Five Proven Paths to Training Pull-Through

Hands down, the Achilles heel of every learning and training professional is determining how to help the people we sent to training—or trained ourselves!—to change. To grow! To use newly minted tools, techniques, strategies and behaviors to become the leaders we believe they could become—if only they would develop new habits from what they learned!

Oh, and since we have two feet, thus two Achilles heels, let’s call the second one the pressure we have “from above” to demonstrate (they mean prove) measurable growth and return on investment (ROI).

Nope, no pain in those Achilles!

Allow me to share three things that we have always known in talent and organizational development (training), but now have research to use in our business cases alongside Kirkpatrick, Brinkerhoff and adult-learning theory. Five proven paths for pull-through will follow—of which I trust one might catch your attention as the perfect strategy to try in a current situation.

WHY Does Coaching Matter for Reinforcement?

As one of the coaches involved in our recent research study on sustaining virtual leadership development, I saw three encouraging things firsthand.

First, newly learned behaviors were understood more deeply and validated by the learners after a few days (up to two weeks) had passed. After letting it sink in, using it on the job and executing the action plans they crafted during the course, learners now had results to share, as well as questions for their coach, as they began applying concepts to multiple situations. We saw them experience satisfying results, even though not yet to full competency. Corporate training professionals have known this (since the beginning of time?), but this research provides the valuable data.

Second, it was evident that since the learners knew the coaching appointment was on their calendar (and endorsed by their boss!), they kept much of the new learning top of mind so they could intelligently discuss and debrief with their coach. This isn’t a bad thing! We know that check-ins and coaching create accountability that can present a rise in retention as high as 65% over time.1

Third, our reinforcement coaching revealed a powerful two-way street. We could talk about their application of the training as a leader and what they as a follower found they need from their leader. Greater understanding always comes when you internalize and identify with the learning not only as the leader but also as “the led.”

HOW Do We Coach for Reinforcement Results?

Cohort coaching: Talent development professionals have discovered the value of “cohorts”—a group with similar skill level and learning needs—going through a schedule of courses or curriculum together. Get the cohort back together within two to four weeks to discuss how application of the learning has been going on the job. Ask one or two ahead of time to bring a “use-case” scenario they can share for the group to work through together. Other than a brief review at the beginning, if warranted, you are not teacher here but facilitator. Repeat in two to four weeks with three times (ideally) being your goal.

Small-group coaching: Break the larger cohort into subgroups (these may have been established in the activities of the training course). Get this group of three to six together in a similar fashion to the large group. When a group like this “clicks,” they begin to “run themselves” and set a cadence for their discussions on their own. Your involvement as trainer or facilitator also decreases as they own the application of the content more and more, consulting you now (when needed) as coach.

Partners: Encourage pairs who have worked together during the training to put a follow-up meeting in their calendars for two to five days after the training. This is ideal when an action plan was developed during the training around a current situation. Encourage the partners to “see how it went” and perhaps continue to coach and support each other as sounding board, role-play partner and trusted peer coach.

1:1 conversation: Yes—just you and one of the learners. Schedule a 15-minute touchpoint to hear how application is going. Ask for a situation where the recent learning could apply and be prepared with thought-provoking questions (not answers!) that will cause them to connect possible action with their new tools and behaviors. Repeat with as many of the graduates as you feasibly can.

Ambassadors: Seek endorsements from graduates. As you observe “shining stars” adopt and apply concepts with success in their work, engage them as champions for the training. This can take on the following forms:

  • Encourage them to personally endorse the training to others
  • Invite them to speak to a new cohort at the start of the training day regarding what they will experience and the value it can be to them if they fully engage
  • Ask them to recommend colleagues you might consider for future sessions
  • Connect them as coaches to newer graduates to meet at regular intervals over six to 12 weeks following the training

These strategies not only facilitate paths to the training pull-through we are all looking for, they develop and embed a healthy “coaching culture” for learning accountability in your organization.

There you have it. A gift from The Center for Leadership Studies! The study with the data that proves something we have known intuitively for decades: Reinforcement coaching is the key to learning adoption and behavior change.

1Adapted from Brinkerhoff RO, Apking AM. High Impact Learning: New Perspectives in Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change. Cambridge, MA: Perseus; 2001.


  1. Which one of the three “WHY” results will serve you best in your next learning proposal? Check out our research for the direct reference.
  2. Which one of the five “HOW” strategies is the best-match solution for you to deploy on the heels of an upcoming training? Who can you “invite in” on your strategy, to cheer, endorse and support you?