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Why your teams are not implementing their learning
The role an organisation’s technology, culture and politics play in learning transfer.
The success of learning depends on the effective transfer of skills and knowledge and ultimately behaviour from the training setting back to the workplace.
Nonetheless, we have all experienced training programmes where we know that the level of transfer of skills will be limited and much of what is trained fails to be applied in the work setting.
Reviews into the key barriers influencing the transfer of learning mainly emphasise the importance of three factors: Trainee characteristics, training design, and work environment.
Trainee characteristics include their cognitive abilities, motivation and perceptions of utility (e.g. is the training worthwhile?). Training design includes the principles of learning and training content.
Here we want to focus on perhaps the hardest element to manage, the work environment, including the support available for the transfer of learning and the opportunity to practice new tasks.
The role of the organisation in learning transfer
The transfer of learning, involves the application of knowledge and skills acquired in a training program into the workplace. Identifying the factors in the work environment that affect the opportunity to apply new skills and practice them in the workplace is vital for any training transfer.
Successful training transfer is dependent on what is sometimes termed as ‘fit’, i.e. “the degree to which the new behaviours (application of knowledge and skills gained from the training) are consistent with the (perceived) needs, objectives and structure of an adopting organisation”. Where the behaviours better ‘fit’ the workplace environment and the context in which they are applied, then the transfer of what is learned becomes more likely.
Technical, Cultural and Political fit
This concept of ‘fit’ is rarely considered, but is influenced by three key elements – the technical, cultural, and political factors in the work environment.
Incompatibilities between the training and the workplace context, represented by technical, cultural, and political factors, can affect the level of skill and behaviour adoption.
Technical fit describes the extent to which desired skills and behaviours covered within the training are consistent with the technologies and facilities available back in the workplace. Training an individual to use a preferred piece of equipment is pointless if the equipment isn’t available in their work setting.
Organisational culture and the beliefs, values, and working preferences of employees can also prevent learning transfer.
In large organisations, with a sizable cadre of middle managers, support for an intervention can be easily diluted (even if the senior management team is very supportive), if the managers don’t believe the learning addresses the issues on the ‘shop floor’.
The focus of attention, and often that of front-line workers, is often driven by what gets measured. This can influence the likely adoption of a particular trained practice.
Organisational culture will also influence whether employees are encouraged to speak up without fear of adverse consequence, and this also affects “buy-in” and hence the likely adoption of practices.
Finally, trained interventions embody a set of characteristics that may or may not be compatible with the local interests and agendas of adopters creating the potential for incompatible political fit.
Vested interests of individuals and groups within organisations may serve either to support or block the acceptance of new or revised practices arising from training initiatives, depending on whether they address personal agendas.
The beliefs and values expressed in behaviors and attitudes of senior managers and leaders is also a critical factor. They are integral to supporting and driving learning interventions throughout an organisation. Without their commitment and support, any intervention is likely to fail.
The relationships between different groups within an organisation, particularly where they are adversarial, can influence the adoption and effectiveness of any intervention post-training. Differences in intent or ambition are commonly seen between the headquarters of an organisation and sites or subsidiaries that are geographically distant from the central office, leading to centrally determined activities not always being deployed as intended.
Differences can also manifest themselves between groups within an organisation, for example between professionals and managers or members of different teams. These tensions can often negatively affect adoption of new practices.
Training is a commonly deployed intervention. However, its purpose is often ambiguous, designed to satisfy external stakeholders or to meet internal needs, and surprisingly its effects are not commonly evaluated.
Effective training depends on the successful transfer of what is learned in the classroom to the workplace. A process that is influenced by a variety of organisational contextual factors.
The technical, cultural and political nature of organisations shapes what is and is not acceptable to different groups, and so whether adoption of trained practices in the workplace is likely.
Greater awareness of these factors and their relationships to the design and delivery of training may improve the adoption of the taught practice or intervention, minimising the training transfer problem, and more importantly, improving outcomes in the workplace.
So here are a few things you might want to consider before launching your next learning intervention: -
- Are all the necessary processes, systems and policies in place to support the learning and enable skills practice?
- Is there easy access to further sources of help and support?
- Are the reasons for change fully understood?
- Does there need to be a some work on creating a culture of life long learning before the roll-out of the training?
- Can the learning be designed to reflect the culture of the organisation.
- Can managers be prepared to encourage a trial and error approach to the new skills developed during the learning?
- Can stakeholders be involved in the creation of the learning to obtain buy-in?
- Can exercises within the training be used to bring groups with opposing views together?
- How can the ‘bigger picture’ and organisational and individual gains from the learning be publicised across an organisation?
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