My people have been trained; why is it not making a difference? Part 1

Two people discussing and working together

By Martin Royal

It's been well established over the years that training initiatives often result in a limited transfer of the learning employees take back to the workplace. While you'll commonly hear that only 10% of what employees learn is implemented, according to a study done by Saks & Belcourt (2006) who surveyed members of a training and development society, this figure is closer to an average of 47% over a period of one year after training,. In any case, what this suggests is that few training investment dollars actually turn into meaningful changes in the workplace.
While much can be done to seek out high-quality training, ensuring an adequate classroom experience, engaging in motivating preparatory communication about the training, what if you have already invested time, effort and money in a training initiative? Even if the training is top-notch and the classroom feedback is great, if your people have not applied what they learned on the job and turned that learning into enhanced work performance, then the training has failed.

Learning Transfer Challenges

Of the three stages of a training initiative implementation (before the training, during training, and after training), the most significant area of deficit for most organizations is what happens after the training (Burke & Hutchins, 2008). Challenges to effective training transfer include:

• Training being seen as a unique event;
• Supervisors and even trainees who are slow to accept of actively applying or sharing new learnings in their work environment;
• organizations often want employees back on the job after training and have them figure out how to apply what they learned;
• some organizations will create job aids and hope for the best.

What Successful Learning Transfer Looks Like

When employee training transfer efforts succeed, the following observations can be made:

• Employees are able to easily identify opportunities to use the concepts they learned during training.
• Employees receive reinforcement or support from others to help them break their hindering habits.
• Employees have the confidence to try out the new things they have learned.
• Employees feel that using what they learned will help them, it will be easy, and it won't slow them down.
• Employees are motivated to use what they learned.
• Employees find it easy to remember the concepts/tools from the training.
• Employees feel supported by their co-workers, their leader and from company management.

Creating the Infrastructure for Effective Learning Transfer

These factors speak to a broader training transfer climate in which the training initiatives are taking place. Each of them can be potential barriers that a successful training transfer strategy must overcome. Training transfer strategies can fall under four broad dimensions that we, at Propulo Consulting, refer to as a safe production culture: strategic, structural, interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions.

Strategic factors are dealing with organizational decision-making and direction, e.g., the narrative around the training initiatives, the alignment of training to the organizational mission, etc.

Structural factors are the physical or institutional dimensions providing the environment of work, e.g. actual training transfer practices, equipment and tools to encourage the application of training, plans to implement the training strategy, etc.

Interpersonal factors are the dimensions that exist between individuals and focus on interactions, e.g. the social dynamics that encourage training transfer, the oversight provided to hold people accountable for applying training, the communication channels in place, etc.

Intrapersonal factors are the thoughts, feelings and internally focused dimensions, e.g. the level of personal responsibility that people have over their application of training, their perception of safety in applying what they learned, their flexibility in embracing changes associated with training, etc.

In this part 1 of 4 series, I will share some intrapersonal strategies that contribute to an effective transfer of training. Clients often ask me about what strategies they need to put in place to reinforce the application of training and my first response is "think about the last time you attended a training, what strategies have you personally put in place to help yourself retain the learning and apply it back to your work?"

One of a most influential leadership tool is a good example of this. Role modeling is often considered an essential competency of effective leaders and the same applies to training transfer. By effectively role modeling personal training transfer strategies, we encourage others to also take on that personal responsibility. Ask yourself, to what extent do you role model effective strategies to retain and apply learned concepts from training that you attend?

See how many of the following strategies you have applied and which ones you could benefit from applying!

Talk about it.

This is one of the most effective strategies! Discuss what you have learned with your immediate supervisor or a co-worker who also attended the training. Explain a concept or tool that you learned about during training to a co-worker, a friend or a family member.

We typically retain 90% of what we learn by teaching it to someone else. It forces you gain a good understanding of the concept first so you can explain it in your own words. The biggest challenge is to be systematic in your approach to review all the key concepts learned. Making your own personal training transfer plan will be the best approach to maximize the transfer of concepts learned to the workplace.

Ask for help.

Sometimes we just don't know how to make the best use of what we have learned. Asking your immediate supervisors for ideas and requesting support might be your best bet to identifying ways to apply what you learned; he or she may be in better position to understand how the training is expected to contribute to improvements in the workplace.

Another way to go about this would be to organize small learning groups with co-workers who have attended the training to see how you can support each other.

Just give it a try.

Use goal-setting to your advantage. Set a time goal each day/week/month to refresh your memory about the ideas and tools learned in the training. Use the power of micro-habits by finding a small way in which you can apply the skills learned and you can increase their use over time. Identify something that you have learned and see how it can be incorporated into an existing procedure or practice you already do.

Manage your learning motivation.

Sometimes, we lose track of why we attended the training in the first place or what the benefits were, and we start to progressively disengage and forget about what was learned. If that happens, try the following:

• Remind yourself how what you have learned can help you achieve your personal or work-related goals.
• Manage negative emotions such as disappointment or frustration when you forget or struggle to use what you learned.
• Hold yourself accountable by setting reminders or making specific commitments to change.

Ultimately, we are responsible to own the results associated with training we attend. That being said, in Part 2 of this series, we will explore the interpersonal factors that contribute to training transfer and how, as leaders, you can help your teams apply what they have learned in the training programs you invested in.

Until then, happy transfer!


Part 2


Burke, L.A. & Hutchins, H.M. (2008). A study of best practices in training transfer and proposed model of transfer, Human Resource Development Quarterly, 19(2), 107-128
Saks, A.M. & Belcourt M. (2006). An investigation of training activities and transfer of training in organizations, Human Resources Management, 45(4), 629-648