After several years of limited investments in the development of staff, organizations are beefing up their training budgets and plans. Last year, U.S. training organizations increased spending by 12% and similar growth rates are expected for 2013.
More workshops. More online tools. More webinars.
Add to this a growing awareness that development doesn't depend exclusively upon formal learning activities. Exposure to others, networking and mentoring are powerful tools for taking employees from where they are to where they want or need to be.
And intentional in-job development experiences have finally been recognized as the most accessible strategy to help others grow as they "learn by doing" real work.
So, this training renaissance should mean that soon we'll see great strides in terms of improved skills, knowledge, productivity, and results. Right? Not necessarily.
We don't make time to reflect on our learning and development
Genuine learning is only half achieved through the experience itself. The other half may be even more challenging to make happen... because it requires that we pause, take a breath, and reflect upon what's occurred.
The development activity transforms into useful learning only when we integrate it with what we already know and do... when we find a place for it to play out through our heads, hearts, and hands.
The problem is that in today's hyper-active, hyper-busy workplace, finding the time to pause may be the greatest challenge of all. After attending training, employees frequently feel overwhelmed by the work that piled up while they were away.
Webinars get slotted in between other meetings, so that people flow from one activity to the next with little if any "thinking" time in the day.
As a result, the newly increased investment in training and development may fall short of expectations. Even worse, it may actually increase staff anxiety and dissatisfaction as employees realize they aren't putting the knowledge and skills they've acquired into practice.
What's the answer?
We need to pause... in order to put knowledge gained into practice
Going from knowing about something to really growing and developing requires a pause. New ideas, new approaches, new skills all need some space to settle into the scheme of what we already know and do.
Our minds need to reconcile the new with the old. To really make new insights take hold, we need to consider how they apply more broadly. And we need to plan in very concrete ways the steps we'll take to approach work or behave differently.
We need to give the product of training or development activities the space to breathe. We need to sit with new ideas and knowledge. We need to take time to step back, reflect, internalize, and consciously decide how one will put new insights, skills, and abilities to work... that's where the real payoff occurs.
Five questions to ask to increase your return on training investment
So, the next time you - or those who report to you - engage in a development activity (formal or informal), set aside even 15 minutes for respiration and integration.
Just five simple questions can dramatically increase the return on your training investment:
- What did I discover about myself? Learning is a process of self-discovery. Gaining a greater understanding of strengths, weaknesses, biases, preferences, and approaches creates a solid foundation for growth and performance.
- What did I find easiest and most challenging... and what does that mean? Consciously considering the content or experience from this standpoint provides powerful insights into current capacity and areas that may be most important to explore for development.
- What three to five ideas will most dramatically enhance my performance and results? New knowledge must be translated to actions for it to be productive. But too much of a good thing isn't! Leaving a workshop with 20 ideas to implement is a guarantee that nothing will happen. Identifying just a few high-impact actions generates early results and the momentum to continue to put forth effort.
- How might I broaden what I've learned to different contexts? Using a new skill as it was taught is great. But finding ways to use that skill in different ways, with different customers, under different conditions... that takes learning to a whole new level.
- Who would benefit from me sharing what I've learned? Teaching someone else what we know is a powerful way to seal the learning while cementing individual commitment to it in the future.
As organizations increase their training budgets and invest more heavily in the development of staff members, let's remember to build in that final step to ensure that knowing becomes growing.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Learn.
Your turn: What suggestions do you have for putting knowledge gained from learning and development activities into practice?