If you are a leader in an organization and you are responsible for developing others (and of course you are), there are some ways to assure that the learning of new skills becomes sustainable. When you are investing time and money into a workshop or learning event, what you don’t want is for your staff to head back to the office and put the learning (figuratively and literally) back on the office shelf.
So how do you make the learning continue – i.e. become sustainable (to use a popular buzz word)?
As a person who believes in the power of practice for learning new skills, I must admit that I’ve been reluctant to endorse the concept of “workshops”,”off-sites”, “team building”, or “retreats” when the learning is delivered as a one-shot deal. I deliver a few learning events myself every year.
At the very least, I always make sure that participants walk out of a workshop with an action plan and a commitment to connect to someone in the room (with contact information and a scheduled date and time) to review what they learned and how they are using it in the workplace.
So you, the leader, must also consider how to make learning “stick” for your employees. Consider that when the following conditions are present, value and sustainability of the learning are enhanced:
– The new skills are practiced in the learning event in a substantial way, in small groups or dyad’s. I have a personal bias against role-playing. However, having the participants come prepared to discuss their own real-life situations seems to work well after they are warmed up and comfortable with each other (they must feel safe if they’re bringing in their personal scenarios).
– There is plenty of discussion in the class, led by a skilled facilitator; this could be you, someone on your staff, or an outside facilitator. This allows participants who “think out loud” to do so, and encourages learning from each other.
– Individual action plans are created at the learning event, allowing participants to consider where they should concentrate their efforts with the new skill once they leave.
– The learning is supported and continued afterwords. Setting up a “community of practice” or learning group is helpful, as is simply providing a structure and process for class participants to team up and practice or discuss their “wins” or “challenges” with the new skills. If you hire an external facilitator or trainer, ask if they make themselves available at some point in the future for class participants to lead a discussion on topics learned in person or through webinar or teleconference.
– If you lead a team or an organization that has just gone through a learning event, you can also hold your team or organization accountable to keep the learning alive and sustainable. Follow up with group discussions or one-on-one dialog about the action plan that was created; encourage ongoing learning teams (communities of practice); or set up mentor relationships around the learning. ASK your employees or team how they want to assure that the learning is sustainable, and support their ideas. Then hold them accountable to their decisions for keeping the learning sustainable.
While you are at it, when you meet with your staff 1:1 or as a team, ask them what they are doing to reinforce new skills they have learned for themselves and their staff. This is not a one-time question – they’ll stick to it and know you mean business if you ask intentionally and consistently. Finally, let them know what you are (personally) doing to reinforce learning for yourself.
Anything less than using some of the above techniques is akin to throwing your money and your time away. Make sure you ask the consultants or facilitators whom you pay to conduct the workshop what they do to assure that the learning is sustainable for class participants. Don’t hire them without it.
Readers: what kind of processes you put in place, or have worked for you to assure that learning is sustainable?