How to Fix Common Problems with Sales Training Transfer
I find it interesting that so many in our profession (and our company leaders) want to talk about how to determine sales training ROI (or Return on Expectations), but don’t want to focus on how to get the learning from courses actually used in the workplace.
To me, that’s like wanting to determine the effects of fire on wood and putting your wood in sunlight, hoping it bursts into flames so you can study it. It’s folly. Without transfer, you won’t impact business outcomes and you won’t deliver a return, however you measure it.
A Recent Reminder of Sales Training Transfer Obstacles
I attended the Dallas ASTD Southwest Learning Summit recently and was in the audience for Steve Lee’s presentation on incorporating gamification principles in scenario-based elearning. It was a strong presentation and Allen Interactions is doing a lot of great work, as are many of the leading elearning/content development companies.
A lot of things that Steve shared made sense and were impressive, but one thing really resonated with me, as an indication of our problems with sales training transfer.
Describing what one company learnt as a result of their experience, he said (paraphrased):
“They [the learners] did okay in training, but thought they knew better on the job.”
In other words, the participants learnt the content (knowledge) and could demonstrate judgement to select the right actions in the right scenarios. In terms of teaching the content, the training was effective. Level 2 learning occurred. (We could debate whether you can accomplish true skill transfer with most elearning, when you’re providing answers from which to select, but these students were placed in scenarios and needed to apply judgement about what to do next and choose the right path.) Some of the learning was purposefully heuristic, based on trial and error, but that’s a good learning design and approach for knowledge acquisition.
The problem lies in the statement, “…[they] thought they knew better on the job.” Even though participants understood the content and achieved the learning objectives of the training, they did not consistently transfer that learning to the workplace, because they thought their way would work better.
Why is that?
Well, there are multiple possible reasons for this and it’s something that we, as learning professionals and sales performance leaders, really need to understand. Why don’t our participants and employees use what they learnt in training, on the job? The list is long, but here are the top categories, in my experience.
The Enemies of Sales Training Transfer
- Failing to Address Attitude: Often, we fail to address attitude and shape motivation. To use a phrase that’s clichéd but accurate in this case, we didn’t “win their hearts and minds” and convince learners that they should change their current behaviours. (For more about this, see: Sales Training Programmes: Putting the A back in KSA.)
- Ignoring Retention: Memory faded. Retention of unused or unreinforced content is unlikely. I’m not going to quote the bogus retention stats that are tossed around so frequently in our profession, but I will offer something from our mobile reinforcement partner: The Science Behind Qstream. Note the research references at the end.
- Lack of Coaching: Retaining the knowledge and judgement is the first step, but coaching on how (and how well) to apply skills in a workplace setting, is critical to both training transfer and successful ongoing application. (See Using Tailored Post-Programme Sales Coaching to Get Results from Sales Training for recommendations.)
- Environmental Factors Block Change: Often there are blocks to behaviour change, such as lack of clarity or problems with role definition, expectations, feedback, reward systems, organisation design, lack of accountability systems and more.
- No Change Plans: And often, we default to “Hope Mode” when we cannot sell the need for change plans internally, or aren’t sure how to create and execute effective change management or change leadership plans.
Culture Still Eats Strategy for Lunch
I’ve provided links and additional reading for 4 of the above 5 factors. To further support the remaining environmental factors that can block change (negatively impacting transfer) and address why participants don’t always implement what they’re taught, here are some additional thoughts and resources.
Performance Analysis Flowchart
One excellent resource comes from Bob Mager and Peter Pipe, from their book, Analysing Performance Problems. Mager and Pipe’s Performance Analysis Flowchart is legendary and found at various places on the internet today, but is represented officially by The Centre for Effective Performance (CEP). On the flowchart, look in the sections labelled Fast Fixes, Consequences, and More Clues, to see how you might address environmental factors. This flowchart is designed for troubleshooting, especially to determine when training may or may not be the right solution, but it works wonderfully for troubleshooting transfer issues, as well.
The 16 Reasons
The second resource is a book by Ferdinand Fournies, aptly titled, Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed to Do and What to Do About It. The Table of Contents (displayable on Amazon by mousing over the book cover and clicking on the TOC link), says it all. The reasons Fournies lists include:
- They Don't Know Why They Should Do It
- They Don't Know How To Do It
- They Don't Know What They Are Supposed To Do
- They Think Your Way Will Not Work
- They Think Their Way Is Better
- They Think Something Else Is More Important
- There Is No Positive Consequence to Them for Doing It
- They Think They Are Doing It
- They Are Rewarded for Not Doing It
- They Are Punished for Doing What They Are Supposed To Do
- They Anticipate a Negative Consequence for Doing It
- There Is No Negative Consequence to Them for Poor Performance
- Obstacles Beyond Their Control
- Their Personal Limits Prevent Them from Performing
- Personal Problems
- No One Could Do It
Put Learning & Training Transfer Before Results & Returns
As sales training or sales leaders, we don’t always own all of the environmental factors, but we must address them as best we can in our organisations. I hope that the Five Enemies of Sales Training Transfer listed above and the additional resources for identifying and addressing environmental (and other) factors, offer helpful guidance and support, for ensuring your employees use the knowledge and skills you provided in training. As I said in the beginning of this post, you certainly won’t be affecting business outcomes or delivering a return, without transfer. I’d enjoy hearing your experiences with sales training transfer and any obstacles with the things I’ve mentioned here (or others). I’ll end with some related reading, as always.
If we can help you sort through what’s happening at your organisation and discuss ways you can increase retention and transfer, reach out and let us know.
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