Management's Role in Effective Training

Before and after is as important as during.

By Maggie Bayless, ZingTrain Managing Partner


My formal education was first in German literature and then later in business administration. What I know about training design, development and delivery, I’ve learned through on-the-job practice and self-study. I’ve gone to lots of seminars, designed hundreds of classes and workshops, and helped to implement effective training here at Zingerman’s. Along the way, I’ve read many, many books. One of the most influential has been “The Learning Alliance,” co-authored by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based consultant (and regular Zingerman’s customer) Stephen Gill. The ideas advanced in that book, which emphasizes that employee learning should be integrated into all aspects of the organization and not just delegated to the “training department,” formed the basis for Bottom-Line Training, Zingerman’s approach to training.

The idea of an “alliance” between employee learners, their trainers and their organizations led to one of the key elements of Bottom-Line Training: Zingerman’s Training Compact.

This Training Compact documents the different, but complementary and equally important, roles of Trainers and Trainees in our organization.
At Zingerman’s, the Trainers’ Role is to:

  • Document clear performance expectations
  • Provide training resources
  • Recognize performance
  • Reward performance

And the Trainees’ Role is to: Take responsibility for the effectiveness of their own training.

The Trainees’ Role was, at the time we introduced the Training Compact, a fairly significant change from the way we’d been operating. Although we’d been doing lots of training since the Deli opened in 1982, we’d never explicitly outlined what we expected from the trainee. But, ultimately, no one can make someone else learn. So we use the Training Compact to be explicit about the fact that we expect employees to learn what they need to know to do their jobs effectively.

This does not absolve the trainer of responsibility, of course, but it does share the burden more appropriately. Because if you as the trainee don’t let me (the trainer) know that you are unclear about what I expect of you — or that you didn’t grasp my explanation and would really appreciate having a handout that recaps the material — there’s a chance I won’t realize there’s a problem until we’ve both become frustrated and probably wasted unnecessary time. Ultimately, the trainer and the trainee are both 100 percent responsible for the effectiveness of the training.

We review our Training Compact in every class that we teach here at Zingerman’s and, in theory at least, it’s touched on in every on-shift training as well. While not a panacea, it is definitely the case that our staff feel a higher level of responsibility for learning what they need to know than I’ve experienced at many other organizations. And the degree to which an individual takes hold of and moves ahead with getting his/her training going becomes a touch point for evaluating the likelihood for long-term success in the organization. So, this is a tool that has been, and continues to be, instrumental in building and sustaining the culture of learning within our organization.

But nothing’s ever perfect and there’s always more to learn, right? So, I was thrilled when, a month or two ago, Stephen Gill sent me a draft of his latest, soon-to-be published book, “The 5As Framework: Getting More from Your Investment in Training.” Early in the book, Steve and his co-author, Sean Murray, cite studies indicating that a shockingly high number (80 percent to 90 percent!) of participants in employee training programs never apply the training in any significant way when they are back on the job. Wow! That statistic really jumped out at me. It certainly implies that most organizations are getting a negative bottom-line impact from training by paying for training on skills and knowledge that is never used.

Happily, I found that (thanks in part to having read, and heeded, “The Learning Alliance,” Steve’s earlier book) Bottom-Line Training addresses many of the problems that are found in much organizational training. Of course, I was reminded of a million things that we could be doing better, but for the most part, the training systems we have in place here are on the mark; we just need to continue to make sure those systems are used regularly.

However, there was one area that stood out as needing additional attention here at Zingerman’s. And that was the role of management. You’ll note that in Zingerman’s Training Compact (above), we clarify the roles of Trainers and Trainees. And in some cases, but certainly not all, the Trainer and the Manager are one and the same. But what I realized when reading this new book is that even when the people are one and the same, the roles are not.

In our never-ending effort for continuous improvement, I’ve taken that realization and drafted up recommendations for Zingerman’s managers who want to maximize the effectiveness of the time and money they’re investing when they send a staff member to any sort of training. Basically, it adds a third dimension to the Training Compact. As is often the case with effective management, when it comes to increasing the effectiveness of organizational training, these are seemingly small, easy to skip but ultimately very important, actions that can make a big difference in outcomes. Stephen Gill and Sean Murray found that “employee expectations are shaped by the messages conveyed from … management. [Employees] want to know that the training in which they will be participating is valued by the organization. Otherwise they will not be fully committed to the process and outcomes. ‘If the company doesn’t care, why should I care?’”

Although we’re just beginning to roll out these guidelines within our organization, I’m sharing them here because I think they can help anyone who is working to get better bottom-line results from their training. And I strongly encourage you to check out “The 5As Framework: Getting More from Your Investment in Training,” which is available at http://www.realtimeperformance.com/ebook/. It’s a quick, accessible and interesting read.

Management’s role in Zingerman’s Training Compact is to

  • provide CONTEXT for the training,
  • REINFORCE how the training can help the employee/trainee to be successful and
  • help the trainee put the learnings from the training to good USE.

1. Provide context for the training.

  • Agree on a shared vision of why this training is important to the trainee’s — and the business’ — success.
  • Agree on what the trainee will know and/or be able to do after the training.
  • Decide how that will be measured as part of the employee’s day-to-day work.

2. Reinforce how the training supports the trainee’s (and the organization’s) success.

  • BEFORE: Give suggestions for how the trainee can get the most out of the training.
  • AFTER: Touch base with the trainee to discuss what’s working/not working.

3. Help the trainee put the new learnings to good use.

  • Make sure the trainee has an opportunity to use what was learned within two days back on the job.
  • Decide if/what additional training is needed to meet the vision of success for the trainee (and the organization).

What are you doing as a leader to communicate the importance of the training you ask your staff to attend? If you’re already providing context, reinforcing the training and making sure the learnings are being put to use, congratulations! If you’re not, please stop throwing good time, money and energy away on training that isn’t being used.

Managers might argue that they don’t have time to do this work. I would argue that we don’t have time not to. Think of how much time is spent on training in your organization: trainers’ time, trainees’ time, management’s time. Now figure out how much time is wasted if only 10 percent to 20 percent of participants are applying that training back on the job. A relatively modest investment of management time, focusing on the three steps above, can translate into a huge win for your organization.