How to Maximize the Learning ROI of Your Training Program


Learning is about behaviour change. It only happens when people stop doing something the old way, and start doing things the new and better way. If someone does something the same way over and over again, they can’t expect different results.

If people aren’t behaving the way you want them to, training isn’t the silver bullet to change that. I believe that you only need training when there’s a knowledge gap. Instead, ask yourself, why aren’t people behaving the way you’d like them to? What in your company’s culture keeps change from taking place?

If people aren’t behaving the way you want them to, training isn’t the silver bullet to change that.

Here’s a step-by-step checklist to ensure that your training program is set up to get people to behave in the new and better way.

1. Ensure the program fits your company’s DNA

Your training program should fit with your organization’s vision, mission, and values. If you ask people to do things contrary to the company’s culture, don’t expect learning to take place. That’s like recommending a Microsoft employee use Apple’s Pages instead of Word. It just wouldn’t happen. The message has to be consistent with both your stated and the underground cultures for it to stick.

2. Align the training program to your corporate goals and objectives

All programs should align with your goals. Explain how this program supports your corporate aim of ‘X’. If you decide on a training program, make sure you send the right message, especially during times of fiscal constraint.

3. Customize the delivery of the program 

Generic examples aren’t good enough to drive change. They’re the reason why your participants say, “Yeah, but that will never work in our world. Things are different here in our industry.” Training programs should bridge the gap between the facilitator’s vision and lessons, and the status quo. Once that happens, participants will see the possibilities.

Make sure that the facilitator knows your business well enough to tackle tough discussions. They will need to share examples and practices from your company. 

Off-the-rack suits get the job done, but they will never fit like a bespoke suit tailored for you. Similarly, generic training programs may produce the results, but not at the level of a training program that’s customized to fit your participants.

4. Participants and managers should meet before the session

You should meet with the participant before they go through the training program. Look at the program objectives together. Create a focus for the participant during the session. I believe that at least 25% of the value of training comes from this often overlooked meeting. 

5. Take care of their day job  

Training should not be a vacation, but it also shouldn’t be punishment. Have a plan for things that might come up while participants are in the training program. Adjust deliverable dates and priorities. Attending training shouldn't just give participants more work to do before and after. Don’t text, email, or call them out of the program. Remember, every fire that they’re helping you put out comes at the cost of learning. Let them focus on acquiring knowledge, and putting what they learn into action plans.

6. Create focused action plans

The best action plans are ones that your participants can actually put in place. I’m okay if they choose to take on three action items. I’m happy if they pick two action items. I’m ecstatic when participants take away one action item. 

You might notice this reaction is the reverse of what many would think. Consider how busy you and your participants are. When a participant gets back to their world of work, they’ll see all the things that have piled up while they were away. If they have a list of 10 ideas to choose between, they’ll get stuck deciding between which one to do first. They will end up implementing nothing. 

Focus on one, two, or (at most) three, action items. I’m confident that by narrowing your focus, you will see an increased ROI from your participant learning.

7. Participants and managers should meet after the session

After the program, you and the participant can identify the obstacles you can help them remove. You can also show your support for your participant’s ideas. Have each participant make a commitment to their action plan. This is a great way to keep them accountable after training. 

Participants will return to emails, meetings, messages, and the rest of the day-to-day whirlwind. Meet up with them to discuss their action plan. You'll recognize at least another 25% of the training program's value during this meeting.

8. Regular meetings for accountability

Participants should have an accountability coach or partner from the program they can meet with on a weekly basis. The best accountability partners are ones that are not too familiar with each other. They might be comfortable shrugging off poor performance with their best friend, but not with a colleague. Also, conversations won’t get sidetracked. Even just a quick 10-minute coffee works wonders. During these meetings, they'll share the roadblocks they’re experiencing in implementing the learning. 

This means participants can connect with someone who heard the same message, the same way, in the same class. It clarifies questions and reinforces each other’s memories. They can remind each other of the key content that will help them apply the new techniques.

9. Notice participants’ new behaviours

Remember that the new way will be slower at first. Set up transition targets and goals to improve performance. Encourage participants who are changing their behaviours (and perhaps struggling a little bit) during this phase, because it will be frustrating for participants at first. When you notice and recognize new behaviours, participants will repeat them with pride.

Training programs should bridge the gap between the facilitator’s vision and lessons, and the status quo.

10. Incent the new behaviours  

Incentives and rewards don’t have to be monetary. In fact, frankly, we’d recommend that they not be. 

But you have to set the expectation for behaviour change. Oftentimes, there’s actually an unintentional misaligned reward for doing things the old way. There's also a corresponding punishment, or lack of reward, for doing things the new way. Make sure all incentives encourage participants to behave and execute in the new way.

Learning sounds simple, but it’s definitely not easy. Having your team learn consistently means changing the processes around learning. You'll have to reward participants for changing, and keep them accountable. The most outstanding organizations create the environment for their participants to turn acquired knowledge into behaviour change and learning success.

Bill G. Williams has 20+ years experience developing leaders across North America.  Bill is a Partner & Vice President with The Art of Learning.  For more information on The Art of Learning you can visit or email Bill:

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