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Confessions of a Sustainment Junkie

“Training without sustainment is basically malpractice.”

Let me rewind for a second. Picture the scenario. As the Combustor tasked with figuring out what the company’s newly minted sustainment program should look like, I had gone to a world-renowned Learning & Development conference in search of learning transfer & retention strategies. And THIS is what I heard from the first presenter in the first session. Cue pale face, tingling skin, and slight nausea.

Although my entire purpose for being in that room was to begin to develop a really kick-ass sustainment program, it still made me feel sick to think we were apparently behind the curve in terms of having a robust program in place! And even though we already had a reputation for creating and delivering pretty memorable workshops, I knew we were nowhere close to where we needed to be.

That was a year ago. During that time, I became a woman obsessed with sustainment. Literally. Obsessed. And anyone who knows me knows that when I obsess, I research. Here are just a few of the terrifying facts I unearthed about the ‘transfer of training’:

1. Participants can forget what they’ve learned in as little as an hour after leaving training and it only goes downhill from there.

2. Without support (i.e. follow-on learning programs), transfer can be as low as 10-20%. And based on what we were seeing, few organizations were set up to provide that support.

3. Many of the companies that did have post-learning functionality relied purely on e-learning systems which, when used poorly, could further kill even the most well-intentioned retention strategies.

Shit. While everything was pointing to the challenges and potential ways to get it wrong, my intention to beat the odds was only amping up. (See earlier note on obsession). So one of our usual Combustion team huddles ensued and tequilas in hand, we committed to a ‘no participants left behind’ policy, and threw down some shots to cement the pact.

All in the name of learning, here’s what we decided to do:

The human brain lives by a ‘use it or lose it’ credo. If you’re in L&D, you may already have heard about Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. It shows how quickly learners can forget new information and how by jogging their memory at different intervals, you can help stop the forgetting. That means with just a little creative love and the right kind of attention, not all has to be lost. And it became apparent that two kinds of reinforcement combined would serve up the best antidote – memory joggers and application. The simple solution? Build a Follow on Learning (FOL) program that delivers a series of support pieces carefully timed and designed to catch people juuuuust before the curve hits.

Next up, we tackled the ‘support’ part of this initiative – meaning how and when and by whom participants are encouraged to actually use what they’ve learned at work. Without this ‘support’, it’s estimated that only 10-20% of training is put into action. What. The. Hell? While we seriously pride ourselves on creating relevant, content-dense workshops (just try asking if you can step out for an hour-long meeting in the middle of one of our workshop and see what happens), we knew we’d have to do more. The plan? Challenge people to perform practical ‘on-the-job’ tasks that forced them to apply new learning AND arm managers with expectations in order to raise everyone’s accountability game. To that end, we also decided to equip managers with highlights and key learnings from all training so they’d never inadvertently contradict or dismiss the changes we were asking their people to make!

Lastly, we knew we had to find the ultimate learning management system (LMS) to help us get all of this into our clients’ hands. Ah, e-learning systems – the bane of my existence. It might be worthwhile to note that at the aforementioned conference, I was in a session about picking the best LMS when the presenter asked for a show of hands. Only 6 people out of about 80 said they were confident in their current system. I was pretty shocked – we’re talking modern technology here. Come on, people! Since then I’ve said “LMS” around my fair share of L&D professionals and they actually have a visceral reaction to the word. Point taken. LMS’s can be a minefield to navigate and the alternative, doing this kind of thing manually, takes serious manpower and organizational skills – who has time for that? At the end of the day, we really needed something that would work and wouldn’t make anyone insane. After all, an LMS can really help with so many logistical and administrative responsibilities. The solution: a good LMS that we would manage. Our LMS can help distribute, schedule, and track FOL activities. And it solves one of the biggest pain points our clients experience which is trying to figure out: who was in which workshop, who satisfies prerequisites for what, who is actually doing/not doing their FOL. We had to help them. Plus, it’s a nice bonus to have a system distribute feedback, leave behinds, and our shiny new FOL on time for us!

So cut to 10 months later – 20% of our clients are seeing uptake in not only the Follow on Learning but yes, even the LMS. Is it perfect? No. Will we fight the good fight in getting it there? Hell yes! That being said, I can’t afford to have my head explode in the meantime so if anyone reading this wants to talk training transfer or has any insight they want to offer us then that would be awesome! Leave your deets in the comments below.

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