How To Achieve Permanent Measurable Improvements In Performance
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The decades-long quest to transfer what is learned in the classroom to
improved performance in the workplace has been a confounding one.
For one thing, it isn't easy to change behavior patterns, because they've
been ingrained over time. To correct performance issues, new behaviors have to
be introduced and consistently reinforced over the long term. This means
following up programs with enough continued learning, feedback, coaching and
accountability to stimulate the growth of new neuronal connections that
eventually take the place of old ones.
Unaware of this reality, organizations have wasted billions of dollars
annually investing in learning programs that fail to change behavior.
The greater challenge of the quest for this "Holy Grail" is that the solution
doesn't involve fixing just one thing. A myriad of variables within an
organization influence whether learning is reinforced until new behavior
patterns are established. A process I call Train-to-Ingrain was designed to
achieve permanent, measurable improvements in performance by optimizing aspects
of training and development that impact on learning transfer:
- COMMITMENT - Support follow-up reinforcement
- COACHING - Prepare direct managers for their development role
- FOLLOW-UP - Integrate reinforcement programs with assessment and training
- ACCOUNTABILITY - Measure performance improvement and calculate ROI
- TRAINING FOR TRANSFER - Incorporate learning strategies that promote
application and reinforcement of skills
- LEARNING NETWORKS - Coordinate support for reinforcement
- FOCUS - Identify training needs that will have a positive impact on
- CULTURE - Align the organization's policies and practices to support
However, even decision-makers who've been burned repeatedly by failed
programs may find this systems-wide strategy daunting. A predictable reaction:
"This is too much."
The good news is that it's neither necessary nor desirable to try to improve
all areas at once. The best approach is to get positive results quickly by doing
three things, which can be accomplished in a very short period of time:
1. Acquire integrated assessment and training technologies that support
ongoing skill reinforcement.
2. Involve direct managers in the learning process. Define their staff
development responsibilities and hold them accountable.
3. Measure performance improvement. Assess skill areas before and after
instruction to establish developmental goals and accountability.
These actions will produce immediate successes, and your organization can
then build on this foundation with a gradual, tailored strategy to optimize the
key areas that influence learning transfer. The purpose of this article is to
explain how to carry out these three "quick start" initiatives effectively.
QUICK START INITIATIVE #1: Acquire Integrated Assessment and Training
Technologies that Support Ongoing Skill Reinforcement
The immediate goal is to dramatically improve--in the near term--the ability
of your developmental programs to create lasting improvements in workplace
performance. As a minimum, your organization will need to put into place
assessment and training programs that:
- Focus on the behaviors needed in the workplace
- Are compatible and integrated with each other
- Support ongoing feedback, continued learning, coaching and accountability
Laying the foundation for this technology infrastructure is relatively
FIRST - Acquire a versatile, economical multi-source feedback system.
A robust performance feedback assessment system is absolutely essential, in
which learners get feedback from the people who work with them. For assessing
leadership, sales, service, team and other interpersonal skill areas, 20/20
Insight GOLD is an ideal choice for Train-to-Ingrain because it provides
quantitative assessment of areas of performance that are otherwise hard to
measure. The system is completely customizable and can support any type of
feedback survey, so it can be integrated with practically any training program.
It's economical enough to be used as often as needed for reinforcement, because
you can purchase relatively inexpensive permanent individual licenses,
permitting frequent feedback and repeat measurements at no extra cost.
NEXT - Acquire a training program with resources that support an extended
period of reinforcement.
Ideally, the training program will have built-in reinforcement resources.
Other desirable tools are online video behavior modeling, post-course exercises
and a troubleshooting guide to ensure successful application on the job.
THEN - Integrate the assessment with the training program.
Integration means that the performance feedback survey exactly describes the
behavioral outcomes of the training. Both the assessment system and the courses
should be behavior-based, fully support the requirements of an ongoing process
of reinforcement, and be fully integrated with each other. A versatile feedback
survey platform such as 20/20 Insight GOLD is the key to quick customization.
QUICK START INITIATIVE #2: Involve Direct Managers in the Learning Process
At least four major factors affect individual performance:
- Self-awareness - Competence - Motivation - Support
Managers are empowered to influence all these factors, and they lead people
by doing so. When focused on developing competence, managers set an example,
communicate expectations, demonstrate desired performance, give feedback, and
coach performance. Most organizations expect their managers to fulfill these
traditional staff development responsibilities. However, some managers still
have the perception that performance improvement should be the exclusive
responsibility of the training department. This is an erroneous mindset.
Trainers work hard to present the best possible learning programs. But they
have the attention of learners for only a few days, while managers interact with
their team members for years and can influence career advancement and other
personnel decisions. This is why WHAT DIRECT MANAGERS DO IN THE WORKPLACE
INFLUENCES INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE FAR MORE than what trainers do in the
classroom. The role of trainers is to introduce skills and behavior models. The
reality is that trainers have practically no control over what happens back in
the workplace, where new skills must be diligently applied in order to be
Changing behavior patterns takes months, not days--even in ideal
circumstances. Only the learner's direct manager is in a position to give enough
support, oversight, encouragement, feedback, coaching and reinforcement over the
long term to change behavior. In most cases, how well the manager carries out
this role will make or break the transfer of new knowledge into permanent
improvements in workplace performance--no matter how much was invested in the
Up front, you'll need to do three things to draw direct managers into a
"learning triangle" with their direct reports and trainers:
A. Clarify the direct managers' developmental responsibilities.
The purpose of this step is to require direct managers to coach and develop
direct reports--to make this a formal aspect of their responsibilities.
