The 7 ways to get the most value out of learning and development

Round table discussion at Business convention.

Schmick. That’s how I describe the new wafer flash drives I’m using to distribute my Training and Professional Development Catalogue for 2015. And yeah, I admit it: a schmick catalogue is good business, but for me it’s much more than that: like the Japanese way of wrapping gifts beautifully reflects the value of what’s within, I believe it puts training and development on the platform it deserves. It is, after all, workplace education, and education – formal and informal – is the foundation of everything good that ever was. But if it’s so good, why do so few people, despite all the money spent on it (over $160 billion a year in the US alone) get so little value out of it?

A lot of it has to do with the adoption of continual improvement as a philosophy. I dig continual improvement myself, but as a philosophy, it is reduced to a set of high falutin’ ideals rather than an outcome-driven process with entry and exit points. Another box for management to check, a brief moment of “That’s done!” smugness, and it’s all forgotten until the time comes to check the box again.

This is the kind of thing that gives training and development a bad name. (Literally a particular bad name, in Australia at least, with a word that’s reserved for anything that is self-indulgent and useless, but I won’t get too specific in case my mother reads this*.) But let’s go back to those hundreds of billions of dollars spent on learning and development worldwide. If your organisation is going to spend its share of these vast amounts of money, why wouldn’t you want to get the biggest bang for your buck? Why not insist on learning and development that makes a difference rather than checks boxes?

Here is how you can.

1. Have a measurable outcome

This is, over and above anything you can do, the best way to get the most of your learning and development. In the first place, you must have a clear, stated outcome. I once attended a planning meeting where the department heads spent two hours telling me everything that was wrong with the team, and they wanted the training to address all of it! They couldn’t pin down what they wanted the actual outcome to be; if the training had gone ahead like this, it would have delivered nothing. So get that outcome down. But what about the measurable part? Some people would argue that some things are not measurable. Say, cultural awareness, for example: how do you measure that someone is culturally aware? I’d argue this: if you can’t measure it, then it’s got no place in your learning and development calendar. You may not be able to measure whether someone is culturally aware, but you should know what lack of cultural awareness is costing you, either financially, or in productivity or staff retention, or some other way. When training and development is effective, it will reflect in those numbers.


2. Have an intention

Talk about a learning and development opportunity in a way that insinuates team members don’t know something, and they will feel – and act – like teenagers. They may not sit in the room sullen and silent with their legs open and arms crossed, (actually, now that I think of it, some of them might), but they will be closed and defensive nonetheless. Their unspoken words to the trainer are, “Tell me or show me something”.

A “Tell me or show me something” attitude towards the trainer yanks the team member away from any kind of learning or development. It’s passive. Furthermore, it puts all responsibility on the trainer, and while the trainer can certainly train, only the learner can learn.

Measurable outcome aside, you should also encourage each participant to have his or her own intention for the session. Their attitude should be one of “I’m going to tell you or show you something”. This is a really resourceful mental and emotional state for participants to be in, even when they have reservations about the training. Rather than passive – a state no credible trainer or facilitator wants – it is active and collaborative, and allows for useful argument and discussion.


3. Adjust expectations

Remember the department heads who spent two hours whingeing to me about their staff? Don’t be those guys.

Be very clear about what training and development can do, and what it cannot do. If you have a history of excellent training and development with little result, you may need to look into the deep dark truthful mirror and ask yourself whether your people need more training, or – ouch – better leadership.

By the same token, don’t expect to do everything yourself! If you find that you are spending too much time coaching and mentoring individual staff, it may be time for some relevant group training and development.


4. Attend learning and development experiences

Yes, you. Along with everyone else you have decided should attend. It’s considerable time out of your day (or week, or month, or year), but when you attend, wonderful things happen.

The first thing that will happen is that participants will understand that this is important. Rather than telling them it’s important – that telling business, funny how it never leads to actual believing, isn’t it? – you will be showing them that it is. It is instant credibility for the experience, and a culture of learning will be born in your workplace with this simple act alone.

The next thing that will happen is a boost in morale. The high functioning learning and development environment, where everyone from participant to trainer or facilitator is a learner, is a great equaliser.

Finally, you will be in a prime position to observe, and follow up. Which brings me to the next point.


5. Follow up

Failing to follow up after a learning and development experience has got to be the biggest missed opportunity – not to mention implicit “That wasn’t at all important” message – there is in the learning and development scenario. Feedback forms just don’t cut it. Why? Because the follow-up is very much a part of the learning and development process. Learning and development does not automatically happen at the end of the experience: it happens on reflection and application. Bring participants together no later than a week after the final session, and let everyone talk in an informal setting. Discuss what they learned; what was useful and what was not; how you are all going to apply the principles; what you should cover next time. Trust that what was covered in the experience is now being cemented, and that more learning is taking place.


6. Implement the principles

Implementation is essential to learning. During the follow-up, you will have discussed how to implement what everyone learned. Have a plan in place for implementation, or if a plan isn’t feasible, regularly check in with participants to see how they are implementing what they learned. Participants will come to understand that the learning and development experience wasn’t a junket or exercise in self-indulgence, and that results are required of them.


7. Expect mastery – and plan for learning and development to match it

If you have followed the prior six steps, after a certain amount of time you will end up with people who have mastered the principles that were delivered in the learning or development experience. And this is where the rubber of continual improvement meets the road of practicality, and goes from being a mere philosophy to an actual process.

Although the terms continual improvement and continuous improvement have in the past been used interchangeably, continual improvement is the preferred term. The ISO isn’t just being fussy: it is opting for the term that describes the actual process, ie. improvement in discrete jumps, with application and practice of new principles between each one. As people in your team master principles, they will need advanced training and development to match their new mastery; that is the continual improvement process.

When you expect mastery, and provide training and development to match it, you won’t just be getting value from your training and development, but you will be giving immense value, through team members who habitually excel.


 If you’d like a copy of my Training and Professional Development Catalogue for 2015, or talk about how I can help your organisation, get in touch.

*Not my actual mother who passed away 15 years ago, you understand, but a metaphor that helps me stay Polite and Nice To Read.
 Photo credit: © kasto via DepositPhotos