Team Training ImageGetting a product management team up to speed is a big commitment and investment. Training is an essential part of their journey to high-performance, but multiple studies show us that overall retention of training material is very low – about 10%, according to most experts. Furthermore, if team members don’t get to put that new information into practice, they will struggle to retain even that small fraction.

This isn’t the fault of the product managers or team leaders. The many high quality training courses available for product teams simply aren’t sufficient. Such training programs are the foundation of what is required to transform your group into a high-performing product management organization.

How to Avoid a Low Return on Training Investment

The need to go beyond foundational training is not unique to your company or even the product management profession. While perfect retention and application of new techniques is not a reasonable expectation, experts agree there are simple things that organizations can do to maximize the benefit of their training investment. What happens before, during and after training is perhaps even more important than the training itself. In fact, leading university and industry researchers collaborated on an in-depth report recommending many of the same actions that we discuss below.

Our experience focuses on helping organizations capitalize on product management training, such as that offered by Pragmatic Marketing, but our logic applies to employee training more broadly.

Most of what we outline in this post may seem simple. That’s the good news. What will help an organization extract more value from training is not particularly difficult, but it is often overlooked.

Pre-Training

Self-Assessment. Prior to selecting a training program, and even before identifying individuals to be trained, we recommend that each member of the team complete a knowledge self-assessment. This can be sensitive, so consider keeping the information confidential. Be sure to make it clear that the goal is to support skill development and improve overall team performance.

This step can be a powerful way to get your team engaged in their own learning and take complete responsibility for the knowledge they acquire. A self-assessment is a useful tool to more precisely identify the common areas of improvement for the team.

“Begin with the end in mind. Before you fund this training event, develop a few clear and actionable objectives for your team. What will they do differently the day after the training is completed? What does success look like for the team? for individuals?

During Training

As training is underway, a few keys will help your staff retain more of the information and emerge better prepared to put it into practice on the job. Again, here is where some simple concepts come into play.

Help them manage their “day jobs.” While hustling back to a hotel room or home to catch up on the day’s email isn’t the best learning environment; it is the “new normal.” What can you do to maximize the return on investment and minimize distractions?

  • Choose an off-site location even if it adds costs to the overall effort.
  • Build buffers into training to allow team members to check-in and catch up on their responsibilities back at the office.
  • Protect their time by not scheduling any major initiatives (launches, etc.) during the training.

Formalize “debriefing” time. Whether training is delivered by an outside group or is an in-house creation, arrange it so your team has the opportunity to absorb, discuss, and apply what they’ve learned.

Ensure that training materials include templates, examples, and other tools. The most valuable training objective is for your team members to return to work ready to think and act differently, not just know more. Training curricula that include time for relevant hands-on exercises and provide simple checklists, templates, actual examples and other tools they’ll be able to use on the job will allow them to focus on understanding what they’re learning instead of just trying to retain it.

Post-Training

Conduct post training assessments. Before the pressures of their regular work dull the benefits of the training received, conduct assessments to determine how well the team members absorbed the information. That way weaknesses that persist after training can be identified and addressed.

Create learning labs. Based upon your training goals, and gaps that post-training assessments reveal, develop projects that are designed to tackle real, current business problems using the techniques and processes presented in the training.

Assign a Sponsor. Some may use the term “Learning Evangelist” or “Knowledge Manager” –regardless of the title, it’s critical to empower someone who will ensure that labs are developed and new methods are actually implemented in business operations. As you are aware, change will not drive itself throughout your organization.

Employ periodization learning techniques. Lasting change is not a sprint. Conduct learning labs and ongoing training to reinforce the original material over the following months and even years.

Takeaways

The challenge of implementing training in a way that will truly create results may seem daunting. Success requires more than just allocating budget and enabling staff to take “time away” from work to participate. Luckily, the recipe for success is well understood. A more holistic approach that encompasses activities before, during, and after training will allow your organization to accomplish its objectives.