should be engaged immediately in the newly learned tasks
- Learners should be developed by progressive approximations
- Learners need Informational and motivational feedback
- Learners should be exposed to models of expert performance.
Once again, the trainer is generally not around to facilitate all that. Who is? The manager.
So we trainers have to spend some time working out how to ‘sell’ managers on the idea of coaching their staff – those who don’t already understand the importance of it, I mean. I don’t see a lot of focus on it in management texts, unless written by HR people of course – an example being Robbins (2009, p. 665), in a list of team leader roles: ‘finally, team leaders are coaches. They clarify expectations and roles, teach, offer support, cheerlead and do whatever else is necessary’. The bit that worries me is the word ‘finally’…
I think there is also a blurring of the meaning of coaching – I know it’s a 2005 quote, but I don’t think things have changed that much – Marchington & Wilkinson (2005, p. 254) make the point that ‘few organisations have a policy on coaching… it tends to be ad hoc, concentration on senior managers with questionable performance’ and citing an IRS Employment Review (795B 2004), indicating a view that coaching is an executive-level activity, whereas in fact anyone who has people reporting to them should be spending some of their time engaged in coaching activities.
Perhaps we should approach it in the same way a salesperson is trained to, and use a model (AICDC) that has been around at least since Dale Carnegie in the late 1950’s:
Attention & Interest
Somehow we have to motivate managers to listen to us long enough for us to create interest. Maybe we need to think like advertising agencies, who have 15 seconds on TV to achieve Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Often they’ll come out with a punchy catch-line containing a worthwhile benefit. “Tired of Turnover? Tired of staff not performing? Here’s how we can fix it.” We need to get all our WIIFM’s (What’s in it for Me?) in a row, because basically Humans will be interested in things that are of benefit to them. Don’t be too proud to talk to your sales team, and ask them about Benefit Selling.
They’re not going to believe us without some form of Proof. We need to give managers at least enough proof/evidence to get them to give coaching a go. We trainers have to have a Business Case. We have to be passionate and convincing.
No-one ever bought anything they didn’t actually want (at the time they bought it – not accounting for ‘buyer remorse’ when the credit card bill comes in). So we need to develop our WIIFM’s and make them as big as we can so that managers find what we are offering ‘attractive’.
We need to ‘push’ a little. You can try things like “I’ve got a one-day workshop on Coaching Skills to show you how to do it. I can run it next week if you like, or would the end of the month be better?” Note the technique; you are not asking ‘yes/no’. You are asking ‘when’. Know what the objections are going to be and have your solutions pre-rehearsed, so that when they say ‘I really don’t have time’ you can say things like ‘if I can show you that doing a bit of coaching will repay for time 100 times over, will you agree to it?”. That’s called the ‘If/Then’ technique – ‘if I can answer your objection, can we go ahead?’. Finally when all else fails, you can try the ‘impending event’ technique, which implies a lost opportunity, and might go something like this: “look at the amount of time you’re spending correcting issues and dealing with performance problems… every day you delay, it will just get worse”.
Let’s get our managers hitched up to the learning wagon, and do our best to make them an integral part of pre-and post-course learning. Happy selling.
Cox, E in Stober, D and Grant, A 2008, ‘Evidence Based Coaching’, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey.
Delahaye, B 2011, ‘Human Resources Development: Managing Learning & Knowledge Capital’, Tilde University Press, Victoria Australia.
Kramer, R 2011, ‘Human Resource Management’, 4th edn, McGraw-Hill, Sydney, Australia
Marchington, M & Wilkinson, A 2005, ‘Human Resource Management at Work’ 3rd edn, CIPD, London
Robbins, S et al. 2009, ‘Management’, 5th edn, Pearson Education, Sydney Australia