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10 tips for getting the most out of your training time and dollars

By Geoff Nichols

Does it seem that you send your supervisors and managers to training seminars that offer the latest in new management theories and buzzwords, but when they return to the office nothing has really changed?

All too often, the money and time spent on expensive seminars yield little results: Managers don't really change how they manage, noticeably improve their performance or achieve any measurably better results.

Recent surveys show that senior managers and human resource professionals all across the country are increasingly skeptical about the benefits of training their managers, especially in the so-called "soft" or interpersonal management skills. After days spent in classes filled with discussions, case studies and role plays, many managers still don't communicate, motivate or evaluate any better than they did before their training.

Just time wasted?
Two years ago, I started surveying businesses about the results of their management training. After many discussions, I reached the discouraging conclusion that much of the money and time spent on management development in America today is wasted! This is happening not because training is poorly designed or delivered (although that happens), nor because participants don't care enough to make a good effort. Rather, it is because of what happens after the training.

Managers attend a class, learn new skills, get enthused and then go back to work, where they are:

  • inundated with catch-up tasks and crises,
  • rarely reinforced positively for using new skills, and
  • discouraged from doing things differently by their colleagues, subordinates and other managers who fear possible mistakes.

It's little wonder their performance doesn't improve.

So what can be done? I suggest holding managers who attend training sessions accountable in a positive way for changing their behavior and involving their supervisors in the process.

10 steps toward positive accountability
Here are 10 suggestions to help you hold your supervisors and managers accountable for improving their performance after training. While all of these ideas have been used successfully, this is not a formula or a checklist to be adopted in its entirety. Rather, it is a menu from which you can select ideas and adapt them to fit your organization.

#1 - Administer short (10 question) tests prior to and after each training session. Give participants feedback about how their scores improved both individually and as a group.

#2 - Have participants develop written individual action plans for each training session that clearly define one or two specific skills the participant will focus on improving. A copy is sent to the participant's supervisor and to human resources for inclusion in the participant's file.

#3 - Schedule at least two five-to-10 minute follow-up discussions - one every two weeks or so - between participants and their managers to discuss their individual action plans.

#4 - Mail short written and audio tape reminders to participants about key issues covered in the training. Mail these every two weeks for a two-month period. (Avoid using e-mail because the messages can get lost in the crush of daily e-mail traffic.)

#5 - Schedule short telephone calls from the trainer to participants to discuss individual action plans, key issues, etc. from the training.

#6 - Include individual action plans in annual goal-setting and performance evaluations.

#7 - Give credits for performance improvement. Credits are accumulated and formal recognition is given at designated levels of credits.

#8 - Provide several awards (such as certificates, lapel pins, paid time off, bonuses, etc.) over a six-month period for continuing success with individual action plans.

#9 - Certify participants as trainers who can lead future training sessions on specific topics.

#10 - Reward participants with eligibility for further training, involvement in important projects, and possible promotion based on their accomplishment of training goals.

Reinforcement after training
These are just a few proven ideas of things that can be done after training to hold managers accountable in a positive way for improving their performance. They need not be excessively time-consuming or expensive for your organization. In many cases, they can be outsourced to ensure that someone who is not distracted by the organization's whirl of events is providing timely reminders and feedback. An outsider's monitoring of training activities can bring increased credibility to the training and greater accountability to everyone involved in the process - including senior managers, human resources personnel and training professionals.

Whether it is done internally or externally, the key is adapting some form of continuing review and feedback after the training sessions. Without that, little benefit will be gained from even the best training available.


Geoff Nichols is president of EDUCO, one of the country's leading innovators in business training. Nichols has more than 25 years of human resources, training and management experience and is the author of the book, Taking the Step Up to Supervision.

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