Tips on Making Training Stick

by Ph. D.

Training is a powerful improvement technique that offers tremendous benefits when judiciously used. The downside is that it's both an expensive and ephemeral way to close a "performance gap" in an organization. It's expensive because it takes people away from their regular work and typically involves development, logistics and support costs. It's ephemeral because of its fragile and short life span within people's brains, which is why learners need considerable follow-up support to make use of training.

Training typically consists of the "how-to" information people need to effectively perform their jobs, presuming their natural talents are a good fit for their responsibilities. You would use training only when indicated to bridge a true knowledge gap. In fact, there are many situations in which training might not be appropriate, such as when people already have sufficient job knowledge but are being impeded by other circumstances.

This article discusses management's role in supporting the many factors that influence how well people can transfer to their jobs any training they receive.

Transferring Training to the Job Requires More than Luck

The term "transfer of training" refers to the ability of learners to apply their new knowledge and skills to real-world situations, particularly in the workplace.

If trainees cannot apply what they've learned to their jobs, their training time and investment will have been wasted!

Training transfer "success factors" include, but are not limited to:

  1. A compelling, mission-based training purpose
  2. Learners' attitudes toward the training process
  3. The design and relevance of instructional materials
  4. The presence or absence of obstacles to productivity
  5. Working conditions that support and encourage the desired outcomes
  6. Budget and schedule allocations that enable learners to practice skills
  7. The availability of necessary tools, resources, equipment and job aids
  8. The level of management support for the immediate use of the training
  9. The amount of post-training motivation, practice, and guidance provided

Below are four critical steps managers can take to ensure that training transfer occurs!

Step 1: Determine Organizational Needs that Require Training

Training programs are most effective when they directly address either organizational problems or opportunities.

Whenever it's clear that training can support a compelling organizational need, learners will take it more seriously, and it will be far easier to justify and calculate a return on investment.

So, start by identifying the critical business issues related to any proposed training in terms of:

  • Problems: For example, a high rate of customer complaints, dwindling sales, the risk of losing certification or poor product quality.

  • Opportunities: For example, expanding into new markets, improvements to products or processes to increase profitability, anticipated regulatory changes or achieving industry certifications.

Next, answer the following questions regarding those identified problems or opportunities:

  • What outcomes should this training produce? Sample outcomes include increased product sales, decreased customer complaints, better designs of process experiments, more accurate defect analysis summaries and supervisors regularly coaching their staff.

  • To which projects, products, and processes would the training pertain? Example: The assembly process for Part 456 on the satellite project.

  • What risks would be incurred if the needed outcomes were delayed? For example, could there be an imminent loss involving a safety hazard, product failure or customer departure? Or would a product rollout be delayed, a certification requirement missed or an essential market repositioning stalled?

  • What alternatives to training exist, if any? Could you possibly satisfy the need for improvement using other approaches, instead of, or in addition to, training? You might discover through this analysis that "how-to" training is not the answer, or is only part of the answer, to desired improvement. For example, employees might need more practice; clearer expectations; or better access to, or more knowledge of, the standards that would tell them exactly how well to perform the work in each case. This is critical in industries in which several levels of regulations govern quality requirements for various processes.

  • The remainder of the answer may reside in organizational "tune-ups" — which entail systematically identifying and removing obstacles to success. If people already know how to do their jobs, and yet still aren't producing as desired, then look for roadblocks that are impeding their progress. These issues could account for about 85% of poor organizational performance! See additional information on this topic in Step 4.

Step 2: Carefully Plan the Instructional Experience

Describe the characteristics of the instruction that would result in the desired outcomes you listed in Step 1:

  • Identify a training objective for each outcome or desired achievement level. Training objectives involve three parts: a condition, an action and a standard or criterion.

    For example, "Given a new customer telephoning with questions [a condition], be able to provide fast and accurate product information [an action] to comply with standards on the customer support checklist [a criterion]."

  • List any pre-course assignments that learners must complete. For example, identify any required readings, exercises, assessments and surveys.

  • Indicate the learner's commitments before, during and after training. For example: Activities that would occur before instruction might require 10 hours to complete; the activities that occur during instruction might require 30 hours; and practice, support and evaluation sessions afterward might require up to 40 hours.

  • List reference aids and materials that learners will receive. For example, list manuals, tools, textbooks, procedures and quick reference guides.

Next, have the employee and supervisor (or manager) complete a learning contract to spell out the commitments each is making to help ensure optimal learning. Use a separate contract for each employee.


Part 1: Employee's Commitment:

I, __________________________, wish to receive the following instruction: ________________________________. If chosen to participate, I agree to:

  1. Complete and return all pre-course assignments on time.
  2. Attend and actively participate in all course sessions.
  3. Keep an "ideas and applications notebook" and/or write an action plan.
  4. Discuss the applications ideas and/or action plan with my supervisor.
  5. Share highlights of the program with my work team (e.g., at staff meetings).
  6. Participate in all follow-up practice, support and/or evaluation sessions.

Signed ________________________

Date __________________________

Part 2: Supervisor's (or Manager's) Commitment:

I, ____________________, supervisor of the above employee, agree to:

  1. Participate in all planning, needs analysis and/or briefing sessions.
  2. Release the employee from work assignments to enable participation in all sessions and assignments before, during and after instruction.
  3. Minimize interruptions to the instructional process.
  4. Discuss "ideas and applications notebooks" and/or action plans with the employee.
  5. Encourage the employee to share highlights of the program with the work team.
  6. Model skills, coach the employee and/or provide specific occasions for practice and integration of the new skills into the employee's job.

