Conducting a Manager-Employee Post-Course Debriefing Meeting
Following up with training program participants how they will apply their learning motivates employees to use their new skills on the job.
Post-Training Activities and Training Transfer
Workplace training is effective when employees learn and then apply that learning to their job. To promote learning and application, most managers and trainers focus on what happens in the training room. In fact, activities that occur before and after the training are at least as important for getting employees to transfer training to the job.
One important activity that can help with training transfer is the training participant's manager conducting a pre-training briefing meeting with each employee. At this meeting, the participant's manager discusses:
- what will be learned
- how the learning applies to the employee's job
- potential barriers to applying the learning
- pre-course activities
To get maximum benefit from this meeting, it is best followed up with another meeting after the training course finishes. For managers who want to get the most out of their training resources, this post-course debriefing meeting is one very important activity that they undertake.
In this meeting, the participant's manager reviews with the participant the content taught in the training and the participant's experiences during the course. Many participants returning from training report the lack of opportunities to apply the skills learned once back in the workplace. The post-course debriefing is an ideal juncture at which to identify, plan and agree with the employee where and when the skills will be applied and to set specific goals for their application.
As with the pre-course briefing meeting, one-on-one meetings are much more preferable compared with group meetings. Meeting with each employee individually conveys a greater sense that the employee is important and gives them more of an opportunity to express private concerns. These meetings are also best conducted and led by the participant's manager. Leaving these meetings to the responsibility of the Human Resources staffs circumvents the pivotal role of managers in guiding the performance of their direct reports. What is meant by the term "manager" here is the person to whom the training participant directly reports to on the job. This could be a line manager, supervisor or team leader.
Post-Course Debriefing Meeting Structure
Figure 1 below is a suggested 11-point structure for conducting such a meeting. The structure shown here is for meeting with an individual employee and where the training program is one component of a wider organizational change or improvement initiative. The manager will need to advise the employee the time, venue and purpose of the meeting beforehand. The seating should be arranged so that it does not reinforce a perceived power imbalance (no sitting behind large desks) and all mobile devices should be turned off for the duration of the meeting.
The dialogue needs to be open and honest from both the manager's and the participant's point of view. Engaging the employee's heart and mind with the organization's values and goals will not happen through browbeating the employee into submission. Using such intimidatory tactics, the manager will obtain at best submissive compliance from the employee until the manager turns their back or, alternatively, will be met with passive resistance.
Put the employee at ease.
"Hello John. Thank you for your time. How did you enjoy that movie you saw last weekend?"
State the purpose of the meeting.
"John, today I want to talk to you about the recent Working in Teams training program you attended."
Ask employee about what they learned.
"Can you fill me in what new knowledge and skills you learned during the program? What did you find the most useful? What was least useful?"
Remind employee of the organizational context for the training and its importance.
"As you know, we nominated you for the training because you are a key person in our move to a more devolved decision-making structure. Our aim is to increase our business viability and make your work more interesting and challenging."
Remind employee of the relevant learning outcomes.
"What we now need for you to be able to do is:
– liaise with customers
– agree and set team goals
Discuss how each learning will be applied and the time frame for application.
"With which customers will you practice the new customer service method? When will you start?"
Discuss and agree goals and measurement method.
"How satisfied should we expect customers to be? How will we be able to tell the satisfaction level of customers?"
Discuss possible barriers to application.
"Do you see any challenges in applying your new knowledge and the new methods? What do you need from me to help you overcome these barriers?"
Update employee documentation.
"Can you please update your development plan with what we discussed today and leave it on my desk?"
Organize follow-up meeting.
"Let's sit down and review your progress in two weeks' time."
Thank employee for their cooperation.
"Thank you for meeting with me today and for your enthusiasm. Please call on me if there is something I can help you with in the meantime."
Link Learning to On-the-Job Performance
A prime goal of the meeting is for the manager to link the stated learning objectives of the training course with what the employee will do on the job – in a concrete way. This can happen smoothly when the learning objectives for the program are stated in terms of expected employee on-the-job behaviors. Actual improved workplace performance is then made possible by the link between the behavior-based learning objectives and the organization's objectives. (For help with writing performance-based learning objectives, see our Writing Learning Outcomes guide and workbook.)
For each employee completing a training course, the organization's objectives targeted by the program may or may not apply directly to that individual. This impacts how the post-course debriefing will be conducted. If the organization's objectives apply directly to the employee, then the manager will need to reaffirm the employee's commitment to these goals during the meeting.
