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Written by: David Parsons

“It is impossible to predict when a change in behaviour will occur…in fact, changes in behaviour may occur at any time…or it may never occur.” This statement is taken from Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick’s (2006), “Implementing the Four Levels” for the evaluation of training programs. Human Resources and training professionals often face this dilemma of whether or not participants will implement the newly learned behaviours and to what affect and where does this responsibility lay.

Organizational training often focuses on Return on Investment (ROI) and leaders expect that any form of training will translate into changes on the job that increase the value of the organization. Designing an effective evaluation method for your training programs ensures that ROI is met and understood. Two important factors need to be considered in the evaluation process: 1) are the right people involved and 2) who are the right people. According to Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick (2006), the “right people” at minimum must include Human Resources, the training department (if they are a separate function of HR) and management. However it is often management that is missed in the evaluation process. When the role of management is not considered this leads to a critical evaluation question of how will the manager support the training participant, if at all throughout their development being missed. It is important to ask this question when evaluating any training program as management’s role significantly impacts the transfer of training (Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick, 2006).

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Prior to designing an evaluation method for your training program, training professionals will need to consider the possible barriers to the transfer of training within the organization. What I found after a literature review of several top training theorists on evaluation design, (Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick 2006, Phillips & Phillips 2002, Saks & Haccoun 2007) was that they identified a common barrier to the transfer of training was lack of management support. Let’s take a look at this critical barrier and management’s role in the transfer of learning. 

What’s in it for managers?

Management support in the context of this article is considered the extent to which managers positively reinforce the transfer of learning (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004). The manager’s own behaviors pre and post-training, affects whether the employee will be motivated or not and therefore, impacts the participant’s ability to learn. Manager’s will need to be coached to understand that training, specifically when it is behavioural training, has a higher success rate of implementation when the manager has an active role throughout the training. 
Coaching the manager on what their role will look like in reinforcing the new skills and behaviours will be integral to ensure the participant does not revert back to their previous behaviours. It is the responsibility of the HR advisor to convey and clearly identify to the managers what the manager’s roles are throughout the training process and to hold the managers accountable for it. Let’s take a look at some of the practices and activities that can be integrated into a manager’s learning plan so they can support their employee at minimum pre and post training.

Management should attend the training prior to recommending any training to their employees. This provide the manager “hands-on” information that will support their decision in determining if the training needs will be met by the program and if their employee is a “right-fit” to attend the program. This also helps build credibility for the manager as they can help motivate the employee by talking about what they (manager) learned from the training. Why is credibility important for managers to understand? According to Kouzes & Posner (2012), “The Leadership Challenge”, people want to follow leaders who are more than anything credible, credibility is the foundation of leadership.

Supporting and engaging managers

The HR Advisor is often the first point of contact with the manager when a training request is initiated. This is an excellent opportunity for the Advisor to coach the manager on the manager’s role and to help the manager understand who should attend and why the manager is considering training for an employee.  The why is the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) for the participant and must be taken into account.  Far too often I have seen managers and HR sending employees to behavioural training due to performance issues where the manager has not had an expectation conversation with the employee.  The employee attends the training disengaged and little to no transfer of learning takes place as their “WIIFM” was not addressed beforehand. The HR Advisor’s role is to coach the manager prior to recommending any training on 1) the role the manager has in the training and evaluation process (role clarity) and 2) the needs of the employee (needs analysis).

The manager’s activities pre-training are to role model, encourage and reinforce the organization’s required behaviours on the job. One of the major reasons for a lack of transfer in training is that this upfront engagement (one-one meeting) and reinforcement (role clarity and expectations) are not effectively communicated with the people who are attending the training. Behaviours that are not communicated and reinforced are not repeated. Through coaching the HR Advisor can build capacity within the manager. Coaching questions may include: 

  • How has the manager supported the individual prior to this point? 
  • What process did the manager take in defining the behavioural expectations with the employee? 
  • What was gap the manager is seeing with how the employee is currently behaving and the expectations that were defined? Was their agreement between the manager and the employee on any gaps? 
  • How has the manager been modelling the expected behaviour in their own work? 
  • What does the employee believe they need to do to increase their skills in this area? 

Using this approach and analysis will support the manager in determining if the employee already has the skills and if so, is the employee choosing not to use them which is a performance issue or if they don’t have the skills, what is the gap and training opportunity. 

Training is not over when it’s over

How a manager supports the trainee post-training can motivate, discourage, or prevent an employee from applying their new knowledge and skills on the job.  Management’s support post-training is considered one of the most important factors that influence the transfer process, (Baldwin & Ford, 1988). Manager post-training support is critical; in fact, it is one of the major reasons for lack of transfer. Managers must reward and reinforce employees for using their new skills and behaviours on the job. Managers will need to provide timely praise, recognition, positive feedback, more challenging assignments and additional opportunities for training. This support will be viewed by other employees in the workplace and will send a signal that training isn’t just a one-time event but is an ongoing process. 

Management’s activities post-training involve:

  •  Ensuring trainees have immediate and frequent opportunities to practice and apply the new knowledge and skills. Consider “Just-in-Time” training.
  • Encouraging and reinforcing the trainee’s application of new skills on the job.
  • Arranging a meeting after the training has occurred to discuss what the employee has learned. Questions the manager may want to consider include: What did you take away from the training? How will you apply what you have learned to your job? When will you start using your new skills? How will you ensure you continue to use your new skills?
  • Developing a post action/ learning plan with the employee to ensure transfer occurs in the workplace
  •  Following up with the employee, at minimum 30 – 90 days post training to discuss how the new skills/ behaviours are being applied, what challenges the employee is currently facing in applying the new skills/ behaviours, if any, and how they plan to overcome these challenges.

