Training result: Gone with the wind?

What is the desired result of training? At least we expect attendees to learn something new they use in their job. As a consequence, the new knowledge must be transferred. this “occurs whenever the effects of prior learning” … in the learning area … “influence the performance of the later activity” … in the practical area. (Holding 1965/1991) But there often seem to be invisible hurdles on that track: less than 10 % of training is transferred into practice. this article identifies solution approaches for your training.

The 10/90 rule

Corporates spend billions of Euros training their employees every year. Some think the more expensive the training, the more significant the effect. And others feel if training at all, then it should be as cheap as possible because it does not effect anything anyway.

Maybe they already know that less than 10 % of their expenditures result in transfer to the job. Or to put it another way: 90 % is flying out of the window – money as well as learnings. For any company training transfer matters a lot. And for every attendee training is essential but transfer plays a more significant role. It is the key to change. One single person. A team. A department. A whole organization.

It is essential to understand that training does not lead to better individual performance automatically. Looking at peoples’ mindset, you find that in our consumer society, we are used to buy suitable solutions when problems arise. We prefer simple answers. But it is not like a frozen pizza, you buy and some minutes later your hunger vanishes – like magic.

Learning and transfer are a complex process that lasts a whole life. That is guided, let us say, the first 23 years in School and University. But it stops more or less suddenly when people start working for the rest of their lives until they are 68 or older, which means that they have to man- age on their own for 45 years.

Case studies

The problem of training transfer is discussed in science for over 50 years – but in practice not much changes since then. Why is that? Let us take a closer look at two situations as examples. Dolores and Felix work in different companies, and they attend the same training. We start with the story of Dolores – in Latin dolor means pain. It is followed by Felix – which in Latin means the happy one. You will see why I choose these names.

Case study 1: Dolores

Before training

Dolores’ boss has to spend his budget for further training; otherwise, it will be shortened next year. Dolores pics a training topic by herself and explains to her boss why it makes sense. Her boss accepts because he thinks that Dolores is mature and responsible enough to make the right choice. Dolores is allowed to attend the seminar. Before the seminar starts, she receives an email from the trainer with a link to an online survey. She forgets to fill out the survey.

Training days

At the beginning of the training, the trainer asks every attendee about their expectation and individual needs to find out if something changed since the survey. Dolores keeps silent.

During the two days, she is happy to escape everyday working routine. At best she has fun, and in the worst case, she is bored but has not to go to work. Let’s assume, she had a pretty good time and learned something new she would like to try out at work. In the happy sheet, the trainer receives almost maximum points so that he can be booked for another training.

Back to work

As she returns to her job motivated the next day, her boss whispers at her that, due to the training, a lot of work has been left behind and she promises to make up for the lost work as fast as possible. Colleagues ask her about her training experience during a coffee break. But first, they tell her their own experiences about training. To their minds, it is useless because of several reasons. Mainly it disturbs the daily routine and brings a lot of work afterwards. Dolores does not want to insult anybody and agrees. She tells them that the training was ok and, yes, she certainly has taken some helpful suggestions with her, which she will try out sometime in the next months. But honestly, she would have preferred to go to work, because it is not fair to let the other colleagues do her job. Everybody agrees. Her motivation is at zero and nothing will change.

Dolores’ learnings

It seems paradoxical: against her better judgment, she is not able to use what she learned. Because she does not use it, she forgets everything within a few days despite one thing: her negative feeling about training.

The read thread in Dolores story

The story that is told about training in this corporate – over and over is: you have to provide training to your staff because they want it, but

– training is exhausting

– Training is useless

– Training is stealing time you better use to work

Case study 2: Felix

Before training

Felix’ supervisor invites him for a meeting. Felix gets an agenda for the transfer talk beforehand so that he can pre- pare himself. If he has any questions at that time, he can contact his superior at any time.

Does that feel unusual to you? Then read on, it is worth. If you have already experienced such situations, read on as well and keep the chance to pick something new.

At the meeting, they talk about Felix’ competences. The compare his and his supervisor’ perspective. They agree upon developing specific skills Felix exact needs for his job to help the corporate reaching their goals. Felix recognizes as well as his supervisor the particular needs and likes to optimize his skills. As he is actively involved in the process, he will stay active further on. They write down the concrete targets which Felix shall reach by attending the training in about two months, how Felix will be supported even after the seminar, and how Felix will help his colleagues.

