How to Help the CEO and Other Senior Leaders Make Learning Stick

It’s well known that the CEO and other senior leaders influence the climate in an organization. Research has found that a “positive transfer climate” before the learning event and afterwards is one of the key components of making the training stick, so that people use the skills and knowledge they learn in training. (For a complete diagram of the Training Transfer Process, check out my new book, Making Learning Stick).

In addition to creating and strengthening an organization’s climate for learning (or not), a senior leader approves and/or modifies the training budget and in doing this, sets priorities. It is also the senior leader who (hopefully) reviews key metrics and indicators of effectiveness such as evaluation summaries.   The senior leader may also be influenced by any awards or recognition received by the learning and development department.

But what can a classroom trainer, a designer of training materials, or a training manager do to encourage (more) CEO and other senior leader involvement in and support for learning and development?

Jack and Patti Phillips of the ROI Institute recently surveyed 94 CEOs from public and privately held companies. The highlights of this survey are reported in the August 2009 issue of T+D Magazine, which is published by the American Society for Training and Development.   Using this information and my own research on training transfer as a springboard, I offer the following suggestions for strengthening and capitalizing on CEO and senior leader support for learning and development:

1.  Ask or encourage (ok, beg) to have a member of the senior leadership team and preferably the CEO introduce the training and talk about how this particular training topic/skills helps drive the current business objectives and strategy of the organization. The technology has never been easier to capture a 2-3 minute talk on video and replay this at the beginning of each training program. Research has found that when trainees understand the link between their training and the organization’s strategic goals and direction, they’re more likely to use what they learn.

Be sure you yourself are clear about your organization’s key objectives and strategy. Review and refresh every six months or a year to be sure you stay current so that you can refer to them during training facilitation or in the learning design.

2.   Identify a particular segment or module of the training that would be a good fit for the CEO or senior leader to instruct.   If face-to-face instructing isn’t an option, consider a live videoconference or video segment with an in-class facilitator. E-learning segments could be designed with a senior leader on videotape or a caricature with voice.

3.   Ask a senior leader to write two emails, one to be sent to all participants before the training and one to be sent 1-3 days after training. The email should state or reiterate why the skills are important in driving the organization’s objectives, mission, and strategy, and why it is important to be sure to use the skills on the job at every opportunity, especially immediately after training. A client of mine told me that she sends an email like this from the CEO, with his email address showing in the “from” field (with his knowledge and permission, of course).   Not surprisingly, this email gets opened.

4.   Apply for awards. In the Phillips’ CEO survey I mentioned earlier, a surprising 40% of CEOs reported that receiving awards for learning and development practices is important to them. What does your senior leadership think about awards?

Finally, pay attention to the evaluation metrics you measure and report. In my next newsletter, I’ll discuss training metrics that are most important to senior leaders. Remember, the right metrics drive better training transfer.  And isn’t making the training stick, the point?

Until next time…

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