BABBle with the Boss

How a simple conversation between the learner and their boss can help make learning stick

Imagine this……

You’re an employee in an organisation getting on with your day job. You’re pretty good at it; when out of the blue you receive an invitation to attend a two-day training event delivered by an external training company. It’s in a few weeks’ time, there’s space in your diary, the topic seems relevant to you and generally you enjoy learning new things so you accept the invitation and get back to your day job.

Several weeks pass, there’s no further information about the workshop and your boss doesn’t mention the training to you either. You’re actually quite busy with your day-to-day tasks and so finding out more about the training doesn’t make it to the top of your list of priorities; then suddenly the first day of training is upon you. You make your way to the training room, take a seat and wait for something to happen. The question is – will being there make any real difference at all???

With the very best of intentions the company has provided access to training, recognising the value of developing its people and knowing that it’s a factor that helps employees feel engaged with the business. Employees have been nominated to attend, because presumably what they might learn could help them to improve their performance and hopefully help the business get closer to achieving its goals and objectives. But there are no guarantees!

If there was one thing you could do to increase the likelihood of trainees transferring learning from the classroom to the workplace, making the training worthwhile for them, and you, by delivering a meaningful return on investment, you wouldn’t want ignore it, right?

The super-simple and low-cost solution is the BABB(le), the Before & After Boss Briefing.

If we take a look at the world from the point of view of the learner and consider what they need in order to be ready for the learning environment; then the importance of the BABBle is revealed.

1. Learners need to feel good about attending the training event.

We’ve met many who think that training is a punishment and that being “put on a training course” means they are failing in some way. So consider the damage it could do to a person’s motivation if you nominate them to attend training without them knowing the intention behind it.

We also work with people who dislike the unexpected. They like to be prepared, to have given some thought to what they will encounter, to get a sense of structure and know they aren’t going to be put in a situation where they feel foolish.

Boss Briefing: Spend some time talking about the content of the training and what’s in it for the learner. Tell them why you nominated them and what they can expect and discuss ways they can make the learning event successful for them and how to get the most out of it.

2. Learners want to be free of the distractions of the day job.

Some careful planning, with involvement from the trainee, can ensure that during the event, the learner can give their full attention to the training. Trainers and facilitators will often use activities early in their sessions to help learners remove mental distractions, but the physical ones need to be anticipated and eliminated too.

Boss Briefing: Discuss with your learner how to cover the day job whilst they attend the learning event. What will you need to anticipate and who could take care of it instead, whilst ensuring service levels and delivery standards are maintained? Agree and implement the plan of action; share the responsibility for making it happen.

3. Learners need to know what they are already good at and what to look out for from the training that will help them to perform better.

A more immature learner may not have a high degree of self-awareness and so may find they struggle to understand what they are good at and what skills and knowledge they should work on building. They are often helped by understanding how others view them and can find a sense of direction from high quality feedback that is delivered well.

Boss Briefing: Prepare feedback around 2 / 3 key topics relevant to the training. Explore these topics with the learner, encourage them to express their views of their own performance and share real examples that illustrate the level of performance they are capable of. Consider not only what they do now but their potential in the future.

4. Learners need help to be able to spot which of the specific skills, techniques and knowledge that they are exposed to can (and should) be applied to their job.

When we understand how the training content is relevant to our roles in the real world it makes it easier for us to recognise when something useful pops up in the training. We tend to be predisposed to look for patterns and links between things as a way to make sense of them, so helping trainees to anticipate the links between content and the real world can increase their attention to and retention of information.

Trainees who go into a training event with a “mental checklist” of things that could be useful for them tend to be very focused, the event becomes less of a passive encounter and when they do spot something potentially useful they are ready for it.

Boss Briefing: Discuss future challenges for the learner’s role and the business function and at a high level identify the skills, techniques and knowledge that may be important. Align this with the content that is included in the workshop, and make it clear which aspects may not be covered.

5. Learners need opportunities after the training to practice what has been learned and to test it out, finding ways to make it part of “business as usual.”

Immediately after the training, and for a sustained period afterwards, a learner needs a chance to practice what they have learned. “Use it or lose it” is the phrase that springs to mind here. If your training provider has written some great content that fits your learners like a glove in terms of its relevance, then obviously you want them to absorb as much of it as possible and more importantly, implement it fully.

Often old personal habits and established work routines get in the way here and someone has to clear a path for the learner to play with their new skills, techniques and knowledge so they can make a real difference in the business.

Boss Briefing: After the training recap on key learning points and encourage the learner to point out when and how they can apply their learning. Agree specific opportunities they can access to implement their learning and plan these in; offer encouragement and revisit the plan often to check learner is integrating learning as agreed. Setting targets for performance improvements can sometimes work well here.

6. Learners need help to recognise success and celebrate it.

The pace that most people work tends to mean they find little time for reflection and celebration of success. However, when you ask people about the defining moments in their careers, whilst some will share horror stories to make your toes curl, many more will refer to moments when their boss gave them some positive feedback and praise about their achievements and allowed them a moment to revel (even briefly) in their success. Some learners need a little help to notice what’s going well, and it’s important to give them this if they are to replicate great performance again and again.

Boss Briefing: Set a review schedule, 30, 60 and 90 days out from the original training and at each stage highlight successful outcomes. Reward improvements with something that is meaningful to the learner and encourage more of the same.

The Before & After Boss Briefing is not a magic bullet, it’s just one of a wide range of tactics that can boost the return on investment for your training activities! It does allow you to create the right learning conditions for your employees and even a small incremental shift in what is learned, retained and implemented through workshop-based learning will make the results of your training investment more impactful and help your training budget go further; and that’s no bad thing!