Where to Focus Your Training Reinforcement Efforts

An Essential Guide

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First, Why All the Fuss about Training Reinforcement?

Are you familiar with the term “memory leak?” Memory leak is the inevitable drain of newly acquired knowledge that begins within minutes of leaving the physical or virtual classroom. It’s a concept that’s undergone a fair amount of research, which has led to some rather startling findings. For example, a 2011 study[1] found that test subjects had, on average, forgotten 40 percent of what they’d learned within 24 hours, an additional 25 percent by the third day, and yet another 15 percent by the eighth day. That’s 80 percent of the knowledge gone – in just over a week. Do you see anyone offering a rebate? We don’t.

Designed to combat memory leak, training reinforcement complements structured corporate training initiatives to help make newfound knowledge actually stick. Training or learning reinforcement plans, which begin immediately after the completion of training programs and typically last between three and six weeks, help ensure maximum return on training investments.

If this is the first you’ve heard of training reinforcement, you’ll find a more thorough explanation of the benefits in this article. If, however, you’re already on board, keep reading as we help you determine where to invest your dollars.

The Three Essential Questions

So you’ve managed to sell your organization on the benefits of training reinforcement. Well done! With approved budget in hand, you’re now ready to start pairing your corporate training initiatives with simple training reinforcement plans. Given that every training program you offer to employees, suppliers and distributors is designed to result in long-lasting changes in your business, it makes sense that every instructor-led and online course you offer should have a reinforcement component. But hold on a minute – your training budget isn’t enough to cover them all. So what do you do? You create a priority list of those training programs that could most benefit from a reinforcement boost by asking yourself these three questions.

How critical is each program to your success?

While all of your training programs may contribute to your organization’s long-term success, not all of them are mission-critical. You need to figure out which programs provide knowledge that has the power to make or break your organization. On the plant floor, where there’s lots of heavy machinery, physical safety training is non-negotiable. In a brokerage firm, however, risk management training is essential, while physical safety training is simply a nice-to-have.

If you have enough information to make a call about a program’s criticality, go ahead and make that call. If you don’t, however, you’ll want to consult the individual lines of business to get a sense of their training programs’ relative importance. Keep in mind that training managers who have invested lots of time and energy into their programs may naturally feel that all of them are equally critical. For this reason, you’re better off asking several individuals in each line of business – training managers included – to rate all of their programs on a scale of one to five, with one being not fundamentally critical and five being very critical. By averaging the scores, you’ll have a good idea of how critical each program is as it relates to the others.

What is your level of investment?

If you think it makes sense to pair your most costly programs with a training reinforcement plan, you’re not wrong. These programs tend to represent the greatest ROI, so crunch the numbers.

When calculating costs, keep in mind you’re not just looking at the cost of content development, platform maintenance and trainer fees. You’re also looking at loss of productivity due to attendance. For example, how many sales calls could Stephen have made that afternoon? How many clients could Susan have served had she not been attending this course?

There are many methods that organizations use to calculate training program costs. For the purpose of this exercise, it doesn’t matter which method you use; only that you’re consistent as you evaluate every program.

How many people does each program serve?

Another important consideration is the number of people each program caters to. In an ideal world, you want your training reinforcement plans to benefit as many employees as possible. Training reinforcement is the bridge between learning and doing. The more people your reinforcement plan covers, the greater the impact on your organization. If, for example, your organization employs hundreds of call centre representatives, it probably pays to reinforce your customer-service training program. If, however, you employ just a handful of managers, reinforcing management training probably shouldn’t rank as high on your priority list.

Of course, prioritizing based on numbers alone doesn’t make sense. After all, what if a program that serves five is far more critical to your business than a program for 50? That’s where a Learning Reinforcement Portfolio map comes in.

How to Create a Learning Reinforcement Portfolio Map

A Learning Reinforcement Portfolio (LRP) map is a simple, two-dimensional representation of the training programs in your organization. It’s designed to help you determine where to focus your reinforcement efforts. Take a look at the example below and you’ll see that program criticality is represented by the vertical axis, level of investment is represented by the horizontal axis, and number of learners is represented by the size of the circles.

LearningReinforcementPortfolio

Once you’ve questioned your organization’s program criticality, investment level and number of learners, you can use this template to map out your own unique LRP, using your answers to determine where to position each course. As for sizing the circles, begin with the program that has the most learners. Make this your largest circle and then scale down as you work towards the program with the fewest learners. This will help you avoid overcrowding your chart. This Excel template should save you a lot of time as you go about creating your LRP map.

How to Read Your LRP Map

Reading your LRP map is simple. Head directly to the top right quadrant. That’s your sweet spot. All of the programs within this quadrant are deemed both critical and profitable. With that understood, you can prioritize your reinforcement plans by starting with the biggest circle and then working your way down.

In the example above, you’ll see that customer service is the highest priority, based on its size and position, while new franchisee training is clearly the lowest priority. To be clear, we’re not saying that a low-priority program doesn’t warrant reinforcement. You may choose to give a program special consideration even though it may not make into the top right quadrant. For example, some training programs teach skills that are much harder to pick up by osmosis. Some are geared towards employees who may have lower retention capabilities than others. However, if you have limited resources, focus on the sweet spot. That’s where your employees will acquire the most valuable knowledge and skills, and it’s where you’ll get the greatest bang for your buck.