If the manager has been unable to fulfill their role requirements post-training than the HR Advisor should determine whether training or performance management is necessary for the manager. When a manager engages in this evaluation with their HR advisors and their own employees it sends a positive message to other employees that training is important. It creates an organizational learning culture.

The Proof is in the Experience

So given that manager’s support is critical to ensure transfer of learning for their employees take place how do we know it actually impacts learning? 

Based upon the current work I do I’ve had the opportunity to see this in the workplace.  We had two departments request a six month leadership development program to train new leadership skills for their managers. We (training advisors) worked with the HR Advisors and senior leadership within the departments and designed a program to include pre and post leadership support which involved setting up leader-manager monthly meetings to discuss what and how the managers will use their new knowledge and skills. As internal consultants we highly emphasized the importance (role clarity, WIIFM) of these manager support meetings and included conversation scripts for each of these meetings for the senior leadership which focused on coaching the managers on how they were using their newly trained behaviours. We than designed an evaluation process which included reviewing how the leaders and managers participated, engaged and reinforced the new behaviours pre and post training.

Senior leaders in Department A rigorously and consistently followed through on having these one-one meetings and became actively engaged throughout the training even six months after the training had been completed. The leadership team even tied the process to their annual performance evaluation reviews setting accountability. One year later Department A according to the Senior Leadership team stated they have developed a new leadership driven culture which was further verified through qualitative and quantitative evaluation metrics. Department B’s Senior Executives however, did not engage or reinforce the expectations for their managers nor did the leadership team follow through on the monthly leader-manager meetings. We approached this leadership team through-out the process providing further coaching and support, and reinforcing on why their role was critical for the success of the program. The leadership team admitted that they were not seeing the behaviours being implemented by their managers. Consequently six months after the completion of their leadership training the majority of the managers reverted back to their old behaviours. Through our post evaluations we discovered that the managers were unwilling to implement the new behaviours because they were not seeing their own leadership engaging, supporting or reinforcing the program. The common response was “If they’re not doing it why should I”. The executives have now requested additional training for their managers (new courses) as they believe it is still a skill issue. We have declined their request as without a shift in how the leadership views their accountability and their role in supporting the transfer of learning, additional courses will not “fix” their manager’s behaviours. We are now working with the senior leadership team through intensive coaching in partnership with their HR Managers to allow them to see their role in their current situation. 

As Human Resource Professionals we need to be clear with managers at all levels of the organization that their support in the transfer of learning is something they will need to address at minimum throughout the training process, pre and post training. This is a critical responsibility for management, not the trainer or human resources. Improving transfer of training requires an approach that involves clearly identifying the activities, practices and accountabilities for management’s engagement throughout the training process. Evaluation of training programs should never be after the fact, to ensure ROI and a high rate of transfer it must be done throughout and it must involve the role of management. 


Baldwin, T.T., & Ford, J.K. (1988). Transfer of training: A review and directions for future research. Personnel Psychology 41, 63-105.

Cromwell, S.E & Kolb, J.A (2004).  An Examination of work-environment support factors affecting transfer of supervisory skills training to the workplace.  Human Resources Development Quarterly, 15, 449-71.

Cromwell, S.E & Kolb, J.A. (2004); Tracey, J.B, Scott, I.T & Kavanagh, M.J. (1995). Applying training on the job: The importance of the work environment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 80 (2), 239-52.

Flynn, G (1998). The nuts and bolts of valuing training. Workforce Management, 17(11), 80-85

Kirkpatrick, D.L. & Kirkpatrick, J.D., (2006). Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels (3rd Ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Kouzes & Posner (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th Ed.). Jossey-Bass: San Francisco
Phillips. J.J., & Phillips, P.P. (2002, September). 11 reasons why training and development fails… and what you can do about it. Training, 39 (9), 78-85.

Saks, A. & Haccoun, R., (2007). Managing Performance through Training and Development (4th Ed.). Thomson-Nelson: Canada.

David R. Parsons, Certified Executive Coach, Change Management and Leadership Training

I am currently an executive coach who enhances leadership capacity in  organizations and individuals. I am a certified practitioner in Prosci Change  Management, EQi-2.0 Emotional Intelligence. My experience includes 15 years  as a Senior Manager/Director and 10 years as a human resource professional.

 My career is dedicated to building leadership capacity in others and supporting  their personal mastery; gaining the knowledge required to do the job well, and  to be able to effectively lead and inspire others. My core coaching philosophy is that everyone is capable of becoming a great leader. Both the coach and the leader must "walk-the-talk", leading by example, remaining focused on mutual purpose. I firmly believe establishing rapport is critical to the success of the coaching relationship. Rapport builds trust and respect so that feedback is much more likely to be appreciated and accepted as a tool for learning. I will work towards expanding a client’s capacity to realize what they can be and how they can change their life! I am tough and demanding. Holding the individual accountable for their own actions, as a great coach will help leaders articulate their vision of who they want to become.
Location:  Airdrie, Alberta
Coaching mode: Phone, in-person 
Certifications/Education/Affiliations:  BBA, MER, CEC, ACC, CHRP
Contact: david.parsons@drparsons.neet
Phone: (403) 512-2339