Felix finds three proper pieces of training he discusses shortly with his supervisor, and they pick out the most fitting. They arrange at this early stage a meeting directly after the training day and three weeks later. Felix also arranges already now a meeting with the colleagues for a Knowledge Transfer. Felix also schedules the time to write down the most important things he learned in the wiki of the corporation so that everybody can read up, e. g. if he/ she misses the Knowledge Transfer.

Felix colleagues help each other because they are treated the same way from their supervisor and therefore everyone knows about the importance of training and sup- port after the training. Even if they do not attend training themselves, they can learn something. They know about the importance to be open-minded to impulse of change. They know that they are – and not the trainer is – responsible for what they learn and for the implementation in daily working practice themselves. Before the seminar starts, Felix receives an online survey from the trainer. He answers, among other things, questions about his expectations and specific needs for the training.

Training day

At the beginning of the seminar, the trainer asks every attendee about the things he already asked in the survey to find out if something changed. Felix ads a topic he would like to know more about. During the seminar, the trainer responds strongly to individual needs, and therefore he can answer Felix specific needs. Let us presume, he had – like Dolores, who is sitting in the same training room – a pretty good time and learned something new he will transfer to his daily working routine. In the happy sheet, the trainer receives an honest and nuanced evaluation from Felix. This feedback helps the trainer to optimize his trainings.

Back to work

Returning from the seminar, Felix reviews the attended training with his superior. They discuss if the goals changed since the last meeting. Then Felix presents what he learned, what he found useful and how he is going to use all this in his daily working routine. His superior asks him what he needs as support for implementation.

After one week latest, he presents in their weekly Team Knowledge Transfer his learnings to his colleagues and offers a Q&A to ensure that everyone has the chance to get things right.

He meets his superior again three weeks after the training to see how everything works out and if they have to re- adjust something. Felix admits that unfortunately, the daily business keeps him from implementing the things he had set out to do. His supervisor tells him that this is entirely normal sticking into old habits and that it is always a significant challenge to change even little things.

He gives him the advice to take it easy and to start with one small thing and to stay positive regarding the changes. He also suggests Felix take one-to-one coaching, that will help to improve his mindset. Thus he will get a deeper understanding of his mental restrictions and learn how to deal with them.

Right now the corporate is extending a sustainable training transfer. They organize internal learning tandems. And they look for trainers who can provide individual or group training right after the training: in person, by tele- phone or via the web, e.g. in a messenger group where all the attendees of the training can communicate and help each other.

Felix’ learnings

He knows that learning and transfer is something that takes time. Felix is highly motivated because he is transfering what he learned into his practice. And if it does not work out the way expected, he always is supported by his superior.

The red thread in Felix story

The second story is entirely different from the first. This corporate believes that most employees need continuous support and encouragement for

– change

– higher capacity for learning

– transferring training into practice

– change

– motivate themselves over a longer time

What we can learn

In the end personal development like in Dolores case is not entirely pointless, because something sticks to her – hope- fully. But it is too little measured by the expense of the used resources. Everything is built on wrong believes, on unspoken hopes and assumptions. Nobody verifies anything. They just let things happen.

From a systemic point of view the mechanism is a straightforward one: Every time a story about training starts, it ends up at the same spot like a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a corporate, it is an unwritten law, and the expectable result is seen as the truth. Even without proof, because every time the story repeats itself. The positive as well as the negative outputs confirm the validity of the assumption. This keeps the system stable.

And if Dolores would like to change something, she would have to influence the whole system. It would become unstable. In case you want to change something, this would be the desired effect. But the system itself will not let that happen. You have to manage this process.

If it is like that, how can you change the assumption in the story to get satisfied employees and – more important – better results? Rewrite the story like Felix’ corporate. His system, respectively his corporate has gone through a managed change that now allows another perspective with a completely different mindset.

In the end it is that simple: If you are not willing to learn something you have no training transfer. In the worst case, training even harms your work. What you look for is a positive transfer to influence your performance positively. Otherwise, training results are gone with the wind.

Two areas where changes can happen

There are two areas you have look at to change things. The learning area is the place where the training is held. The functional area is the workplace. Below you will receive a short analysis and suggestions to solve the critical points.


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Torsten Soerensen

Senior Knowledge Manager and Trainer

Cloudical Deutschland GmbH