Agile and resilient leaders have never been more in demand. In 2019, organizations spent approximately $3.53 billion to train employees how to be effective leaders. Leadership training is an essential investment, so how can organizations ensure that their leaders retain and apply what they learn back on the job? In a recently released white paper, Sustaining Virtual Leadership Development, we revealed the results of a research study, conducted with Training Industry, Inc., designed to answer that very question.
One of the key findings is that post-training reinforcement, such as coaching or microlearning, and the intent of the learner/practitioner to apply what they learned moving forward has a positive impact on adaptability. Since an organization’s overall resiliency is a function of frontline responsiveness, a manager’s ability to help his or her team effectively adapt to unforeseen and disruptive change is resiliency in action.
Post-training reinforcement can be provided in multiple ways, but the most effective methods include: opportunities for relevant, on-the-job application; practice and feedback.
Regardless of the leadership training modality, a best practice is to incorporate action-oriented course activities that challenge the learner to apply their new skills and knowledge back on the job. In essence, this could be any activity or action plan that enables the learner to answer the question: “What am I going to do differently as a result of the training?” Without a relevant bridge to application, learning transfer and sustainment will likely fail. If a course doesn’t currently include an anchoring, post-training action plan; providing this bridge could be as simple as asking learners to write down one skill or behavior they will commit to practicing on the job and then to share the outcome with their manager or a peer.
We learn by experience and reflecting on those experiences, whether successful or unsuccessful, promotes learning transfer and sustainment. Providing customized reflection tools, such as a Learning Journal as a course companion, enables learners to track their experiences as they test and apply new behaviors and encourages a routine practice of application and documentation to share with their manager for coaching opportunities. These types of resources should be structured with intentional questions that prompt the learner to self-discover their insights and can be particularly helpful as a follow-up to asynchronous e-learning when the learner may benefit from guidance around how to apply or pull through what they learned.
Microlearning that can be accessed and consumed in the flow of work provides opportunities for targeted practice and on-demand reinforcement when it’s convenient for the learner. These should be concise (less than 10 minutes), interactive modules that focus on a single skill or target key content. Microlearning can range from quick content refreshers to scenario-based challenges and gamification and should be adaptable on the learner’s preferred device.
Performance Support job aids and resources that can be accessed in the moment of need support purposeful or “perfect practice.” Depending on the content and the intent, this could be an app or job aid that lists do’s and don’ts or more specific step-by-step instruction. As the learner becomes more proficient and confident, they will rely less on the resource. When designing resources, ensure they only contain the most essential information so learners don’t need to “search” for the relevant direction or information.
Leadership training falls under the soft-skills umbrella, but we all recognize that leadership skills are, in fact, hard and develop over time. It’s an iterative process that requires intentional effort, and feedback — whether from a peer or manager — is a critical element of skill development. As organizations work to define and implement an upskilling strategy, we recommend looking for opportunities to optimize your existing e-learning assets by integrating a peer-coaching component. Learners can be assigned to a cohort that engages in structured peer-coaching touchpoints after each e-learning module to discuss how they applied their learnings on the job and share their experiences.
Managers can provide reinforcement by establishing a 1:1 coaching cadence with individual team members to ensure alignment on priorities and expectations, uncover skill gaps and provide feedback to advance development. The ability to adapt and thrive during change requires leaders who can continually learn and apply new skills on the job. Engaging in intentional and frequent communication helps to ensure that managers stay current on team members’ performance needs as they evolve and successfully influence their success and engagement.