Several years ago, someone asked me a thought-provoking question: “What has been your biggest disappointment in your career?” After careful reflection, it occurred to me that what bothered me most was that while my books were widely read and our training programs were used around the world, people were not following through on the concepts and using them consistently in their day-to-day work.
Why not? I wondered.
When Training Doesn’t Stick
It’s not that people didn’t care or weren’t motivated to apply the learning. It’s just that, despite their most sincere efforts, what they were learning just wasn’t sticking.
People would go to an expensive training, get inspired, and vow to apply the learning. Then they would get back to the office. Soon their notes from the training would be buried under a pile of work. Perhaps they would even try to apply some of the training. But because they were not yet good at the skills, the outcome of their efforts would be neutral or even negative. The newly trained people didn’t really have time to figure out why, so they would write off the training and go back to their old, not-so-great way of doing things.
It bothered us that the investments organizations were making in training were going down the drain.
Coaching Can Bridge the Gap
We realized that to bridge the gap between what people knew—all the good advice and tools they had learned in training—and what they did with this knowledge, people needed more support.
We have found that the best way to help people retain and apply what they learn is to integrate coaching with training. We recommend enrolling participants into a minimum of three coaching sessions after a training. In each session, the coach has focused conversations with the participant to help them tailor their new knowledge to their own work scenarios.
Sometimes even the smartest students miss key insights. Madeleine Blanchard, cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services, recalled working with the president of a company who had just taken our SLII® leadership training. The program teaches leaders how to diagnose the development level of their direct reports on each goal and task and apply the appropriate leadership style.
The president was eager to become a role model for SLII® leadership—someone who knew exactly what each person on his team needed to succeed.
“Do you have clear goals and tasks for each direct report?” Madeleine asked in her first session with the president.
The answer was no. In his eagerness to master all the other content, the president had forgotten the first step in the training: goal setting. That kind of oversight is common—and is exactly why coaches can be invaluable in helping people apply what they’ve learned.
Where AI and Virtual Coaching Fall Short
Lately, artificial intelligence has been making a big splash in the training industry. Although AI technology offers some benefits, when it comes to making training stick, there’s nothing as effective as working with another warm-blooded, breathing human being.
There’s no big mystery to that. If you’ve ever done a physical fitness or weight loss program, you know how much more effective it is to answer to a personal trainer or classroom instructor than an unfeeling, computer-generated coach.
No matter how sophisticated AI becomes, a virtual coach can’t prepare people for all the variables they will encounter when they try to put their training into practice in the workplace. It can’t hold people accountable to their commitment to apply the training. And there’s no way a virtual coach can take the place of a human when it comes to acknowledging, praising, and celebrating progress.
It’s human nature to be motivated by positive feedback from others. “After our coaching sessions, people often get back to me about how they’re applying the training,” says Madeleine. “A common email I get is, ‘You are going to be so proud of me.’”
Coaching: An Investment with Long-Term Rewards
The investments organizations make in training are not intended to end when people leave the classroom. In fact, that’s just the beginning. The hope is that the benefits from the training will accrue to the bottom line over the long term.
A small additional expenditure in follow-up coaching assures that an organization’s training investment will pay dividends well into the future. If the cost of one-on-one coaching is prohibitive, small group coaching can also be effective. So, start integrating follow-up coaching with your training. You’ll be amazed at the results!