Expectations such as the following should be communicated in writing by
- Communicate with trainers to be informed about and support assessment,
learning and reinforcement programs
- Meet with direct reports before each assessment, training and reinforcement
initiative to help them prepare to make the most of these learning opportunities
- Define expectations for direct reports and help them set learning goals
- Frequently observe the work of direct reports, paying special attention to
aspects of performance that direct reports are trying to improve
Some organizations revise the job description; others issue a new set of
"competency descriptions." The goal is to overcome any uncertainty or reluctance
direct managers may have.
B. Prepare direct managers to be more effective performance coaches.
Coaching subordinates to improve their skills and job performance is a
traditional leadership role for managers. But many managers simply aren't
prepared to carry it out effectively. If your managers haven't previously been
expected to take responsibility for the day-to-day development of their direct
reports, they may lack understanding, relevant skills and confidence.
The most effective immediate solution in this case is a program that explains
what managers need to do and how to do it before, during and after training to
reinforce the new skills of subordinates. Consistent efforts by the manager
ensure that direct reports ultimately change behavior patterns and improve
performance. An excellent resource is John Whitmore's how-to book, COACHING FOR
PERFORMANCE, 3rd Ed. (Nicholas Brealy, 2002).
C. Hold managers accountable for carrying out their role as performance
First, inform managers that they--and the learners themselves--will be held
accountable for how much the direct reports have improved performance.
One effective way to establish accountability is to administer the brief
15-item performance feedback survey, "Developing and Coaching Others," available
in the 20/20 Insight Survey Library. The survey is an ideal precursor for a
manager's coaching course and can be administered using the 20/20 Insight
software before training. Direct reports will provide respondent feedback, and
the results will reveal areas of strength and needs for improvement of the
direct manager. Let managers know that they'll be given an identical follow-up
assessment in six to twelve months to measure improvement.
QUICK START INITIATIVE #3: Measure Performance Improvement
When executives invest heavily in any product or service to improve a vital
aspect of operations, productivity or profitability, you'd expect at some point
to hear the question, "Has performance actually improved? Was it worth all that
money?" And what they're asking for is proof of results--not somebody's opinion
about the program.
When it comes to training, the traditional way of evaluating impact is Donald
L. Kirkpatrick's four-level model (Donald L. and James D. Kirkpatrick.
TRANSFERRING LEARNING TO BEHAVIOR, Berrett-Koehler, 2005), which recommends
measuring four types of outcomes.
Level 1 focuses on REACTION - participants' satisfaction with the program.
End-of-course evaluations serve this purpose. Level 2 focuses on KNOWLEDGE -
what participants learned in the course. Trainers administer knowledge tests
that focus on concepts and principles related to course content--very much like
the exams used in high school and college. While these evaluations can help
trainers improve their programs, they fall short of showing whether the training
actually improved workplace performance.
By contrast, Level 3 evaluations focus on BEHAVIOR. They address the transfer
of training--whether people are routinely performing in the workplace the skills
they learned in the classroom. While this kind of evaluation can demonstrate
whether a program has done its job, most organizations haven't settled on an
However, there is a simple, economical method for generating performance
BEFORE TRAINING - Administer a pre-course assessment.
The feedback surveys used in a typical Train-to-Ingrain process are perhaps
the most effective technique ever devised for measuring improvements in
on-the-job performance. The procedure is simple. Set up a multi-source feedback
survey consisting of questions that describe the behaviors taught in training.
Administer the survey before training to gather feedback from participants'
boss, coworkers and others. Let participants know that the survey will be
administered again several months after training. This pre-course diagnostic
helps participants set quantified, behavior-based performance improvement goals,
so their minds are more focused during learning activities. Knowing that
follow-up measurements will be taken later increases their attention and
motivation as they work with trainers--the ideal mindset for learning.
AFTER TRAINING - Administer a post-course assessment.
About six months after training, administer the first follow-up feedback
survey, using the same respondent group. Since post-course assessments are
derived from the pre-course assessment, scores may be easily compared. Improved
scores will confirm improved performance. The quantitative and qualitative data
will reveal whether areas of performance have improved. Learners and direct
managers will find out whether ongoing reinforcement has had the desired effect.
For continued feedback and measures of performance improvement, repeat the
assessment at the twelve-month and eighteen-month marks.
This simple, commonsense approach to measuring performance improvement
requires a technology that can support it: a fully customizable multi-source
feedback survey system. Assessment items need to be tailored to exactly mirror
the desired behaviors taught in the training program. In other words, assessment
and training need to be integrated. Also, the assessment system should have
inexpensive unlimited assessment licenses for each participant, which makes it
possible to give them all the feedback they'll need after training without
additional expense. The 20/20 Insight onsite feedback platform meets these
requirements and is extremely easy to use.
FINALLY - Hold the key players accountable.
Measuring performance improvement provides hard evidence of whether programs
are changing behavior, making it possible to hold the key players in the
"learning triangle" accountable:
- The learner, who must make a determined effort to change behavior patterns
during the lengthy and sometimes frustrating period of reinforcement
- The direct manager, who observes and coaches the subordinate while
providing opportunities to apply skills in an encouraging environment
- Trainers, who present behavior-based training that is optimized for skill
transfer and who coordinate follow-up programs
Implementing these three simple, straightforward initiatives will profoundly
improve the effectiveness of your training and development programs. As you
learn more about Train-to-Ingrain, you'll appreciate that getting started
quickly is only the beginning. To achieve maximum results, you'll need to
implement more changes. Going forward, you can build on the foundation of these
early successes to optimize learning support in all areas.
Copyright © 2007, Performance Support Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D. is CEO of Performance Support Systems, Inc., publisher
of 20/20 Insight GOLD (http://www.2020insight.net),
a highly flexible software program for gathering all types of performance
feedback about individual, team and organization performance.
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-06-26 00:53:44 in Employee Articles