Two people working together and transferring training

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

By Martin Royal

It’s been well established that training initiatives often result in a limited transfer of new knowledge back into the workplace. While you’ll commonly hear that only 10% of what employees learn is implemented, this figure is actually closer to an average of 47%. According to a study done by Saks & Belcourt (2006), almost half of the information gained through training, by members of a training and development society, found its way into the workplace within a year of training. In any case, what this suggests is that the majority of training investment dollars don’t actually result in meaningful changes on the job.

While employers can do a great deal to seek out high-quality training, ensure an adequate classroom experience, engage in motivating preparatory communication about the training, what do you do if you have already invested time, effort and money in a training initiative? Even when you provide top-notch training that results in exceptional classroom feedback, if your people fail to apply what they learned on the job and turned the knowledge gleaned from these training programs into enhanced work performance, the training has ultimately failed.

3 Training Implementation Stages

There are three stages of a training initiative implementation (before the training, during training, and after training). The biggest challenge for most organizations is what happens after the training (Burke & Hutchins, 2008).

Training programs are often viewed as unique isolated events. Supervisors and trainees can be slow to accept the responsibility to create an environment that supports the effective transfer of learning from classroom to workplace. In a competitive environment, organizations often want employees back on the job immediately after training. Rather than provide support for transitioning learning into the workplace, employers often expect employees to figure out how to apply what they learned while on the job. In more supportive organizational environments, organization leaders will often create job aids. However, even in supportive organizations, this generally remains a somewhat passive situation. Though some supports are provided, the organization must ultimately rely upon the individual employee to engage with the aids provided and hope for the best.

How do you know training transfer works?

Some specific observations are generally made in situations where employee training transfer efforts excel:

• Employees easily identify opportunities to use the concepts learned during training.
• Employees receive reinforcement or support from others that help them break their hindering habits.
• Employees have the confidence to try out the new things they learned.
• Employees perceive that implementing what they learned in training will help them. They internalize the idea that implementing change will be easy and won’t slow them down.
• Employees are motivated to use what they learned.
• Employees easily remember concepts/tools provided in training.
• Employees feel supported by co-workers, leaders and company management.

These factors speak to a broader training transfer climate where the training initiatives occur. 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. These are: strategic, structural, interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions.

4 Safe Production Dimensions

Strategic factors deal 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 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 include 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 what strategies they should put in place to reinforce the application of training. 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?” Role modeling is often considered a key competency of effective leaders and the same applies to training transfer. By effectively modeling personal training transfer strategies, leaders encourage others to take on that personal responsibility. Ask yourself, to what extent you model effective strategies related to retaining and applying concepts from your own training experiences?

Which intrapersonal strategies do you apply?

See how many of the following strategies you apply and which one you could benefit from applying!

Talk about training.

This is one of the most effective strategies! Discuss what you learned with a co-worker who also attended the training or your immediate supervisor. Explain a concept or tool that you learned during training to a co-worker, a friend or a family member. We typically retain 90% of what we learn when we teach it to someone else. Teaching others forces you gain a more intimate understanding of a concept so you can explain it in your own words. Think about how well you need to understand a concept to develop an analogy to share with others.

The biggest challenge in developing a training transfer plan is in being systematic in your approach. To actively teach others you will need to review all the key concepts you learned. Making your own personal training transfer plan has the best probability of maximizing the transfer of concepts learned to the workplace.

Ask for help.

We don’t always know how to make the most use of what we have learned. Asking your immediate supervisor for ideas and requesting support, may be your best bet for identifying ways to apply what you learned. Your supervisor may be in a better position to understand how the training is expected to contribute to improvements in the workplace than you are.

Organize a learning group.

Another way to go about this would be to organize small learning groups with co-workers who have attended the training to figure out active ways to provide mutual support.

Just give it a try.

Use goal setting to your advantage. Set a time goal each day/week/month to refresh your memory about ideas and tools learning in recent training programs. Use the power of micro-habits by finding a small way in which you can apply the skills learned. You could increase the use of these tools over time.

Identify something that you learned in your training and imagine how it could be incorporated into an existing procedure or practice.

Manage your learning motivation.

In our busy lives, we often lose track of why we attended the training in the first place. We often find that when we return to the rhythm of everyday life, we forget what the benefits of new training programs were. Other times we begin to implement changes but find ourselves progressively disengaging and forgetting what was learned. If you find yourself in any of these positions, try the following:

• Consider 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.
• Increase personal accountability by setting reminders or making specific commitments to change.

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

If you’re interested in further brainstorming ideas on how you can improve your personal impact, or that of your leadership team, to drive organizational and cultural change, get in touch with a member of the Propulo team!

Until then, happy transfer!


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.

Read Part 2


Burnout in the Workplace


The ‘Lumberjack’