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5 steps for effective transfer of new knowledge and skills back to the workplace

After a great training course, you should leave enthused and determined to transfer new knowledge and skills back to your workplace.

However, it can be quite a challenge to transfer new found knowledge and skills successfully.

This is not to say that training is without merit.  Far from it.  Plenty of studies have shown that training has a positive correlation to improved job satisfaction and performance.

The issue here is about making the transfer from the training environment to the workplace easier and more effective.

How might this be achieved?  Follow these 5 steps, based on my own experience, to help you transfer knowledge and skills acquired in training back to the workplace.

  1. Identify your knowledge and skills gap before attending a course

Before attending a training course, you should take time to consider: what are the gaps in your skill-set and how would attending a training course help you fill those gaps?

As part of my pre-course material, I send prospective students a self-assessment questionnaire about their legal project management skills and experience.

The questionnaire is like this one (please feel free to download it) and I ask students to fill-it in and send it back to me.

 

  1. Identify your training objectives and outcomes before attending a course

In the questionnaire I also ask students to let me know what they would most like to achieve by attending the course.

As part of my course preparation I read through the returned questionnaires and consider how I can help students attain their objectives during the course.

Some of my students have been both pleased and surprised that I read the pre-course questionnaires and act on them.  But why wouldn’t I?  I treat each course as a project and so student course objectives (project objectives if you like) are key for me.

 

  1. Commit to applying new knowledge and skills after the course

Towards the end of my courses I ask my students two questions:

a) After this course what are you planning to do, re legal project management, at your place of work?

b) How will you measure the effectiveness of what you are planning to do?

I then ask students to complete a personal implementation action plan on one sheet of paper.  I also ask them to explain to the class what they are intending to do and how they will set about measuring the effectiveness of it.

Students get to articulate, and commit to, something to implement after the training course.  This should act as a strong point of reference. Once we commit to do something in front of others it should spur us on to follow-through.

 

  1. Post-training reinforcement

Research also shows that having regular bite sized training refreshers and reminders back at work keeps the learning fresh and encourages application of the new skills in the work environment.

I offer post-training mentoring and coaching which some of my trainees take up and find useful.  These are usually 1:1 skype / webex sessions.  These sessions reinforce lessons learned during training and I also help course graduates overcome project challenges in the workplace.

 

  1. Deliberate practice while work gets done

In my previous post about skills training I discussed some ideas raised by Professor Anders Ericsson in his book, ‘Peak’.  The essence of the book is that the best way to acquire new knowledge and skills is by ‘deliberate practice’.

Professor Ericsson contends that the best way to develop and apply new knowledge and skills in the workplace is also by practice.  What is needed he suggests is ‘practice while work gets done’.

This is an intriguing concept considered in context of the legal services industry.  We hear much about clients unwilling to pay for people who are learning on the job.  Quite naturally therefore, there is a lot of pressure on lawyers and related professionals to show they are working at full capacity and adding value.

So how can legal service professionals practice while work gets done?

With a little bit of thought, it’s not difficult.

You simply ask colleagues to provide informal constructive feedback about an aspect of your performance on a task you are engaged in.  The task could be anything requiring the application of a skill: running a meeting, making a presentation, directing a team, estimating resources required on a matter, making a difficult phone call – any skill which you feel you need to improve upon.

The task being done will be ‘real’ but so far as you and your colleague are concerned, there will be an in-built element of practice with immediate review.  To help your colleague (and you) you should guide them about what to look for.

You should offer to do the same for your colleague so that you both get the chance to improve twice over: firstly, by doing a task and receiving constructive feedback, and secondly by watching someone else do a task, provide feedback to them and consider how you would approach the same task.

 

Co-operation and trust required

Outside the formal supervisor-trainee relationship, the notion of ‘practice while work gets done’ is rare in law firms.

The reason is that most commercial law firms are still very competitive places to be.  The ‘Tournament of Lawyers’ may not be what it once was, but the ethos behind it can still be observed in many firms: lawyers are in competition with each other, with the tournament winners surviving and thriving while the rest are moved out.

Practising while work gets done requires those doing the practice to highlight their weak areas to colleagues and seek guidance about how they can improve in those areas.  This requires a collegiate, less competitive environment to work well.

Arguably the competitiveness found within many law firms acts as a barrier to ‘practising while work gets done’ and so hinders the transfer of skills from training to the workplace.

Nevertheless, my advice is to pair-up with a trusted colleague to help each other practice and develop skills. This can be done informally and without fanfare.  It can be especially effective if you have both been on the same training course and are equally keen to transfer new knowledge and skills acquired during training back to the workplace.

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