How setting goals during action planning can help make training stick

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By Kelly Cave and Madison Hanscom

Training is an effective way for companies to facilitate knowledge and skill development in their employees, which in turn, helps them remain competitive in their respective markets. The extent to which knowledge and skills learned in training are used on-the-job is commonly referred to as training transfer1. Unfortunately, studies indicate that significant amounts of training content do not end up transferring to the job (2). This lack of transfer is a major concern, in large part because companies spend significant amounts of money on training. According to the Association for Talent Development, each year businesses in the U.S. on average spend over $1,200 per employee on training and development (3). Given the widespread prevalence of training and the large sums of money companies continue to devote to it, it is no surprise that many leaders are concerned with improving their employees’ training transfer. Luckily, there are many techniques that can be used to help make training stick. One of the most well-researched and supported techniques is goal-setting.
Goal-setting has been shown to be an effective way for individuals to generate and commit to future objectives or actions. Findings from decades of research suggest that goal-setting positively impacts learning, training transfer, and even wellbeing. This is because goals serve as sources of motivation, which in turn drive actions (4). More specifically, research has shown that goals influence actions by directing attention, mobilizing effort, increasing persistence, and motivating strategy development5. Since goal-setting has been confirmed by hundreds of research studies, it is often described as one of the most evidence-based interventions in organizational research.

What makes a goal a “good goal?”

It is important to keep in mind that not all goals are created equal. Some goals and action plans lead to better training transfer than others. Here are a couple of qualities that all “good goals” should have:

Specific. Each goal you set needs to be specific in terms of what will be accomplished, how it will be measured, and when the goal will be accomplished by. For example, if your goal is to sell more product, “I will double my sales volume by the end of the 3rd quarter” is going to be more motiving than “I will make more sales this year.”

Challenging. High goals lead to more effort compared to low goals. This means that it is important to create goals that are obtainable, but also challenge you to try your best. The sweet spot is important here: Setting a goal you know is easy to obtain will not be as motivating as a goal that encourages you to put forth your best effort. However, if the goal is too hard or if you put too much time pressure on it, this can also set yourself up for failure.

Encouraging employees to set the right goals and continuing to support the obtainment of those goals is one way businesses can help make training stick. Here at Propulo, goal-setting is one of the many techniques we use to enhance transfer in our training programs. At the end of our GO Safety Training for instance, an action planning session is used to stimulate thinking about micro habits, sticking to a plan, and integrating ways to practice new skills learned in training. By focusing not only on the training content, but also on how to support the application of this content after the training, companies can optimize the effectiveness of their training programs.

References
1. Ford, J. K., Baldwin, T. T., & Prasad, J. (2018). Transfer of training: The known and the unknown. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 5, 201-225.
2. Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). The science of training and development in organizations: What matters in practice. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(2), 74-101.
3. Association for Talent Development. (2018). 2018: State of the industry. Alexandria, VA: ATD Press.
4. Locke, E. A. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 3, 157-189.
5. Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90, 125-152.