Training ROI requires attention to followup

By Vince Molinaro
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/25/2003

Business leaders are demanding to see a return on investments, but research shows that when it comes to training, organizations are not following up on ROI.

One of the best ways to realize training ROI is to apply learning acquired in a training program back in the workplace. Research in this area suggests the transfer of learning may not be that high.

A recent survey of training professionals, conducted by Alan Saks and Monica Belcourt of York University, explored training transfer. Respondents estimated that only about 62 per cent of employees immediately apply what they learn back on their jobs. Six months after training, the estimated average is 44 per cent, and only 34 per cent one year after attending a course.

Respondents were also asked to estimate how much of training results in a positive change in employee and organizational performance. The respondents estimated that on average 51 per cent of the organization’s training investments resulted in positive performance change in employee performance and 47 per cent in organizational performance. Why aren’t these figures higher and why is the transfer of learning apparently so low?

What’s the problem

One of the main reasons for poor training transfer is that there is there is still a strong tendency to view training as an isolated event rather than an ongoing process. As a result, little attention is placed on pre-course preparation and even less is placed on followup after training.

Think for a moment of the last training session you attended. Did your manager followup with you after the program? Probably not — this rarely occurs.

Yet, effective followup is a critical for increasing the transfer of learning and ensuring training ROI.

The responsibility for the effective transfer of learning and the ROI of training no longer rests solely with HR professionals. However, managers and employees are often too busy to implement overly formal and complicated procedures. HR professionals can enhance the transfer of learning in their organizations by working with managers and employees to implement one or two of the strategies discussed below. The key is to keep it simple and focus on helping the organization maximize its return on training investments.

For managers

Ongoing performance coaching:

Managers who are really good at followup incorporate the content from training programs into their ongoing coaching sessions with employees.

Teachable moments:

Managers must be on the look out for the “teachable moments” — events that are opportunities to reinforce learning. For example, if an employee has taken a conflict resolution course and comes into a manager’s office to discuss a conflict situation, the manager can use the learning points in the course to help the employee better deal with the situation.

The buddy-system:

At one organization, new sales representatives buddy up with graduates of previous training programs. The colleagues work to explore how to apply the knowledge and skills gained through the training program.

This has proven to be a very successful strategy because it is non-threatening and helps build strong relationships within teams.

Informal and immediate contact:

Probably the most simple, though most powerful, followup strategy is to encourage managers to have immediate contact with their employees after a training program.

A quick e-mail or voicemail, or better yet, a brief face-to-face conversation to merely ask, “How did the training go and what did you come away with?” can make a significant impact on the transfer of learning.

Followup strategies for employees

Employees can do a great deal to facilitate their own transfer of learning after training programs.

Review the learning:

Research into human memory clearly indicates that a simple review of the learning the day after a training program can enhance retention and application of skills dramatically. If participants take the time to review the learning, it will pay great dividends in terms of enhanced job performance.

Teach others what you’ve learned:

The old adage, that the best way to learn is to teach, is true. Employees should be encouraged to take a few minutes over a coffee break or during a staff meeting to provide colleagues with a summary of key lessons learned.

Take the initiative:

If the employee has a manager who does not typically followup after training, the employee should take the initiative and set up a time to meet. In the meeting, he should provide the manager with a summary of what he learned and what he intends to apply on the job.

Strategies for HR professionals

Good followup is a function of good preparation:

Trainers can design programs to include a variety of ways to better prepare participants for the learning ahead. Some good practices include providing pre-work assignments, real-time facilitated online sessions with participants, meetings with managers to identify objectives and reviewing training content.

Build followup practices into training program:

Trainers should look to build followup activities into training programs. One organization had the novel approach of beginning each training session by brainstorming with participants a series of strategies to ensure effective followup.

For example, a trainer begins her sessions by having participants identify what ideal job performance would look like. Participants are then asked to develop a plan of action to apply their learning before the actual training even begins. By doing this at the beginning of the training, participants are more focused on how to apply the learning in their jobs.

Create a learning contract:

Learning contracts identify what the employee will commit to work on as a result of the training. Learning contracts are a good idea, but often aren’t implemented because they can be too complicated and take too much time. In today’s busy workplaces, learning contracts should be simple and informal but include, at a minimum, a specific performance goal, one or two strategies to implement, and a followup date. Some organizations use simple e-mails as a way of capturing learning contracts and staying in contact with participants.

Involve managers in the training delivery:

Increasingly, innovative trainers are involving managers in delivering part of training programs. This helps managers buy into the training and increases their commitment to the learning process. Managers who deliver training courses take greater ownership and are more willing to followup with their own employees after training.

Performance reviews:

Regular performance reviews are another way to followup after training. Many of today’s performance management systems enable managers and employees to capture the outcomes from training programs.

Leverage technology

: Enterprise-wide learning systems now provide many easy ways to followup with participants after training. Surveys, online discussion boards and communities of practice are all good strategies.

New rules to protect pension plan members

Earlier this year, the Joint Forum of Financial Market Regulators published the Revised Principles for Investment Disclosure in Capital Accumulation Plans (CAPs).

The intent is to create a harmonized regulatory framework for CAPs, so that the degree of coverage for all employees in such plans is similar and that they have access to the same quantity of information on investments, regardless of the type of plan and the applicable legislative framework.

Aside from the proposals for ensuring the provision of advice and education for members (see article), the changes also call for plan administrators or employers to have the responsibility to:

•prudently select, using all relevant knowledge and skill, the investment managers for each option;

•allow members reasonable opportunities to switch between investment options; and

•ensure records for the CAP and each investment option under the CAP are properly prepared and maintained, and prompt action is taken to correct any identifiable errors.

Employers should also be obligated to provide:

•a description of the investment options available and administrative directions on how to make investment choices;

•information on transfer options, and any applicable transfer penalties or fees;

•annual statements containing information such as the total contributions in each member’s account, share/unit value information for each member’s account, interest and investment income earned, a listing of transactions in each member’s account during the year;

•access to specific information on each investment option, transfer options, and reports on significant changes in investment options including members’ rights or options in respect of changes.

Vince Molinaro is a senior consultant with GSWconsultants, a division of Knightsbridge Human Capital Management. He can be reached at (905) 338-9701 or

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