Manager Accountability Makes Training Effective

Accountable Managers Create Effective Training
  • Lack of accountability is a major reason for long-term ineffectiveness of training

  • As the learner’s manager, you are the best-positioned individual to drive accountability

  • Before the training, you are accountable for obtaining Learning Objectives from the instructor

  • After the training, you are accountable for creating opportunities for learners to apply what they have learned

As we learned in the ABCs of Effective Training, most training programs are ineffective, especially over the long term. This hasn’t stopped companies from spending more than ever on learning & development efforts. In 2017, companies spent almost 30% more on training than in 2016. However, in that same year, the same companies reported that the effectiveness of their training did not improve. That’s because effectiveness i doesn’t ultimately rest on the amount of training we are doing but on what happens before and after the training.

Of the three ABCs of evaluating training--accountability, benchmarking, and context--accountability--the act of making a single individual responsible for the training’s success--comes first for a reason. While the other two are significant, they cannot directly affect training in the way a lack of accountability can. However, for all its importance, pinning down accountability can be tricky.

While we are all taught the importance of personal accountability, accountability for learning or acquiring new skills cannot successfully reside with the individual learner alone; self-accountability is rarely successful when the learner has not personally chosen to develop themselves.

Nor can the developer of the instruction or the trainer be fully accountable: they will not have the continued contact with the learner necessary to make learning stick.

That leaves you, the learner’s manager, as the accountable individual. As a manager, you’re the single most influential person in determining the success of training. However, most managers are unaware of the role they play, both before any training occurs and after the formal training has concluded.

Before The Training: Demand Learning Objectives

By the end of _________, learners will be able to __________.

If you look for no other information before training begins, look for this phrase. It’s called a Learning Objective, and every instructor who understands what their training is trying to achieve will have one or more clearly outlined objectives.

Learning Objectives have been synonymous with education since the 1960s. Their purpose was to provide concrete definitions of what learners were expected to “know” or “understand.” As our understanding of education evolved, these objectives changed to reflect the idea of observable behavior; objectives needed to be things that could be actively demonstrated or measured. It is these demonstrable objectives--behavioral changes we want to see in action--that define all corporate training and development.

Learning Objectives can ensure training is well-designed

As a manager, knowing and understanding the Learning Objectives before training begins enables two things. First, it makes it possible for us to anticipate the training’s outcomes and understand what learners are expected to be able to do after the training. This not only allows us to assess whether the training will effectively meet our needs but also gives us the ability to establish useful post-training follow-up to ensure the lessons are being put into practice. Second, understanding the Learning Objectives will help you to identify other potential learners who have development gaps and can benefit from this training opportunity rather than just including the learners identified by their current role or job responsibilities.

Consider one of the classic “leadership curriculum” topics: Difficult Conversations. Without well-defined Learning Objectives, it will be unclear what methods and systems are being taught, what learners are expected to do after the training, or what success is going to look like. In short, the training is already destined for struggle and possibly failure before it even begins. You can save yourself wasted time, money, and resources by demanding Learning Objectives from the instructor.

In addition, having Learning Objectives for your Difficult Conversations training means you can identify the right people to be in the training. If the difficult conversations include a Learning Objective for diffusing emotional conversations, you could involve your customer-facing employees and not just your traditional “leadership” roles. It also means that post-training, as a manager, you can create highly specific opportunities that will strongly reinforce the learning.

After the Training: Partner With Learners

When employees go to a workshop or training, it’s often sold as a one-time occurrence. These trainings are something you attend, understand, and then take back with you to the workplace to apply. It’s the last step that rarely happens. At a San Francisco company, I interviewed a dozen leaders, once immediately after and again three months after they completed a manager training program. Two trends emerged that closely matched the results of a similar study published in HBR:

  • Immediately after training, every learner gave high ratings for the training, citing it as effective and valuable.

  • Three months later, these same learners when surveyed did not feel the training was effective.

In fact, in the case of the SF company, the learners couldn’t recall anything meaningful from the training. Without application, retention of training can drop to below 20 percent. I thus turned my attention to these leaders’ own managers (directors and VPs). Unsurprisingly, most managers were unaware they had a responsibility to the learner both to ensure the training was applied and practiced and to ensure there are opportunities to do so.

Learning continues after the training, and is critical to training success

The learner’s direct manager possesses three important resources: frequent touchpoints such as 1:1s with the employee, enough context to align opportunities with the learning objectives, and the ability to influence performance evaluations and have career development conversations. When we are equipped with expected outcomes, they can be made part of the employee’s development goals.

Let’s return to the training on Difficult Conversations. Most learners in the training rarely have a difficult conversation looming on the horizon. However, without practice, these newly learned skills will atrophy, negating the training’s effectiveness. The remedy to this atrophy is an action plan, a curated set of steps you and the employee will take post-training, taking advantage of opportunities to apply the training. In this instance, a post-training partnership would likely involve both you and the employee practicing difficult conversations through roleplay and feedback.

Great Training Will Ask You to Be Accountable

Training that takes accountability seriously helps you as the learners’ manager with your obligations before and after the training takes place. Great trainers know that by investing as much in your success as in the instruction itself, the training has a much higher chance of success. With so much of importance to learning taking place before and after the training session itself, instructors and training developers must ask managers to step forward and be accountable for the long-term success of the training.

Likewise, when you, as a manager, place individuals into training, you are ultimately accountable for their learning.

Before the training, Learning Objectives set expectations for what behaviors are expected when the training is complete. They enable you to assess learning effectiveness and ensure you have included the individuals who will benefit the most from the training opportunity. After the training, you are the one who must facilitate the learning beyond the classroom in the form of an action plan.

However, none of this works unless you step forward as a manager and are accountable. A good training program will ask this of you, but a great training program will support you in your pre- and post-training efforts.