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Meetings: Lever for Change

Making the leap to effective learning transfer

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHBy Emma Weber

Learning transfer may be a new concept to many, but it is one that I believe will become increasingly important to the meetings and events industry. In his spring article Power of the Dream, Ravi Tangri, CSP,  wrote about the need for “events to go beyond what they have been in the past.” He wrote about memorable events that need to truly touch people. In my view, your meeting needs to not only be remembered after the fact, but live beyond the event in terms of true business impact.

In Canberra, Australia, in 2012, I facilitated a Turning Learning into Action Conference session at the Kmart Tyre and Auto company conference. They had inspiring speakers and some very valuable keynotes, but the company wanted to ensure that the delegates put into action what they learned at the event.

Study after study shows, in most cases, learning transfer, even from training programs, is only around 10 to 20 per cent, which means the financial and time investment in the training is never fully maximized. Is your meeting being maximized? Wouldn’t it be ideal if you knew that delegates were capturing key insights and items then taking action back in the workplace?

Meeting Effectiveness
Increasingly, meeting organizers don’t just want to deliver a meeting. They also want to make a real difference back in the workplace. A meeting or event is just a means to the desired end. The desired end is the implementation of the changes the delegates gain from the meeting.

Could it be that the real objective is for the event delegates to do what they’ve learned? Are companies getting that desired change post-meeting? I would argue that without a robust strategy it is almost impossible to achieve effective learning transfer after an event.

Who is responsible for ensuring learning transfer? The individual? Their manager? The speakers? The meetings and event team? How can we measure whether the learning is transferred? What can be done to create effective learning transfer? How can meeting planners take on responsibility for more? It would be easier to keep our proverbial head in the sand, but if the aim is to go beyond what we have done in the past, this is the opportunity to do so.

Training is Learning
Let’s see what we can learn from the training industry and how this can be applied. In many cases, learning and development professionals have contributed to the gap between knowing and doing. For example, Broad and Newstrom wrote in Transfer of Training about the importance of the manager before and after training. As the graphic in Figure 1 (next page) shows, combining training with coaching potentially achieves an 88 per cent learning transfer, a 400 per cent increase.

So why do we persist with traditional training events with no specified follow up? Meeting professionals tell me they feel robust learning transfer is too expensive, too hard, or can’t be measured anyway.

Wins Create Culture Change
In my seven years working with BMW Australia, I’ve observed how the culture can change when training is translated into tangible wins for the participants. No longer is training seen as taking sales executives away from the real business. Now, sales executives and their managers see the tangible benefits when the learning is effectively transferred and performance is lifted. The message is spreading across the U.S., Europe and Asia. How did we take this learning from BMW into a Kmart Tyre and Auto Meeting?

For training, we would deploy a learning transfer methodology, such as Turning Learning into Action (TLA). Whether it is delivered in-house by a trained team or by the managers, or outsourced to a specialist provider, TLA is an effective approach to embed the learning through a series of short conversations, usually conducted by phone. In my experience, if the participant invests a mere 90 minutes in TLA over a two-month period, the effectiveness of a two-day training program increases four-fold.

For conferences and meetings, this process can be effectively driven by a buddy system with the delegates working together on accountability calls scheduled one month after the event. This was the approach we used for the 150-person meeting with Kmart.

Lever for Individual Change
If we consider that in this process our aim is to move on from the premise that a meeting is a lever for change within an organization to the notion that a meeting is a lever for change for individuals, it becomes easier to digest.  Just as a pole vaulter uses their pole to catapult themselves over obstacles, learning from a meeting can propel the individual forward and upward.

Using the three stages of the TLA process, see Figure 2 (below), we created a framework for a robust learning transfer strategy.

Stage 1: Preparation
At the conference, we facilitated a session where each individual created a personalized action plan for what they were taking away, why it was important to them and when they would have the change in place. They created a plan for the steps to action, then an accountability call was scheduled with a buddy and, finally, the immediate next steps were identified.

The buddies were specifically people that the delegates didn’t know which facilitated accountability (friends/co-workers can have a tendency to let each other off the process). They committed to a date and time one-month after the conference and were encouraged to put it in their smartphones with the buddy’s phone number. They were given a checklist of questions to ask on the call.

Stage 2: Action Sessions
The TLA ACTION process is a clearly defined five-step process designed to hold individuals accountable to following through. They typically take place over an eight- to 12-week period, consisting of three or four scheduled telephone conversations.

A = Accountability: Create an accountability structure for implementation.
C = Calibration: The individual calibrates current performance and goals.
T = Target: They identify their target; where they are aiming to go.
I = Information provides an accurate gauge of where they are at the start.
O = Options: Use brainstorming to develop options and opportunities for a way forward.
N = Next steps: Gain commitment for the next steps that will take place between ACTION sessions, to secure the behavioural change.

Effective questioning techniques enable the participant to develop appropriate solutions based on the information and skills they learned on the training course, coupled with their individual thoughts and beliefs. This results in the participant assuming ownership of the change process, creating a higher level of success. In addition we use specific “Keeping Them on the Trajectory” processes that give the managers or team delivering the process the tools and confidence to handle any roadblocks to progress.

For the meetings where we didn’t have the luxury of the using the full process, delegates used the key questions they were given at the event to facilitate their own buddy calls. The magic of the process is that even knowing you need to call someone and discuss specifically the action you have taken will almost always mean you will take more action then you would have done without.

Stage 3: Evaluation
The final stage is when the changed behaviours are observed, evaluated and collated by the individual and/or their manager. Kmart was keen to have the managers drive the evaluation, so the feedback was mainly anecdotal. The good news was that Kmart reported some interesting phone calls and discussions taking place with the added benefit of getting different areas of the business to dialogue and build relationships after the event.

Take the Leap
The time is right for meeting and events professionals to show clearly their contribution to their organizations’ bottom lines by making events bear real fruit back in the workplace.
Time to facilitate the leap to effective learning transfer.

Emma Weber is founder and director of Lever Learning, specializing in learning transfer. She has offered Speaking of IMPACT subscribers a copy of the www.plan template. Email her directly with TLA Conferences in the title.

Appeared in Speaking of Impact, Winter 2013 Edition


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