If we don’t want corporate training to be a waste of time and money, we need to figure out how to make learning stick. And how to help people to actually apply it. Sustainably. As it turns out, supervisor support is absolutely essential for that. And the easier it is for leaders, the more likely they are to make learning stick. Find out what supervisor support is made of and how to use it as success enhancor for your next people development initiative.

Only 1 out of 6 participants in training apply what they have learned. This is the shocking research result of Dr. Robert Brinkerhoff. Four out of six participants give it a try – but do not follow through. And one will not even start! So, usually, up to 85% of the resources spent on a corporate training initiative are wasted. In times of VUCA, pandemic, constant crisis, and fierce competition, this is nothing any organization can afford.

But why is this still common then? Most often, the reason for ineffective training is that there is focus on content, didactics, and hygiene factors like location, technics, and buffet – but not on how to transfer learning into real life.

High time to turn the tide, right?

12 levers for effective people development

In 2016, a transfer researcher called Dr. Ina Weinbauer from the Institute of Transfer Effectiveness was determined to find a way for HR and L&D professionals to increase transfer success significantly. She dug deep into transfer research and found out: She wasn’t the first one to try! In 100 years of transfer research, people found more than 100 determinants that influence transfer success.

That’s a lot. Actually, too much. And some of these elements found were great for scientists but not of much practical help for HR and training professionals. One example:

Take the factor cognitive abilities which can be translated to “intelligence”. Researchers found out that intelligent people have more transfer success than others. Well, what a surprise. But at the same time: What to do with this information? Should we send participants to an intelligence test before each training to decide if they should attend or not? That would be rather strange, right?

So, here’s what Dr. Weinbauer did to find an effective approach: She dropped all the factors that cannot or only hardly be influenced or controlled by HRD professionals.

The satisfying result: 12 steerable levers to maximize the impact of people development measures.

Here they are, assigned to three key areas:

Supervisor support is one key element of the 12 Levers of Transfer Effectiveness in the area “Organization”. 

I often get asked: And is there a “must-have” we should go for? At the end of the day, it is the combination of the most relevant levers in each situation! It is important to understand transfer effectiveness as a dynamic process that needs to be adapted along the way of the L&D process. And transfer success nd is always based on the (business) targets and behaviors the participants need to achieve. At the same time, it is important to make transfer effectiveness easy. The easier it is – the more effective it becomes.

Still – one lever that is discussed and perceived as particularly interesting and helpful is: Supervisor support!

Develop your people and enhance company success with effective development initiatives

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The astounding results of supervisor support

Let us have a look at a study: In the organization American Express, they took a closer look at a “no-improvement group”. So, a group in which nothing had changed following a leadership development program in this organization. They compared it with a “high-improvement group“ of the same leadership program that had made big changes in performance such as their processing speed, sales, cycle times, and so on.

Although all participants were attending the same program, there were three major differences. And all three differences were connected with supervisor support.

The “high-improvement group”….

  1. had significantly more one-on-one meetings between training participant and supervisor where they discussed how the trainee could best apply what they have learned in the program.
  2. had the perception that their supervisors had the attitude that training has a positive impact and is important and valuable.
  3. the people involved said that their supervisor actively recognizes and rewards their improvement.

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3 tips to unlock the power of supervisor support

So, how can we ensure that supervisors support, promote, and demand the application of what trainees have learned?

Here are three tips:

  1. Raise awareness
    As HR professionals and/or leaders ourselves, we need to understand and respect that supervisors are important for the development journeys of people and that they have a big impact. So, no matter if they’ve been aware of it or not, when it comes to development – leaders always had influence. For the good, or for the bad. Make transfer education and awareness part of your programs.
  2. Make it easy
    Leaders have tons of to-dos and busy working days. So they will only get involved when it is easy for them. To ensure that, we can offer them tools and measures, that are easy to use and that are seen by the leaders as something supporting instead of time-consuming additional work. That translates to small steps and easy interventions. For example: Instead of a pre-training meeting with a huge form to fill in – just suggest a “coffee to go” with the employee before the training. Studies show that even a 15-minute conversation can increase transfer success big time. Another idea: Include a transfer task in an accompanying online learning program that says: Dear participant, please address and invite your leader for a quick coffee conversation and talk about expectations and goals. This second intervention is especially beneficial if the leader’s awareness of and willingness to support learning journeys is at the beginning.
  3. Show the benefits
    Supervisors deserve to understand: What’s in it for me? What benefit or payoff do I get as a manager if I support transfer?
    To start this journey and to help the leaders in your organization to commit we developed an easy tool – the SELF-Check for Managers. It helps leaders to reflect if they already get the maximum out of the trainings their team members attend – it is a self-reflection, takes about 5 minutes, and is done voluntarily by the leaders. It contains scoring questions such as:
    I have communicated very clearly that I consider this training useful and meaningful, and that it is important he/she attends.
    Please rate yourself on a scale from absolutely yes to absolutely no.
    Drop a note! We’re happy to send the self-check to you.

Make your training really work

As you see, wasting resources with ineffective training initiatives does not need to be! While the 12 Levers of Transfer Effectiveness are a holistic pool, the lever of supervisor support can already boost transfer a lot. So, what are you waiting for? Let´s make transfer effectiveness and supervisor support easy! Because sustainable transfer really ROCKS!   

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