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How to get more ROI out of L&D

You’ve built consensus with your company’s leadership around learning initiatives. You’ve marshalled the resources and won the budget. You’ve got a plan for getting your entire team in the same place on the same day. Now as the training kicks off, you get to hit cruise control, right?

If you’re reading this, you already know the answer: after the workshop, the real work begins for anyone looking to pull off a successful L&D initiative. You've got to make sure your team's new skills actually stick once the training ends.

Training isn’t something your people do on their own. They shouldn’t be solely responsible for their own growth immediately after being introduced to a new tool, concept, or mental shift. Instead, you must recognize that you play a critical role in creating the environment they’ll need to change and develop over time.

Why? You might be familiar with the old saying that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. Well that’s not entirely true—the actual amount of time it takes to establish a new habit varies widely person to person and is heavily dependent on the nature of the habit and how it is being reinforced  [1].

Remember, creating new habits means replacing old behaviors with new ones. And that can be painful. In many cases, the old way of doing things has worked for so long that people are naturally going to resist a new way, either consciously or subconsciously. You’ve probably witnessed this firsthand.

But don’t worry—we’re here to help! Here are some things you can do to get the most value out of your next L&D initiative and ensure the essential skills you’re equipping your team with actually stick.

Before the Training

1. Identify skill gaps or areas for growth.

Like all learning initiatives, the best place to start is with a few questions. What business goal are you trying to achieve with learning and development (i.e., how will this initiative impact the bottom line)? Next, it’s helpful to take stock. Where are you now relative to where you want to go? Who is the audience for the training? Who are the stakeholders? Of course, these can be difficult questions to answer, and a great deal of our work with clients involves helping fill in these blanks early in the process.

2. Source the content and learning partner, internal or external.

Now that you have a better sense of what you’re trying to achieve, what success looks like, and who will be involved in the decision, you can start pulling resources together. Are you equipped to handle everything in-house or will you need an external partner to help you plan and/or implement your training?

3. Plan the implementation and iron out those logistics.

Our advice: always start with the learner in mind. What does their journey and engagement look like? What do they need to get started? How much time will they need to dedicate to training? How will you run a pilot or experiment to see what works? Will you host your training on-site or are you looking to have your team learn in a new space?

During the Training

1. Listen.

Once you begin and activities unfold between your team members, get ready to hold back. Because you have so much invested—both in terms of resources and your own energy—you will have a strong urge to redirect conversational tangents or assert a rationale for a current process. You will want to tamper skepticism when it arises to anything new. Don’t. Instead, ask yourself, “what is the underlying issue?” Provide enough space to find this.

You can always ask a clarifying question as the conversation unfolds or afterwards, at lunch, or over a phone call. When your team expresses concerns or communicates their reasons for pushing back, listen: They are about to give you something valuable. Think of it as critical intel on the roadblocks you can help remove for your team to move forward. Shut this communication process down, and you’ll have no clue what needs attention in your organization’s environment.

Note: If you are not attending a session in person, find a surrogate to do this for you—someone that you trust to give you their honest observation, even when—especially when—that means hearing something they know you won’t want to hear.

2. Identify one item your people need most.

Because you’ve listened, you can now clarify the needs being expressed. And here’s where your judgement and experience come in. What, truly, is going to fuel your people? What is in their way regarding the new practice everyone wants to see in action? Is it time? Clearer direction from you? Access to different information? More accountability between business units? Find these things, then, pick one as a place to start. Keep your notes on the others for future consideration.

After the Training

1. Require commitments of your team and, most importantly, of yourself.

Start by sharing the primary item you’ve identified that your team needs—this can be done in 3-5 minutes. Then, most importantly, tell your team what you are committing to do about it. That could mean a commitment to a new sales-pitch flow, creating protected time for people to spend on a new practice, or socializing a new feedback practice. Each individual will need to do this, too. Ideally, everyone will self-identify what they need to work on so that they are personally invested. If, for example, you run your team through a workshop like Insight Selling, some people will need to work on how they structure their pitch, and others will need to work on re-calibrating their collateral. Allow enough space for your team to identify an area for change or improvement. Capture these goals and make time for regular and shared reflection on the progress between leadership and team members.

2. Adopt a new mechanism for catalyzing the progress and use it intentionally.

Here’s how we’ve seen this done after a workshop with Frontier Academy. Start by picking a tool to drive a desired behavior. Think of this tool as your small, burning ember. If you’re not personally attending the session, this is where your surrogate becomes most important. They’ll need to recommend this piece, and you’ll need to advance their recommendation. This could look like a feedback tool, a new formula and process for innovation, that new sales pitch flow that everyone will adopt, or even shared expectations regarding meetings management. Now, allow that tool to do the building it is capable of. Use the language and vocabulary that supports what you’ve selected. Do this regularly, and do this yourself. Push opportunities into meeting agendas. Where else does your team think this tool needs to exist? Work with them to put it there.

3. When you see effort, reward it.

As you move forward you may see a furrowed brow or hear someone asking for help, or maybe you’ll witness early morning arrivals to invest more time into the project at hand. When you see this, well before the final product is shared, reward the effort. A thank you in person, a card to the same effect, calling someone out at a team meeting, or even stopping into their office with ten bucks and a walk to grab some coffee around the corner will nurture the effort—and progress—being made. If someone identifies a mistake and works toward understanding what happened to learn from the misstep—it’s critical that you reward that, too.

4. Share what you’ve learned—the good, the bad, the key takeaways.

Find a time and format for sharing your own learning—this will model the type of sharing you are looking for from your team. This is can be as simple as sharing small anecdotes about what happened when you used the tool you committed to. What were the bumps? What worked well? Great! Now, what’s your team got to share? This reflection both demonstrates there has been effort made and generates shared engagement with the new behavior(s) you’re after. Without this follow-through and digestion, that ember from several weeks ago will die.

The good news about all of this is, really, that it won’t consume epic amounts of time. Instead, you can reflect on the pieces above as you move through the process, adjusting and tuning as you go. The hard work is re-configuring what you are doing right now when the topic of training comes up. Print this out, put some time on your calendar to take your own notes, and you’re on your way.


If you’re ready to start a conversation about how Frontier Academy’s workshops can help your team engage with one another on a deeper level, let’s talk.


[1] Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., and Wardle, J. (2010). "How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world." European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998-1009.