Blending Learning activities to reach maximum impact
Many companies are looking for a higher return on investment on trainings.
How often people go off for a few a days to an inter-company/public training and then come back to work, try to apply what they have learnt and struggle with their own practice or with organizational constraints that might prevent implementing best practices, and eventually forget what they have learnt in a matter of months?
Having worked with several customers on organizational changes, we believe traditional off-the-shelf training alone cannot deliver up to the expectations.
First of all, because at individual level, the acquired knowledge should be converted into a competency and this takes repeated practice over time and not only a one shot learning event. Left alone, the individual does not always have the motivation or the support he needs to convert knowledge into a new skill.
Second, because trainings are still often seen as quick fixes for behavioral shortcomings or as a reward to employees who already have performed. While this may do some good in the short term, these trainings remain focused on the individual without looking at the context, either the team or the organization in which the employees have to work. And often a single individual cannot make the necessary changes to reap substantial benefits for the entire organization.
Let’s look at a few options.
Would e-learning be a solution? E-learning is good for some aspects: it respects the learning pace of the person, saves some travel costs and is easier to integrate in a busy professional life. On the other hand, it does not bring much interaction with other trainees with different backgrounds and other organizational cultures and does not address on itself the issues above: individual support and organizational context.
So what can we put in place to complement individual standard training ?
Custom training with pre-defined governance
A first idea is to customize the training with already built-in organizational governance and processes and provide this training to a group of people within the organization (intra-company approach). It costs of course more in terms of preparation for the definition of the governance, if this one is not yet defined, but the knowledge is then fully applicable to the attendees because best practices can be translated up to the templates and tools to be used in real work. It also gives attendees the opportunity to challenge the governance and start meaningful discussions on change. Sometimes it may also shed light to the need to train management on the governance itself to ensure the newly available information or behavior can be fully exploited and aligned across the organization.
For example, we had built a custom training in project management to which we invited both business and IT people. We covered a full process from idea generation to execution of the projects. Attendees really liked the training when it was shown that the tools in place were helping better assess the capacity of the organization to handle a certain number of projects in parallel. Some people challenged the fact that the new process could only work if the management had the discipline to take the resource constraints into account to feed the active project pipeline instead of starting too many projects in parallel. This was then further discussed with management to raise awareness and agree that discipline at their level was also required for the people to trust the system and eventually for the system to work.
This solution addresses partially the organizational issue, at least from a design perspective. In other words, we can then make sure that everybody is aligned on how they should work, but not yet on how they actually do work.
You may have heard about the 70:20:10 rule of learning: 10% (only) can be learnt from training, 20% is learnt based on interactions with others, and 70% is learnt on-the-job by practicing the matter.
This clearly shows that training alone will not provide significant learning even though it may be useful as a starting point.
Giving people who attended a training the opportunity to further reflect on what they have learnt and how they can apply it, in the form of coaching, either by the trainer directly or by another seasoned practitioner, will give the person the necessary time to build new abilities.
The coach can be seen as a sparring partner to challenge the coachee in his new practice and bring practical experience to fine-tune it.
The advantage of individual coaching is that you can focus on issues specific to the person without the risk of having the person feel embarrassed to show difficulties with one or another aspect. This helps build confidence.
It also enables refreshers on some topics over time, like vaccine recalls.
However, the organizational aspects are in this case not necessarily addressed.
Recurrent Community of Practice meetings
Coaching is expensive over time so at some point in time the organization has to be able to sustain the new behaviors and/or practices on its own.
Building and facilitating a Community of Practice, grouping practitioners of the same discipline from the same or different departments can deliver long-term benefits.
Different sort of themes can be covered:
- Finding solutions to issues currently faced by the organization
- Brainstorming on current maturity to decide on priorities development areas
- Developing the next practices you would like to implement in your organization
- Reviewing lessons learnt from previous projects and make sure you extract learning for other ongoing projects as soon as possible;
The risk with lessons learnt is that they stay in drawers and are not shared at the right moment to the right person. Offering a review of these lessons learnt has multiple advantages:
1. people know they exist,
2. there is a higher chance that it may come on-time to somebody who needs them
3. they can be put in the right context when presenting to and discussing with other practitioners.
This way a sort of continuous improvement is put in place.
We believe this learning option is very powerful because it essentially makes your community of practitioners progress together.
Assuming that it will happen on its own is optimistic as people may be sucked in by their daily job very easily. Therefore, ensuring somebody prepares, follows–up and challenges status quo in these sessions gives the best chance of results. It can be an internal staff person who can dedicate time on non-operational issues or a consultant to launch the process and then taken over by internal staff.
As an example we launched a community of Project Managers at a customer and designed two types of activities.
One was the organization of a 3day workshop to assess the current maturity and decide on the next improvements steps. The workshop was partially led by project managers themselves so that they would take full ownership of the community.
Other shorter and periodic sessions were organized to reflect on articles focusing on one theme in each session, such as main skills that lead to success in the project manager role. Strong debates between participants demonstrated high willingness of the people to make progress together.
Blending learning approaches
We strongly believe a mix of all the above approaches should be applied to ensure both short-term efficiency and long-term effectiveness.
As you have seen, none of the individual options addresses all challenges mentioned above, so a carefully designed approach should be crafted to ensure the biggest bang for the buck. It may seem as increasing significantly the talent development budget, but in the end we believe the full return on investment should be considered, and not only the short-term costs.
And by using this approach, fewer costly standard trainings will be necessary (nowadays a training day costs about 600-700 Euros/day per person, not taking into account the equivalent