Skills development: How can you make the learning count?


My recent work with a variety of UK and Global customers on talent and organisational development issues has revealed a number of recurring client concerns. These include; how to make learning opportunities more individualised and adaptable for the current context, how to enable learning to be more mobile with organised forums set up to share knowledge and finally how to have learning curated through LMS type platforms. All of this of course, while demonstrating the impact. These challenges need to be made sense of and aligned by those sponsoring, facilitating and undergoing the learning, often in an iterative way.  

Whilst most organisations recognise the value of equipping their managers with the skills they need to perform, unfortunately, evidence suggests that the bulk of training expenditure fails to change behaviour and performance.This is perhaps since even after learning new skills, behaviour change often requires individuals to unlearn habits and their normal ways of working.

Given this challenge, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that effective development programmes must be skilfully designed, drawing on the science of learning and development and the organisational context, to make sure that their potential reaches fruition. This science has pointed to various critical components that can increase the likelihood that development programmes not only facilitate learning but also sustainable shifts in behaviour. This blog will outline just three of the key factors.

  1. Effective coaching

Coaching should never replace the more formal aspects of development but should rather be used as a valuable tool to complement and aid learning.The value of coaching is demonstrated most clearly by one study which found that whilst training could improve productivity by 22.4% alone, follow-up coaching sessions led to a huge 88% increase in productivity.3 This effect could result from any number of factors. To take just one example, effective coaches can induce constructive reflection, encouraging employees to step out of their own mental frames and into another's, helping them to see different viewpoints and possibilities.4

  1. Opportunities for collaborative learning

Supporting formal training with additional learning opportunities such as action learning groups, particularly in the period immediately following, presents various opportunities for enhancing and maintaining learning.5 Peer support of this type not only accelerates learning through collaboration and discussion but also helps to maintain employees’ motivation to implement their new learning in practice, well beyond the end of a formal training session.6

  1. Goal setting

Although any development intervention should have clear learning objectives, short and longer-term goals should also be set following the programme to encourage participants to apply the new knowledge or competencies in the workplace. In particular, a wealth of research supports the value of specific, tailored, and appropriately challenging goals, especially when combined with constructive feedback.More specifically, goal setting can facilitate the application of learnings by directing attention, prompting action, and increasing people’s persistence in applying their newly acquired knowledge or skills.8

A number of individual and organisational ingredients help to ensure that skills are not only learned but also applied in practice during and following skills development programmes. Through carefully designing programmes with these in mind, it becomes possible to prevent learning from falling through the gaps, consequently helping organisations to make the most out of the investments that they make in their people and the desired success outcomes to be met.



1Grossman, R., & Salas, E. (2011). The transfer of training: What really matters? International Journal of Training and Development, 15, 103–120.

2CIPD (2010). The talent perspective what does it feel like to be talent-managed? Research Report: CIPD.

3Olivero, G., Bane, K. D. & Kopelman, R. E. (1997). Executive coaching as a transfer of training tool: Effects on productivity in a public agency. Public Personnel Management, 26(4), 461-469.

4Ellinger, A.D., Bostrom, R.P. (1999). Managerial coaching behaviors in learning organizations. Journal of Management Development, 18,752–771.

5Salas, E., & Stagl, K.C. (2009). Design Training Systematically and Follow the Science of Training, in E.Locke (ed.), Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior: Indispensable Knowledge for Evidence-Based Management, 2nd edn. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 59–84.

6Chiaburu, D.S., & Marinova, S.V. (2005). What predicts Skills Transfer? An exploratory study of goal orientation, training self-efficacy and organizational supports. International Journal of Training and Development, 9(2), 110-123.

7E.g. Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2009). Organisational Behaviour.  Pearson: London.

8Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717.

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