Harvesting Learning’s Fruit: A Downstream Training Investment

Nothing beats rave reviews in level one verbatim comments and nothing better than everyone scoring perfection on level two assessments; therein lay the most common criteria for measuring the effectiveness of our training efforts. Unfortunately, the real value of our efforts – confirmation of sustainable performance – is manifest downstream from where we earn our accolades. As such, our greatest opportunity to prove our worth to the organization is found outside of our formal training focus. Without addressing downstream performance, we are limited to crowing about training activity about how busy we are. What really matters is – training impact about how effective we are – and that happens downstream.

In an earlier post, I introduced the concept of a Learning Continuum defined by three phases:
Prepareto create readiness in our learners prior to formal training
Deploydelivery of formal training in a variety of blends
Reinforcepost-training implementation intended to sustain capability

As a panelist in a recent webinar on “The Future of the Business of Learning” (7/23/09) I placed significant emphasis on the Reinforce phase of the Continuum and made a reference to the need to “harvest” what learning produces in the work context . Several participants remarked that harvesting was a new phrase to them, which in turn has led me to writing this post today.

I have developed a graphic illustration that I hope gives you a sense of what harvesting means and when we accomplish it. My guess is that implementation methodology will suit the organization attempting the process, but confident the sequencing to be somewhere downstream from the formal training event where we plant the seeds of knowledge and skills. Refer to Figure 1.0 for illustration as you read.

Downstream Harvest
Figure 1.0

As professional trainers, we “plant” seeds of knowledge and skills in a variety of ways in formal training venues. The planting process takes place as we ready learners during the Prepare phase and then practice in the safe environs of the Deploy phase. I do not want to focus on those things we already do well; rather, the downstream activities found within the Reinforce phase of the Learning Continuum is where we will concentrate our time in this post.

Fertilize & Cultivate

Lately, many dialogs in the forums I cruise circulate around the insertion of social media into the learning mix. Downstream from formal training is an opportune moment to make that connection. I hasten to add; however, that social media does not represent a silver bullet solution. My point in mentioning it is the added capability to enable collaboration among learning stakeholders in communities of relevance. Learners, managers, training staff, and SMEs all have a vested interest in what happens after training with respect to reinforcing learning through coaching, knowledge sharing, and in the case of sales people – boasting and bragging. Yes, I was in sales for many years and know what to expect.

Relevant communities of practice or interest are excellent venues to accomplish both push and pull of relevant information that supports knowledge retention and serves as fertile ground for the ultimate reward of harvesting knowledge and best practices that otherwise would remain locked in the heads and hearts of top performers. The task is to diffuse the “knowledge is power” paradigm by rewarding those who share their knowledge in the community. Larry Pruzak’s book “Working Knowledge” addresses a concept called “knowledge currency” that defines the exchange of value for knowledge. His point is that value does not always have to equate to cash, but there should be a mutually acceptable transaction to incentivize sharing. Often that can be simple recognition.

In the Deploy phase, we acquired level 1 & 2 evaluations from which we predicted positive performance. As we know, neither of those evaluations are accurate predictors of performance, much less sustainable performance. Nevertheless, downstream is where we need to check in with learners to see if the Performer Support Objects (PSOs) were effective as well as relevant to their actual work. If not, we need to know why. If they were, we need to know to what extent…and what would they change. This conversation feeds our ability to acquire level 3 evaluation to confirm transfer of training to successful execution of work.

Harvest – Intentional Discovery

This activity is not something we all do, and those who do may have a unique approach that will not work for anyone else. For me, I see this as the ultimate validation that my training efforts rendered fruits for harvest. This is the perfect opportunity to harness the creativity of top performers by capturing best practices and homegrown tools they have created. From this harvest, we can re-package for others who have not reached a level of mastery and dramatically shorten their learning curve and time to competency.

I describe harvesting as intentional discovery to make a point. One could argue the line between fertilize/cultivate and harvesting is a bit blurry, but I feel there is a time component that must pass – just as we wait for crops to grow – before the communities and the experiences of using PSO tools in the work context are mature enough to render firm opinions by the users. I don’t want first impressions, I want conviction that a PSO worked or it didn’t. I cannot fix it if I do not know where or why it failed to support. Likewise, this effort is done with intent to serve the fine-tuning of existing training efforts and formulation of new tools or re-engineering of existing tools. Notice in Figure 3.0 that harvesting closes the loop with Planting and also impacts Fertilization and Cultivation with discovery and excellent experiential feedback that can only make better seeds to plant for the next crop of graduates.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise