"When I get back to the office, everyone will say, 'Oh, you’ve been on a training course. Don't worry, you'll soon go back to normal.'"
This phrase – or some variation of it – is often heard at workshops, followed by a wry laugh.
However, no one's laughing about energy, time and money being wasted on training that has very little effect in the long run.
So, if you want to get a reliable return for your investment in skills training, what should you do?
From my experience of implementing change that sticks, these are my three top tips:
1. Make sure there is sufficient time for individuals to build new skills
If you want to get fit, you don't pitch-up at the gym once and expect to achieve your goal. You know this is a long-term commitment that will take time, effort and focus.
Developing new skills is exactly the same. Attending a half-day, one-day or even two-day workshop will build knowledge and superficial skills development, but it isn't enough for the skills to stick.
So, don't expect a manager to return to the workplace after a one-off workshop and implement sustained change. That simply isn't going to happen.
Just as you build fitness little-by-little over a gradual period of time, you need to give managers time to build new skills and then implement them. Once they've achieved that, they should then be able to go back for more learning, before once again taking time to implement the new skills they've learned.
If your workshop is one day in total, then two half-days separated by four-to-six weeks will be more effective than one complete day. If it's two days, then hold two separate one-day events. And as for a half-day event, unless the skills are exceptionally basic, you will find little value beyond increasing knowledge. Having knowledge does not necessarily mean you can apply it — so one-off, half-day workshops do little to develop skills.
And, let's be honest, to develop the kind of complex skills that managers need – take communication, for example – you need to be prepared to invest in far more than one or two days if you want to see significant, sustained change.
2. Change the system, not just the person
Okay, so your manager returns to the workplace, fired-up and ready to implement their new skills. Unless you actively do something to change the workplace, they return to exactly the same working system that they left. And that system will do everything it can to maintain the status quo.
Ultimately, the system is stronger than the human being. That's why the majority of managers revert to old habits within a few days of getting back to work. They simply follow the path of least resistance.
Therefore, if you are serious about getting change to stick, you must make it easy for managers to behave differently. This means that, as well as arranging the workshops, you must make relevant changes to the organisation's environment. Ask:
- What are the barriers to people doing things differently?
- What can you do to remove these?
- What support is available for managers and from where?
- What can you do to make this support easily accessible?
3. Measure results
Finally, I am always surprised by how many organisations invest in skills workshops and yet take a half-hearted approach (at best) to measuring the impact of this.
The old adage "what gets measured gets done" can be applied to skills development – "what gets measured gets changed".
Setting specific measures of the changes that are expected, and the business impact these should have, gives managers clarity around what to do and why.
The three essential elements to put in place, if you want to get a meaningful return on your investment in skills development are:
- Allow sufficient time for the new skills to be learned and implemented
- Change the environment, not just the person
- Measure results
Putting energy into these three areas will ensure that your investment in skills development will enable managers to make the sustained changes required.