See if this scenario rings true: You send your employees to a three-day conference and they come back fired up. They have a great big binder full of ideas and they’re ready to change the world. And for a while you see some payoff. Enthusiasm is high and new initiatives start coming to the table.
But after a few weeks, the binder finds its way to a shelf, enthusiasm wanes and your team falls back into their regular routine. The same can be said of in-house employee training. When most employees receive coaching or instruction, their skill level immediately rises. They start scaling the learning curve. Then, over time, performance falls off. Yes, some learning remains, but most isn’t applied to the job.
Here’s where the challenge begins. We expect people to retain what they learned. But they don’t. Ever since German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus discovered the “forgetting curve” back in 1885, dozens of studies have confirmed that when people are exposed to learning one time, after 30 days they retain just 20%.
The Science of Forgetting
It’s tempting to view our brains as a sieve. We learn stuff and it just leaks out. However, brain research says that’s not true. Everything we learn remains in our brains. The problem is, as time passes, we can’t retrieve it. To make training stick, we need to repeatedly go back and retrieve what we learned.
The research shows that each time we do that, it becomes a little easier for us to retrieve the learning the next time. If we create multiple “retrieval events,” eventually we develop habits and achieve mastery of skills.
That’s the reason employee training must be treated as a process, not an event. To ensure that learning is retained and applied to the job it must be revisited and reinforced. Each follow up training session will result in the same short-term improvement and fall off as seen in the initial effort. But with each subsequent session, the fall off will be less.
To ensure that employee development efforts in your organization are worth the time and money, remember the Four R’s:
- Revisit the training. A day or two after the initial training event, meet to review the key points of what your people learned in the workshop or conference. Ask questions, probe fore details and discuss what actions will result from the learning.
- Reinforce the new learned behavior. Go out of your way to spot instances where you see your people applying what they learned. Praise the behavior and remind them why it’s so important that they keep it up.
- Re-Teach. Meet again several days later to review key concepts. Ask questions, give a quiz or conduct role playing exercises that force people to “retrieve” and apply what they learned.
- Refocus. After a while, the new skills will fall off, but less so than before. Intervene again — revisit, reinforce and reteach — but this time add the fourth R. Refocus people on the goal. Emphasize the impact the new knowledge, attitudes or behaviors will impact each individual and the organization.
Does the process require some work and discipline? Yes. But here’s the good news: It doesn’t really demand a lot of time; keep each training session short. Keep sessions to 10 minutes or so. Remember, your goal is to help learners reconnect with something that’s already in their brains. You don’t need to start from scratch – once you make learning follow-up a part of your routine, the payoff will be huge.
Photo credit: skyboxeng.com
Bio: Dave Clemens has served as deputy financial editor of the International Herald Tribune, Editor and Bureau Chief for Bloomberg News, and Deputy Bureau Chief for the French News Agency. Currently, Dave is the Editor at Rapid Learning Institute and writer of The HR Café, an informative, entertaining blog for Human Resources Leaders. Connect with Dave via Twitter @TheHRCafe