Signed ________________________

Date __________________________

Adapted from M. Broad & J. Newstrom (1992). Transfer of Training.

Step 3: Identify Support Needs Related to Instruction

Describe management support for the instructional experience that would enable employees to transfer new learning to the job. This section echoes the supervisor's commitments from the "Learning Contract," above, explores them in more depth and then culminates with a "Training Applications Contract."

  • Indicate the types of support needed before, during and after training.
    For example, you might want to either schedule fill-in personnel or postpone completion of the employee's assignments until after the training. If the fill-in personnel would be needed for desk coverage before, during or after training, plan to identify, notify and schedule them for those assignments.

  • Identify situations in which follow-up practice and feedback can occur.
    These situations could include staff meetings, briefings, presentations, team problem-solving workshops or one-on-one coaching sessions. Learners could demonstrate and practice their newly acquired skills with team members to elicit their feedback and suggestions. Of particular value are learners' own observations about any areas in which streamlining work processes or removing obstacles to success would help them better apply their new skills to the job.

  • Provide "training relapse prevention" systems, coaching and detection.
    Applying new learning is by no means foolproof, and lapses are inevitable. To keep lapses from becoming total relapses to pre-instructional skill levels, the guidelines below suggest how management can help learners prevent them.

Management Guidelines for Relapse Prevention

  • Recognize lapses as useful information, not as failures.
  • Schedule role-playing or coaching sessions ahead of time to prevent lapses.
  • Encourage trainees to keep records of successes when using skills on the job.
  • Use just-in-time, facilitated workshops to help teams practice on live projects.
  • Consider implementing an electronic performance support system to continually refresh and maintain the learners' skills. Ideally, the training program itself would be designed around the use of this system.

No later than very soon after the training, have each employee and supervisor (or manager) complete a Training Applications Contract similar to the one below to help the employee apply newly acquired skills to work projects. Use a separate contract for each employee.


Part 1: Employee's Commitment:

I, __________________________, plan to apply my training as follows:

  1. Maintaining and sharing my "ideas and applications notebook."
  2. Periodically reviewing my ideas and/or action plan with my supervisor.
  3. Applying skills and knowledge from my instruction to the following tasks or projects:

    1. _____________________________________________________
    2. _____________________________________________________
    3. _____________________________________________________

Signed ________________________

Date __________________________

Part 2: Supervisor's (or Manager's) Commitment:

I, ____________________, supervisor of the above employee, agree to set specific dates for support and encouragement of the job-related applications listed above. These dates are currently scheduled as follows:

Date #1 ____________________ Date #2 _____________________

Date #3 ____________________ Date #4 _____________________

Signed ________________________

Date __________________________

Adapted from M. Broad & J. Newstrom (1992). Transfer of Training.

Step 4: Identify Support Needs Related to the Work Environment

Describe the management support pertaining to the work setting that will enhance the employees' ability to apply training to the job. By creating an action plan to address the environmental factors below, you can better assure transfer success.

  • Aligned consequences: For reward and incentive systems to work well, they must align with improvement goals and give learners recognition for desirable achievement. Management also must remove any negative consequences that would inadvertently inhibit the use of new skills.

  • Clear work documentation: Work policies, procedures and processes should correlate closely with the training objectives to enable trainees to produce the required outcomes.

  • Unambiguous work expectations: Beyond documented directives, management should clearly communicate job requirements to the trainees.

  • Information, job aids, and resources: Effective training follow-up includes providing related information, reference aids and resources (including staff, budget, schedule, tools and equipment) to help produce the desired results.

  • Reduced complexity: Complexity in the work environment makes every aspect more difficult — from documenting procedures to task completion. Streamlining the work lessens cost, time and effort, especially for trainees.

  • Optimized workflows: Constraints in the workflow create bottlenecks that need careful management. When a workflow is cumbersome and constant interruptions occur due to inadequate prioritization, the ability to apply newly acquired skills suffers dramatically.

  • Eliminated work obstacles: Productivity barriers can include anything from the issues listed above to confusing procedures to uncalibrated equipment to out-of-control processes that cause variability beyond the workers' control. Many such work impediments are capable of dramatically impeding training transfer.

  • Periodic progress reviews: Periodic review sessions with trainees (e.g., at three-month intervals) can monitor the extent to which people are using their new skills. These sessions could review task checklists, evaluate work results, discuss any further practice options, identify obstacles and generate ideas for system improvements.

To recap, some of the many instructional and environmental support possibilities that boost training transfer appear in the following table:

Summary of Instructional and Environmental Support Factors

Clearer achievement expectations

Quick reference guides and job aids

Supervised practice and feedback

Clear, documented work directives

Rewards for desirable accomplishments

Elimination of negative consequences

More management encouragement

Coaching to increase confidence, value

Eliminating obstacles to productivity

Simplification of jobs, tasks, processes

Resources (e.g., time, people, tools)

Better task prioritization and scheduling

Individualized, on-the-job guidance

Up-to-date electronic support systems

Optimizing workflows and constraints

Team problem-solving workshops

In conclusion, management's diligent focus on supporting the transfer of training from a planning, instructional and environmental perspective will help ensure that the valuable resources invested in training will produce the greatest possible benefit to the organization.

Copyright © Business Performance Inc., Adele Sommers, All Rights Reserved.

About the Author
Adele Sommers

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the creator of the "Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance" success program. To learn more about her book and sign up for more free tips like these, visit her site at

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From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance

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