Years ago, I was certified as a Master Trainer for several global training companies. This qualified me to train and certify training facilitators within our corporation for their workshops. I had the opportunity to train, certify, and coach dozens of leadership development workshop facilitators around the globe, including India, China, Canada, UK, and Mexico.
Part of my own certification training introduced me to research that spoke to the probability of actual behavior change after training. At the start of my first Facilitator Certification workshop, we were asked;
“Which of the following do you believe has been shown to have the greatest positive impact on the rate of actual behavior change after training?”
1. Pre-session communication and pre-work
2. The quality of the training materials
3. The workshop design and activities
4. The quality of workshop facilitation
5. Post-session communication and follow-up
Since we were engaged in a week-long facilitator training and certification session, most of us guessed #4, the quality of workshop facilitation. We were surprised to learn that #5, Post session communication and follow-up was actually the strongest predictor of behavior change.
We were then asked, “Which do you think is the second strongest predictor of behavior change?” I thought, for sure this had to be the quality of facilitation, but, no. It was #1 Pre-session communication and pre-work.
At first, this seemed counter intuitive. Here we were spending many thousands of dollars on the best leadership training workshops we could find, thinking the quality of the training experience would be the best way to introduce and promote the leadership skills we wanted. But the research, and my own experience with leadership development over the past 40 years, has convinced me that we need to focus on more than the training to ensure the application of it.
Let’s start with pre-session communication and pre-work. How a workshop if positioned, why it is important to the organization (and to the participant), how participants are selected and invited, all have very significant impacts on the mindset and readiness of the learning leader. In addition, pre-work that encourages reflection on the topic, its relevance to their work and responsibilities, and their own experience, helps set the stage for session participation and eventual application. Making the “up front” investment in clarifying the importance of the training and preparing the participants for productive participation in the session, sets the stage for and establishes the expectation of application and behavior change.
How an organization is prepared to follow-up after a learning event reflects its commitment to the improvement and development it is seeking. If the learning is a “check the box” event, something participants simply need to complete, then real development and behavior change is very unlikely. Accountability for application is important, but even more critical is practice with feedback. Leadership skill development and behavior change do not happen in the classroom. I can go to a class on physical fitness and learn about exercise and diet, but I will not leave the session anymore fit. Developing fitness, including leadership fitness, requires on going commitment, practice, exercise, feedback, and support.
It has been my sad experience that, if an organization is unwilling or unable to engage in pre-session preparation or follow-up support, any investment it may make in training will be wasted. As you consider leadership development or employee training as a step in your efforts to improve your organization’s performance, please take the time to consider how you can position the training and support the participants to ensure the benefits you hope for. We are ready to provide ideas and examples to help your organization get the most from your investment in training.
Senior Leadership Consultant