As businesses move into the next phase in their response to the coronavirus pandemic many leaders are faced with the challenge of hitting their targets with a significant reduction in workforce capacity.

Naturally, the focus shifts to talent performance and optimisation to enhance the skills of remaining employees, particularly those in sales and revenue generating functions. For sales teams, providing sales training is one of the most popular ways to achieve this, however more often than not sales training can prove ineffective in achieving the desired goals.

The Sydney moment

A friend of mine tells the story of what he calls his “Sydney moment.”

He arrived to deliver a training programme to a group of people and as they walked in he realised that they had attended exactly the same course 12 months earlier. When he asked why they felt they needed to attend the course again, they informed him that their new manager had arranged the training and they hadn’t dared tell him they had already been on the course, as this would, quite naturally lead to him asking why they were not putting everything they had been taught into practice!

So, instead they kept quiet and attended the same course. Again!

Presumably nothing changed after that course either – except possibly the next manager.

This story raises an interesting question around how this could have happened. Did the delegates put their learning into practice? Should the new manager have checked past training records? Did the training company not have a system in place to ensure learning was embedded? Or did the company perhaps buy training for trainings sake and not engage their managers in the process so they could correctly support their people?

The reality is that it was probably due to a combination of the above factors and all involved need to take some responsibility for the part they played – or didn’t – in making learning stick.

As someone who has been in the training business for over 20 years, I’m always on the lookout for ways to engage people in the learning process – before, during and after the training – so that you get a long term transformation of behaviours. It’s not easy and there is no single silver bullet. Everyone must play their part. However, here are just four key elements to consider:

Training companies must challenge organisations to view training as more than something that simply ticks a box. They must work closely together to develop learning plans that are aligned to the company’s vision, mission, objectives and strategies and are meaningful to the individuals concerned.  They need to understand the key competencies for each role and undertake a gap analysis for each individual so that the right training can be given at the right time. There is little point in giving someone account development skills if their key objective is to find new business.

Training companies must look to add value throughout the process. They need to be creative and come up with different ways in which people have to interact and engage at every stage – the before, during and after; instead of just focussing on the one or two days in the classroom. That could include pre-reading, videos, tests or assessments and online activities that embrace gamification.

Organisations need to understand that it takes an investment of time and money to change people’s behaviours. There is no shortcut. I was once asked to work with a leadership team to help increase their communication and influencing skills. I was given one day from 08:30 to 16:00 to train a group of 22 people. Oh and personality profiling was also to be included! You may be surprised, but it’s a regular occurrence. Another organisation once asked for a one day training course to improve their salespeople’s sales skills, more specifically, a comprehensive set of selling skills together with negotiation and key account management skills. In both cases they didn’t see the value in learning activities before or after the training as they felt their people and leaders were bright enough to pick up all they needed from the one day session. Quite frankly, if an organisation is not willing to make time to support learning, they should rethink whether investing in training is the right thing to do.

Involving managers in the process is essential. After all they have a critical role to play in ensuring new behaviours and skills are embedded in their teams. They need to be on board to manage, coach and support their direct reports. I have lost count of the times Sales Managers have said they simply don’t have time to coach people as they’re just too busy problem solving, closing business or conducting administrative duties. The main responsibility for a manager is to manage their people, which means providing development and coaching to achieve today and tomorrow’s results. That won’t happen if you’re not spending time with your people.  Talk with them. Listen to them. If you are a field sales manager, go out with your people and observe them with their customers so that you can spot any development areas. If you have someone attending a training course then make sure you have a date in the diary for both before and after training. Why? To understand their specific objectives and to find out how you can best help and support them after the training so learning sticks and has the greatest impact.

Thankfully, I can say that many companies really do understand the importance the before, during and after process to ensure learning sticks. To end, I leave you with a parting request: think about your last training initiative, did it leave a lasting impact on your business? And are you doing enough to ensure you never become a ‘Sydney’ moment for others?

Nick Washington-Jones, Managing Director, Tack TMI UK

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