If the organization's goals are too high-level, then the manager will need to break the goal down to a sub-goal to which the employee can agree. Following a customer service training course, for example, the team goal was stated as:
"Improve customer satisfaction by two points as measured by the customer satisfaction survey"
For an administrative officer attending the training, and for whom there is no direct customer interface, this goal may seem irrelevant. In this case, their manager suggested the sub-goal:
"Input all daily customer invoices and payments by close of business each day"
This sub-goal contributes to the main team goal through ensuring that the administrative officer makes available to the service personnel up-to-date customer information.
For well-designed training programs, this disaggregation of goals would not need to occur often. And where it does, ideally this should be done up front, before the employee participates in the program. If you think that a goal cannot be devolved to an employee, ask yourself seriously, "What is the point of that person attending the program?" If it is simply for that employee to become exposed to contextual information, then call it that, instead of subjecting them to "training".
Unfortunately, many managers with poor goal-setting skills seek to avoid responsibility for employee performance and training transfer by claiming that the higher level goal cannot be disaggregated to the level of the individual. Many managers continue to struggle with setting specific and measurable goals for their direct reports. This is unfortunate, as research clearly indicates that goal-setting activities are especially conducive to participants applying the learned skills.
The debriefing meeting structure given above builds on this goal-setting activity. By focusing on performance objectives and organizational outcomes, the manager and the employee are best placed to answer the six questions raised in our meeting format. They are in an optimal position to address and agree on:
which skills will be applied to which work situations
when skills will be applied
what level of performance will be expected
how performance results will be measured
what roadblocks exist to successful skill application
what resources are required to overcome roadblocks
By conjointly answering these critical questions, the manager-employee partnership raises engagement levels and boosts the transfer of skills to the job.
Updating Employee Plan Documents
Where organization's use a Training and Development Plan to record and track each employee's development goals and activities, then use the previously completed form as the starting point for the post-course debriefing meeting. We recommend that each employee's plan be updated at the conclusion of the initial pre-course briefing meeting. If this is done, then points about the organizational context for the training, the course learning outcomes, plans for skills application, and so on, will already have been addressed and will only need reminding at the post-course debriefing. Time will then be better used discussing barriers to application and refining goals. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Training and Development Plan will simply need to be updated. (A proforma Training and Development Plan form is included in our Training Management Template Pack and our From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance guide and workbook.)
If a Training and Development Plan does not exist for an employee, then the post-course debrief is an opportune time for the participant's manager to introduce one. Alternatively, if the participant completed a Personal Action Plan during the training program, then this document could form the basis of the discussion. Either way, if the participant completed a Personal Action Plan, their manager should review the Plan soon after the training. Doing this further reinforces what was learned and provides the needed continuity between the training program and later workplace application. Whichever plan format the participant's manager uses, it should be updated regularly with agreements reached and actions taken. At the end of the post-course debrief meeting, the manager can prompt follow through on the agreed actions by scheduling regular follow-up meetings.
What Is a Personal Action Plan?
A Personal Action Plan is designed to encourage training program participants to develop their own learning and workplace application goals. Typically, blank forms are distributed to all training participants at the beginning of the program. At various points throughout the program, the trainer or facilitator asks participants to add their observations and goals to the form. These junctures at which participants update the form could be at the end of each day, at the end of each session or at the end of each module.
Provide Process Support
Some managers see their role as being strictly "operational" and as excluding this "soft human resources stuff". They try to load these meetings and discussions onto training or Human Resources personnel. The challenge with this approach is that where a trainer or Human Resources Officer alone performs these goal-setting and follow-up activities, the results are usually very limited in value. The role of manager in our organizations is pivotal, especially that of the front-line manager and supervisor.
To assist managers begin and complete this goal-setting and feedback process, the process can be documented and given to each manager or posted in a public place. The process document would simply list the training transfer steps, supplemented by meeting guides and documents required. Or if a performance management process already exists in your organization, it could be modified to include the steps above. As a guide on what actions to take, trainers and managers can also use the Transfer of Training Checklists we provide in our From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance guide and workbook.
Whatever process and documents your organization chooses, remember, it is not the exact process and document formats that are important. What is important is the genuine two-way dialogue between the manager and each participant, and their committed focus on results. View the process and documents simply as the container for the development of productive working relationships and the catalyst for training transfer. Do your best to help managers plan, conduct and follow-up pre-course and post-course meetings with employees. Your organization's future depends on building employee capability to meet current and future challenges.
Find out more about what you can do to increase learner engagement before, during and after your training program. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.