It happens all the time. Employees leave a training event more competent and confident than they were when they arrived, yet a week later their leaders report no noticeable improvement in job performance. Training, those leaders conclude, failed to make a difference. Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone.
Do you want to know a dirty little secret? Learning that occurs in training often does not “stick” when employees return to work. The unfortunate truth is that although employees are typically able to demonstrate new knowledge and skills in the safety and comfort of a physical or online classroom, they often regress to their former attitudes and revert to their pre-training behaviors once they return to work. One reason is that many employees do not receive adequate coaching when they attempt to apply new skills on the job. If this sounds like bad news to you, then the fact that coaching is an effective solution should come as good news.
Years ago, while working with a well-known hospitality company, there was a major effort to improve guest service among frontline employees. The training program that resulted was incredible. The problem was that when employees returned to their resorts many leaders were uncertain how to coach them on the new service standards, and some leaders even inadvertently reinforced pre-training standards. Despite our best talent development efforts, guest satisfaction was unimproved. It was a lesson I will always remember: learning transfer is dependent on the coaching ability of leaders in the workplace.
My belief that coaching is an essential leadership skill was recently reinforced when I attended a conference at which world-renowned leadership guru John C. Maxwell emphatically stated “You cannot lead if you cannot coach.” Wow! He didn’t say you cannot lead well if you are not a great coach. He said you cannot lead at all unless you are able to coach others. Other leadership experts agree. Ken Blanchard considers coaching to be the “servant aspect of servant leadership” through which leaders help others succeed and without which leaders cannot serve. Warren Bennis wrote that “The men and women who guide… will be different leaders than the ones we’ve become accustomed to. They will be maestros, not masters; coaches, not commanders.” If the foremost authorities on leadership believe coaching is an essential leadership competency, then teaching leaders to coach should be a high priority.
When employees leave a training event and return to work, they often have no one to guide and encourage them as they attempt to apply what they learned. As a result, some are left to wander in uncharted territory until they become discouraged and eventually double back to the familiarity of pre-training behaviors. By teaching your leaders to be coaches, you will equip them to guide employees on an exciting learning journey from where they are today to the heights of their own potential. Isn’t that exciting? If you want training to stick, teach your leaders to coach.