Elevating the impact of L&D

In a new report, the Korn Ferry Institute explores four ways organizations can increase the value of their learning and development programs.

AuthorsZack Van Rossum, Mariah Moore, Stephen Lams, Sarah Hezlett, Yu-Ann Wang

Companies spend billions of dollars per year on employee training programs, yet studies show there is still often a gap in how effectively these skills are used on the job.

For organizations to realize the full value of training, their employees need to be able to take what they’ve learned and apply it to what they do—what learning and development researchers call “transfer of training.” This transfer, though, does not mean mimicking the lessons taught. Instead, participants must find creative ways to employ their new knowledge and skills in real-world scenarios—ones that often differ from what’s presented in the course.

The extent to which training improves job performance, though, depends on three broad areas: instructional design and training, personal characteristics and motives, and organizational conditions and work environment. Research shows that each factor plays a key role in enabling employees to apply their new knowledge and skills to their roles. Yet, companies often assume transfer will simply happen if employees just participate in development programs.

"That's typically not the case," says Mariah Moore, data scientist at the Korn Ferry Institute, Korn Ferry’s research arm. "Our own research shows that support from others is essential to leadership development, yet organizational context is the one area often overlooked by companies when it comes to impact on learning outcomes."

In its new report, Elevating the impact of L&D, the Korn Ferry Institute offers four recommendations organizations can follow to better enable transfer of training for employees participating in development programs. The recommendations, based on a comprehensive analysis of Korn Ferry’s own program evaluation survey data, expands on what existing research shows: to best support the transfer of training for employees, companies need to attend to the larger organizational environment—and especially to the role of the manager in this process.

“If companies want to maximize the return on investment of employee development programs,” says Zack Van Rossum, director of IP Development at the Korn Ferry Institute, “then they need to think of training as a dynamic ecosystem of learning and development, rather than one single event.”

Recommendation 1: Ensure employees understand the importance and relevance of training.

Before a training program launches, it is important to start with employee motivation and engagement. Employees should understand how the program can directly impact and improve their career today and in the future. Be sure employees have established clear expectations and goals for the program and how they will leverage the lessons learned in their work.

Recommendation 2: Managers should set clear expectations both pre- and post-program.

While participants can set expectations on their own, our research shows that partnering with their managers is more powerful. According to our analysis, about 58% of participants who discussed learning goals with their manager said the training was highly valuable to their development and growth. Of those who did not discuss goals, only 46% said the same. Heading into the program with clear learning outcomes in mind creates greater focus and insight in employees for how they can improve areas that will benefit their work. This ultimately improves transfer of training as employees understand the relevance of learning and are better able to apply new knowledge and skills on the job.

Recommendation 3: Managers should actively support employees’ development efforts.

Our research reveals that managers who actively encourage employees in their development are seen as more effective managers overall. In fact, 51% of participants who strongly agreed that their manager supports their growth rated their manager as excellent or higher on leadership effectiveness, versus just 28% who did not. This means it's critical for managers to not only support employees while they're going through a particular training program, but to also engage with their learning and development efforts actively throughout the year.

This dynamic is reciprocated for employees: for those who said they felt supported by their manager, their managers rated these employees as excellent or higher in overall performance (65% vs. 29%) and effectiveness in getting their job done (61% vs. 38%). A strong employee-manager relationship that supports ongoing learning and development often results in increased performance and effectiveness overall.

Recommendation 4: Foster strong manager-employee relationships for maximum commitment.

Employees who feel supported by their manager are more likely to make greater progress on their learning goals and continually develop in their role. They are also more likely to see their manager as being a strong and supportive leader.

Ultimately, the nature of this supportive relationship impacts how employees feel about the organization. About 67% of participants who agreed that their manager does a good job supporting them in their learning and growth are more likely, after the program, to strongly recommend their organization as a good place to work, compared to just 47% who did not agree. Moreover, 79% of those who felt supported by their manager expressed the intention to stay five years or longer in their organization. Only 63% said the same if they did not feel supported. The critical role managers play in actively supporting employees transcends any specific training program, as this relationship helps build a positive work culture that increases transfer of training, as well as employee engagement and retention.

To learn more about increasing the value of learning and development programs, click the image to download the PDF.

For more information, learn more about Korn Ferry’s Leadership & Professional Development capabilities.