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Make It Transferable

There is a growing recognition of a "transfer problem" in organizational trainingIt is estimated that while American industries annually spend up to $100 billion on training and development, not more than 10 percent of these expenditures actually result in transfer to the job.

—Timothy Baldwin and Kevin Ford

One of the biggest complaints about presentations is that, although they may be interesting and even entertaining, they have nothing to do with the real life. In other words, little or nothing is transferable. This means that much of the billions of dollars that is spent each year on training in North America is wasted. A notable exception to this way of thinking is taken into consideration at the Ford Motor Company.

Jacques Nasser, Ford's past president and CEO, used teaching, mentoring, and "action learning" to drive change at Ford. Action learning is learning by doing and setting goals or targets, with senior managers acting as the teachers/facilitators/mentors. The participants have 100 days to turn the goals of their projects into concrete results. Nassar states:

Ford's change program is based on teaching, but it eschews the traditional classroom setting. Teaching at Ford is achieved through a multi-faceted initiative, including small group discussions of strategy and competition, stints of community service, and 360-degree feedback. At the initiative's center is a hands-on, three-day workshop that culminates in an assignment designed to let "students" demonstrate that they understand Ford's new mind-set: [whereby] they must deliver a significant new cost saving or revenue source to Ford's bottom line.

One of the key elements of transferability is making the participants accountable for utilizing the course materials. In the above example, the employees at Ford were given assignments that would help the whole company "work better, smarter, and faster."

Methods to Increase Transfer of Training

There are 10 proven methods that you can use to increase transfer of training:

  1. The buddy system.

  2. Role-playing.

  3. The Virtual VCR.

  4. Telephone and/or e-mail follow-up.

  5. E-dialogues.

  6. Continuous-learning or mastermind groups.

  7. Writing a letter to your boss, manager, or supervisor.

  8. Learning contracts with the learner's boss, manager, or supervisor.

  9. Making the learning part of an employee development plan or succession plan.

  10. Making training part of the organizational culture.

The buddy system is an excellent way to help ensure transfer of training. Just as we floss our teeth more frequently just before going to the dentist, using a buddy helps to ensure that the learner is compliant in putting his or her learning into practice. Participants can be paired up in groups of two. The buddies draw up a contract, exchange written goals, contact information, agree to meet at least once a week, and develop a schedule as to who will initiate contact on alternating weeks.

Part of the buddy system contract should focus on how you will support each other when you implement a new skill, how you will help each other overcome obstacles to implementing the new skills, and how you will help each other maintain the desired change. As Mark Twain said, "Anyone can quit smoking. I've done it a thousand times." Making the change is the easy part; maintaining the change is an altogether different problem. Knowing that the participants will be responsible for teaching and coaching each other makes them more accountable to each other and to themselves. A good working relationship with your buddy can make all the difference between carrying out your good intentions and not carrying them out.

People often learn the most when they teach others.

—Broad and Newstrom

Role-playing can also help in the transferability of skills, just as role-playing can help you make your presentation more dynamic. The advantage of role-playing is that the participants can actually see if they have mastered the materials or not. In many cases, they find that although their intellectual understanding of the concepts are fine, it is another matter altogether to put them into practice. Role-playing, role reversal, alternative endings, and the Virtual VCR were explored in detail in Strategy 4.

Brad: I always emphasize that role-playing is one of the best ways to learn. However, I also emphasize that this is a purely voluntary activity and that many people learn better by vicariously watching—this is especially true of the reflectors in the group.

Telephone and e-mail follow-up work in the same way as the buddy system does in holding each other accountable, but it takes place over the telephone or through e-mail. Typically, the participants are encouraged to set up debriefing/coaching sessions once a week for a minimum of three weeks. Participants can also stay in touch through a combination of e-mail, telephone, or follow-up meetings.

E-dialogues allow participants to set up and participate in their own private and/or public chat room where each participant can pose a problem, dilemma, or challenge, while previous course participants and/or the course instructor offer their advice. Don't underestimate the power of this technique.

Brad: I had a client who was a very successful programmer. He was thinking that he wanted to change careers and become a pilot. Given that he was in his mid-40s, he wondered if he would ever recoup his investment if he made the change. He received an incredible response to his question when he posted it on a chat room for pilots. Some of the responses were three pages long, single-spaced. We were impressed by both the quality and the quantity of the responses he received.

Continuous learning or mastermind groups are groups of like-minded individuals who collectively help each other develop their skills and strategies through peer mentoring. They also hold each other responsible for developing specific goals in specific time frames. To be effective, the group should meet at least once a month. For example, the members in our continuous learning group all decided to attend a conference on Authentic Leadership together. After the conference, one of our group members agreed to type up all of his notes and share them with everyone else in the group. Another participant agreed to look up the references that were given on the course and make those materials available to the rest of us. A third member agreed to schedule monthly conference calls so we could hold each other accountable for the goals that we made.

Have participants write a letter to their boss, manager, or supervisor stating what they learned in the course and how they will apply it. The advantage of this technique is that it makes the action plan from the course a legitimate document. It also actively brings a participant's boss, manager, or supervisor into the loop, which increases accountability.

A learning contract with one's boss, manager, or supervisor is much the same as writing a letter. It may be more substantial and be in place over a longer period of time. Lastly, the learning contract, by its very nature, tends to hold all of the parties who are signatories to the contract to a higher level of accountability.

Make the learning part of a plan. Brad had the pleasure of working on an employees' succession plan at a large cooperative. A number of upper-management positions would be opening up due to retirement three years later. Thirty-two middle managers applied for each of the eight senior management positions. If the process were perceived to be anything less than thorough or fair, it would damage both the organization and employee morale. The assessment involved three parts. The first part was a very thorough 360-degree feedback in which candidates are assessed by their manager, boss, or superior. They are also assessed by their subordinates and peers and the candidates also assessed their own ability on nine key factors and 39 subscales. Second, the candidates also took a number of psychological tests. Third, the candidates attended an assessment center where they were assessed on their ability to present ideas, think on their feet, organize a speech, and negotiate. A written evaluation based on a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats) for their current division within their organization was also completed. All of this data was synthesized and each candidate received a rating from 1 to 100 as to their suitability for advancement, their strengths, and targets for improvement. Each candidate was thoroughly debriefed and given specific recommendations for improvement. A detailed action plan was developed comprising of relevant readings, courses, and mentoring assignments within the organization. The candidates were deeply motivated and perceived the process to be thorough, fair, and relevant. Did the process increase transfer of training? Absolutely!

Make the training part of the organizational culture. To be truly effective, it is a not enough to give presentations. The training has to become part of the organizational culture. To do this, it is not enough to just give all of the employees training; they have to hear stories of how the training can help make a better company and better employees. Also, if one of the employees forgets how to use the skills and strategies, other employees can coach that person on how to use the appropriate skills, strategies, and techniques. In other words, in transformational training, the role of the presenter is to help transform the participants from trainees into trainers.

Brad: I taught a negotiation course at a two-day staff-training event for an employee assistance organization. At the time, I was in private practice as a trainer half-time, and worked for this particular company half-time as their regional manager for the Maritimes. About a year and a half later, I was discussing a sensitive employee issue with the president and CEO of the company. As we were discussing strategy, he asked me what my BATNA was. And although I frequently taught this concept, in this particular case, I had forgotten. This was terrific evidence that there had been excellent transfer of training. The story of how the "pupil" in this case taught the "teacher" served to reinforce the value of using this particular strategy in that corporate culture.

You know that you have been successful in presenting your material when you see it used. Encouraging your participants to teach the material to others, review the material with their managers and supervisors, using the buddy system, and developing action plans are essential if transfer of training is to take place. Perhaps the best indication that it has done so is when it becomes part of the organization's culture.

To summarize, no matter how good or well-presented the material, it will lose most of its value if we do not make it memorable, actionable, and transferable. Master_Presenters put as much work into this part of presenting as they do into the development, delivery, and organization of their material. To become more like a Master Presenter, we suggest that you reread and apply the strategies and skills that are presented in this chapter until you are using them effectively in each and every presentation. If your message is worth saying, make it worth remembering. You and your audience will benefit.


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