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A recent operation on my foot required being on crutches for a few weeks. My lack of mobility gave me time to reflect. Naturally, I was dismayed to learn that walking with crutches was more difficult than I’d imagined. With time, I came to realize that my current predicament was a lot like providing training within an organization:

  1. It’s a lot harder than it looks. The doctor gave me my crutches and a pamphlet with directions. I’d seen enough other people use them to have the basic idea of how it worked. I read through the material and said, “Yeah, I got this.” Then I tried to use the crutches and realized it wasn’t as simple as it seems in theory.

The same phenomenon happens with training participants. Often, in class, they know all the answers and can do the in-class activities perfectly well. Then, they get out into the real world and it just doesn’t flow as well as it did in class. This is particularly true for communications and interpersonal skills training. Yes, they can learn what the16 Meyers Briggs categories mean and how to react to each. It’s another thing to remember how to quickly analyze and decide what to do in the heat of the moment.

  • Training Solution: Make sure your training offers enough practice opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. The more employees feel comfortable using the new skill or tool, the more likely they are to continue using it.
  1. Workarounds happen. Watching others and reading crutch usage tips on the internet helped, but not as much as actually walking with the crutches and finding a comfortable swing, stride, and pace. It might not have been the “official” way of doing things, but it worked and felt better.

Employees do the same thing when they try to apply the learning back at their jobs. At first, they might try to follow the step-by-step instructions. Soon, they discover easier ways to achieve the same ends. With some luck, the shortcuts cause no lasting damage.

  • Training Solution: Build follow-up opportunities into the training plan to verify that employees are (a) using the new skill or tool and (b) using it in a way that causes no harm. Consider holding brown-bag sessions to discuss issues and tips, assigning mentors, creating formal check-in sessions with either managers or trainers, or manage by walking around. Some personalization is acceptable, so long as it does not harm the employee, product, or organization.
  1. Too much dependency causes other problems. Eventually, the doctor told me to start walking more with both feet and using the crutches less. Although this sounded good in the office, in reality, it was not so easy to give up the crutches. I found it easier and quicker to move with the crutches than to walk with only 20% of the weight on my foot. I tried doing both but it only made my arms and shoulders hurt more. I was stuck: not enjoying the crutches but afraid to give them up.

In the work world, this can happen, too. Employees turn to their bosses or coaches for guidance making decisions. The coach proves so valuable that after a while, the employee becomes afraid to make a decision without passing it by someone for validation first. This can cause slow decision-making and impede the employee’s ability to work independently.

  • Training Solution: Set a time limit for post-training support activities. Nothing generates interest like a limited-time offer. If employees know that they have a limited time for support, they are more likely to seek it out. Similarly, managers or mentors are more likely to do their part actively if they know it is a limited commitment. A support program that ends after four sessions is viewed much more favorably if the ending is a planned event and not just a sunset due to lack of interest.

 The bottom line is that training and post-training support programs, like crutches, serve a needed purpose when used appropriately. Done incorrectly or for too long, they lose their effectiveness. Careful planning during the development of the training program and ongoing monitoring during the execution phase can help increase the effectiveness of the tool.