business professionals at a table with one woman raising her hand

In the latest 2021 Training Industry Report, conducted by Training Magazine, results indicated that U.S. training expenditures rose nearly 12 percent to $92.3 billion in 2020-2021. While this increase can be attributed to various factors, it seems safe to conclude that corporations find value in offering their employees learning and development opportunities and are willing to pay a pretty penny for it. That said, how do you ensure that it’s money well spent—not just in one ear and out the other?

While there are various reasons a training or learning event may “fail” or be deemed ineffective, one recurring challenge we see within the learning and development industry is a lack of sustainability measures to transfer the learning back to the workplace. Teaching new skills is certainly important, but if participants aren’t able to “make it stick” by effectively transferring and applying those skills when they return to work, what’s the point?

Why Care About Transfer?

A fascinating study conducted by American Express found that the key difference in achieving high performance after training was the transfer climate. This study also found that employees who made improvements as a result of training were

  • Four times more likely to have had a meeting with their manager to discuss how to apply the training.
  • Almost twice as likely to believe that their manager endorsed and supported the training.
  • More than twice as likely to expect that they would be recognized or rewarded for the training and changes in their behavior.

In order to minimize training scrap and drive bottom-line results, individuals, teams, managers, and other key stakeholders need to support the transfer and sustainability of an organization’s development initiatives.

Keys to Transfer and Sustainability Success

  • Provide an engaging core learning experience that helps participants believe they can utilize the skills and knowledge they’ve gained—and that they know how to do it.
  • Help the participants discover how they will personally benefit from applying the skills and achieving improved results.
  • Provide the participants with guidance on how to practice and apply the skills shortly after the learning experience. The forgetting curve is steepest early on.
  • Ensure that participants are receiving recognition, coaching, and feedback from their managers about progress and results, as well as patience and support from team members as they work to apply their new skills.
  • Encourage the participants’ managers to actively support and model the skills and knowledge.

Transfer-Support Recommendations

While many things can be done to provide ongoing support to participants as they transfer their new knowledge and behaviors to the workplace, consider these seven recommendations to help reinforce and sustain the learning.

1. Application Assignments

Schedule sustainability activities that will require the participants to recall and revisit what they learned shortly after the training. The frequency of distribution for these messages can be tailored to each organization’s need/preference. Here are some examples of what this may look like:

  • Application tips and suggestions sent via email or text
  • Relevant articles or reading assignments
  • Lunch-and-learn or other follow-up sessions to reinforce the learning
  • Follow-up surveys or assessments

manager support

2. Manager Support

As illustrated in the American Express study mentioned above, manager participation and support should be an integral part of any transfer and sustainability initiative. How managers are held accountable for these responsibilities will need to be determined on a case-by case basis and may look different for each organization/team, but here are some suggestions:

  • Meet with the participant prior to attending a learning event to discuss learning objectives and expectations.
  • Meet with the participant following an event to discuss application plans, key takeaways, and support needed to transfer and apply the learning.
  • Provide ongoing coaching, feedback, and support to the leader participating in the program.
  • Model the skills and principles being introduced.

3. Accountability Teams

Establishing an Accountability Team is a simple way to create a peer-support network and personal accountability for transferring and applying the learning on the job. For best results, consider holding meetings 1–2 times per month for at least three months after a learning event. These can be done face-to-face or over the phone. During a meeting, participants can discuss the following:

  • How they have applied concepts and principles since the last meeting.
  • Progress they have made on application assignments or opportunities for improvement.
  • Any challenges they are encountering.
  • Successes they have experienced.

All team members are expected to listen actively and offer insights and suggestions to their peers for overcoming the challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities that each person is experiencing.

collaboration concept in business

4. Collaboration Channel/App

To enhance networking and build relationships within a training group, consider utilizing a collaboration channel/app such as Teams or Slack. Participants could use this channel to post updates to their application plans, pose questions to the group, discuss obstacles and challenges, and share success stories. Resources, readings, and other support tools can also be posted to the collaboration channel for easy access.

5. Learning Journal

Utilizing a Learning Journal is another way to extend a learning experience into a personally rewarding journey. It becomes a compass as individuals plot a course and plan for how they will use the skills learned every day. It will also act as an effective tool for participants to review what they learned. Consider offering a customized leather-bound journal that is embossed with your company or program branding.

Here are a few examples of what people can write about in a journal:

  • The exercises and activities they were exposed to and what they discovered that will make an impact on them and their team.
  • The range of emotions they experienced during the workshop (fear, excitement, frustration, etc.).
  • The insights they gained as a result of their participation (ideas, connections, metaphors, discoveries, examples, etc.).
  • The actions they will initiate as a result of their participation in a learning event (what they will do more of, do differently, etc.).
  • The insights they gain from discussions with their manager.

6. Supplemental Training

Another option for consideration is supplementing high-potential or fast-tracked leaders with additional training resources to accelerate their development. This could be providing them with additional training opportunities, access to self-paced digital courses, or one-on-one training on specific topics not included in the original learning event.

7. One-on-One Coaching

Some organizations elect to have participants engage in one-on-one coaching opportunities. These can be done in person, over the phone, or through a virtual meeting with either internal or external experts, mentors, or leaders. During these calls, the participant can discuss progress they are making with their application plans, or specific challenges and development needs.

Learning and development is not a one-time event; it is a journey. The finish line is not simply the end of a learning event, but after the learning has been transferred and behavior change has occurred. Identifying ways to help participants sustain and reinforce the learning is central to driving performance improvement and achieving business results. To this end, all CMOE products and services have transfer and sustainability mechanisms and tools already built in to ensure application and provide a complete experience. Reach out on our website to learn more.

About the Author
Kelsi Mackay
Kelsi is a Senior Account Manager and valued team member at CMOE. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management with an emphasis in Organizational Development and Human Resources. She is passionate about personal development and values the opportunity she has to enable others in their own learning and development.

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