What’s in This Chapter
• Increasing training results through follow-up coaching
• Eight ideas for follow-up coaching
• Creating an open culture for communication
Learning to be an effective communicator is a lifelong endeavor. Attending workshops can certainly help employees communicate better; however, as with many skills, it is only with continued practice and follow-up coaching that behavior and results are refined and improved. It takes time for people to process new information, break old patterns of behavior, and start applying new skills.
Increasing Training Results Through Follow-Up: What to Do After the Workshop
The benefits of training are lost if behavioral change doesn’t occur. To achieve real behavioral change, it is important that the ideas delivered in the learning environment continue to be supported, an idea that is borne out in research on training. One study that looked at the benefits of training with and without follow-up coaching found that while training alone improved performance by 22 percent, training that included follow-up coaching improved performance by 88 percent—a dramatic increase in return on investment (Olivero, Bane, and Kopelmann 1997). It is also clear that learning is not a once-and-done event, training impact can be drastically improved through effective follow-up techniques (Martin 2010). Managers need to support behavioral change and keep the discussion alive by incorporating key communication competencies into discussions in meetings, performance expectations, individual coaching conversations, and messaging in employee communications.
One way to look at the relationship between training follow-up techniques and individual coaching is to think back to when you learned to ride a bike. First you received the initial instruction on how to ride the bike. As you practiced your new skills, you likely received additional encouragement and support, which helped you become an even stronger rider. That same formula works when helping someone become a skilled communicator. Learning to communicate effectively takes good instruction or training, repeated practice, and follow-up coaching and guidance. See the sidebar for eight ideas to help keep the learning alive.
Follow-Up Virtual Peer Interactions
In many cases, learners feel more comfortable discussing new concepts, challenges, or goals with peers as a way to bounce ideas around and find true understanding before having to present those ideas in a more charged or power-based situation, such as with a supervisor. You may consider using online collaboration tools or social media groups (such as Yammer, LinkedIn, Google+, or Facebook) to post follow-up questions or thought-provoking conversation starters to encourage participants to continue discussing key topics from the workshop. Your role here is not so much to provide input, but more to encourage participants to collaborate among themselves. Alternately, you might consider creating and scheduling small group collaboration sessions using web conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or WebEx. These sessions can be very informal (such as simple check-in type questions, what’s working, what have you tried) or more structured (a facilitated discussion around a hot topic or current event) based on the needs of the group and the desired outcomes. Again, your role in these types of follow-on discussions is that of facilitator, not instructor. In either case, continued support of an ongoing peer-to-peer dialogue related to the skills learned in the workshop will enhance participant understanding and application of the skills learned.
Follow-Up Action Planning
Each agenda in this book, whether half-day, one-day, or two-day, provides an action plan at the conclusion of the workshop to help solidify the learning. These action plans help participants set goals and identify specific actions they can take to apply what they’ve learned back on the job. One effective technique to ensure that an action plan is taken seriously is to encourage the learner’s supervisor to get involved in meaningful ways. Here are a couple of options to consider:
• Ask a high-level manager to kick off each workshop session, either live or through a pre-recorded video, stressing the importance of the action plan.
• Invite different leadership team members throughout the workshop to share their stories about some key competencies and why they are critical to the organization’s success. If leaders are not able to join during the live session, these stories can be included as brief videos or handouts.
• Ask learners to set up a meeting with their supervisors to go over their actions plans as homework after the workshop is completed. Consider providing supervisors with some guiding questions to help facilitate a more meaningful discussion.
For any of these options to be effective, however, supervisors must have a strong understanding of the workshop objectives and content so they are well aware of the competencies, have examined their own strengths and gaps, and empathize with the learner. Supervisors must also be willing to take criticism from the learners because they’re likely going to demand more effective communication from others as their own skills continue to grow.
Follow-Up Coaching Sessions
Offering coaching, either in person or virtually, can help learners further develop their communication skills. A coach’s role is to be a mirror—to listen and ask questions—that helps those being coached see more clearly their own beliefs, obstacles, and desires. A coach should be completely neutral (supervisors may or may not be the right people to play this role because they are also responsible for reviewing the learner). Outside coaches tend to work best because they may be easier to open up to. The most critical aspect is that the coach be a listener and an asker, not a teller.
EIGHT IDEAS FOR FOLLOW-UP COACHING
1. Define the behavioral objectives desired for change and develop a weekly or biweekly coaching plan so that there is a structured list of topics to discuss consistently.
2. Identify peer-to-peer subgroups to support ongoing communication about the competencies and objectives for behavioral change.
3. Encourage managers and other organizational leaders to incorporate discussions about progress and challenges of the change process in departmental or team meetings.
4. Create specific communication competencies to include in performance expectations.
5. Conduct individual coaching conversations. Supervisors, internal coaches, or external coaches can facilitate these conversations depending on budget considerations.
6. Craft a series of email messages (daily, weekly, or monthly) to deliver to session participants that support the identified competencies and objectives.
7. Revisit the action plans that participants completed during the workshop. These will provide ample discussion centered on behavioral objectives and will promote accountability among participants.
8. Develop an online learning community where participants can hold asynchronous objective-focused discussions, ask questions, and support one another as they work to improve their skills.
After your communication skills training sessions are completed, you may find it useful to bring people back together again at three- or six-month intervals. Becoming a stronger, more effective communicator is a very personal journey, and people like to reconnect with and support others who have been through the same thing. Follow-up sessions could be done in person or virtually through teleconferencing, webinars, or other online community tools.
Schedule the first follow-up within three months of the initial workshop for maximum reinforcement of learning. For each follow-up session, create an agenda that encourages participants to discuss challenges they are encountering and share resources they have found to be helpful. Ask learners to bring a sample of their work to discuss (this could be something they are particularly proud of or something that they would like input and help with).
You may have a situation in which the company is willing to invest in significant follow-up. When this is the case, follow up with a half- or full-day workshop. Or try some of the customizing options from chapter 4. A series of one-hour theme-based sessions or Lunch & Learns can be highly effective in tuning up skills and learning new ones.
In addition, encourage supervisors and leaders to attend the follow-up sessions. Recruit them as guest experts or invite them for a lunch or coffee break.
Creating an Open Culture for Effective Communication
Culture change can be a slow and difficult process, and communication style is one of the deepest and most impactful aspects of an organizational culture. The best way to support behavioral change is for employees to see and hear actions and messages from executive leadership and managers that support the ideas communicated during the training program. Workplace leaders must truly model the desired behavior to build trust, or they risk the training program they are paying for quickly losing credibility.
• Remember that improving communication skills is a journey—not an event.
• Be creative and consistent. Your commitment to your participants’ learning will inspire their own.
• Follow up, with multiple offerings, helps learners implement their action plans and make real progress toward improving behavior and achieving results.
• Management involvement, though difficult to get at first, is critical to organizational change.
What to Do Next
• Select one or two of the follow-up ideas and make a plan to implement them in your next workshop.
• Follow through on your follow-up plan. Demonstrate your commitment to your participants’ continued learning by your willingness to continue on the journey with them long after the workshop is completed.
Olivero, G., K. Bane, and R. Kopelmann. (1997). “Executive Coaching as a Transfer of Training Tool: Effects on Productivity in a Public Agency.” Public Personnel Management 26(4).
Martin, H.J. (2010). “Improving Training Impact Through Effective Follow-Up: Techniques and Their Application.” Journal of Management Development 29 (6): 520–534. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/2c1c/febd07e1f761310e7aa221df495021712981.pdf