Nine times out of 10, training is just an event — but what happens after it’s over? Learning can be hard work, its outcomes aren’t always clear, and while difficult to achieve, getting the content to stick and drive behavior change is the holy grail of L&D leaders everywhere.
Once you find the right training programs, however, the real challenge becomes not only scaling those L&D opportunities across the organization, but also ensuring that they drive the desired behavior change within your teams. While there’s no magic solution, experience has taught us a few pro tips to drive knowledge and behavior change to every employee.
What can you do to make training start, stick, and scale within your organization?
Learning initiatives fail because of time, application, and scalability.
Business storytelling applies to everyone in your organization — starting today. The number one obstacle for learning is that employees don’t have the time to learn. We’ve all been there, where a great learning opportunity is presented but we don’t feel like we have the time. In fact, we hear that learners interested in our workshops sometimes hesitate to attend because they fear it’s “just another training” they’re forced to go to, using up precious time they don’t have. That concern is usually not dispelled until they begin the course.
That’s why it’s hard to get learning to start.
Additionally, much of what people learn isn’t immediately applicable to them in their daily work, so it’s quickly forgotten. A popular model in psychology research suggests that most information is forgotten soon after first hearing it — this is called the Forgotten Curve. However, when information is presented with meaning and logic, say, by encoding information in a story, the content is more easily stored and remembered for later. This is why business storytelling is so crucial.
That’s why it’s hard to get learning to stick.
People also learn differently: Some want hands-on application while some enjoy lecture modalities. And there are different kinds of knowledge: explicit, implicit, tacit, a priori, positive, normative, and so on. And then there’s just the technical and logistical challenges of running a global business.
That’s why it’s hard to get learning to scale.
Experience has taught us these obstacles can be overcome in several key ways.
Storytelling gets learning to start, stick, and scale.
With the demand for and the results obtained from innovative training programs, leaders must get their people learning. But how? One approach is through storytelling, the art of using stories to humanize a story, build emotion, and compel people to act. Business storytelling is immediately applicable and cross-functional — it’s a lifelong skill that enhances every area of an employee’s workday.
Additionally, storytelling is not only an end in itself for learners, but also a means to better learn and internalize material. For example, neuroscience research shows effective presentations can help learners store and access the information they learn: animations, visuals, a coherent narrative that builds credibility, trust, and decision-making.
Let’s explore how storytelling can get learning to start, stick, and scale across the organization.
Get employees to start learning.
So, how do you get employees to start learning? Remember, the main objection to learning is that people don’t have enough time. The first thing is to clear enough space on the schedule to conduct the training, or you can persuade learners to value the training enough to create the time they need.
Selling the value of the training is a crucial starting point to drive adoption. It’s a marketing task more than anything. First, ensure people know about all of the tools they’ll walk away with that will make their job easier day to day. Point them to relevant resources that will help employees want more. And remind them that this skill will carry on with them throughout their career, helping them get noticed and promoted at work today and in the future.
For instance, we’ve heard from many practitioners that employees often don’t see the value in taking a storytelling workshop. They may think it’s not applicable or relevant to their work — that because they’re in a technical role, they don’t need to be “fluffy” storytellers. To cut through the former objection, consider showing before-and-after examples of other learners’ work. One way to do this is to ask employees to bring with them a presentation or some other work they need help with. Throughout the workshop, employees can use the skills they’re learning and apply it immediately to the work they need to accomplish that week anyway.
This helps embed the training opportunity’s value into something they can take with them: “Look at what this training did for me. Before, I had trouble communicating effectively. Then I went to this workshop — now look at what I can create.”
It also proves to them that it’s not only relevant for the work they do — no matter what kind of work that may be — but also that it has an immediate impact in their day-to-day tasks. Finally, it shows that even the most technical skill sets can apply storytelling techniques to, for instance, better communicate their data analysis or financial reporting capabilities.
For the second objection regarding time, this is a counterintuitive tip, but sometimes going more slowly can end up making things go more quickly in the end. When you slow down to do something right the first time, you won’t have to waste time later reworking those slides or rewriting that memo.
As a small example, we often see employees put too much information on a slide, thinking that the viewer can pick and choose which information applies to them. Yet this actually creates more work for the audience to decode what’s important. If they just spent a little more time organizing their thoughts, it would shave off a few minutes of viewers’ time and ease their cognitive load. In this way, your time is spent in the most efficient way possible and your overall work life becomes much more productive.
The bottom line is that your employees likely do have enough time, but better communicating the value of the training can go a long way toward reprioritizing their workload.
Get learning content to stick.
Let’s say you’ve seen great attendance for your training programs. Now, how do you get that training to stick? The first tip — using day-to-day projects to show relevance — can apply here as well. Using employees’ own work allows them to apply it and see its impact, letting the concepts sink in more deeply.
We’ve seen a few other storytelling processes work well for reinforcing key concepts. It all boils down to continuing the conversation. That is, innovative learning programs provide resources and coaching for ongoing reinforcement. Coaching helps emphasize the key skills employees have learned, especially coaching from peers and managers. This is helpful because manager buy-in can often be a major challenge to continuing the conversation.
Explaining such benefits to peers — peers from the same workshop, on the same team or department, or those in matrixed departments — can further extend the concentric circle of coaching.
Finally, you can obtain further leadership buy-in by showing how training — especially business communication and storytelling — can help managers and employees gain executive presence through clearer communication and greater confidence.
By adding better resources and coaching to keep the story going, you can help your L&D initiatives develop more stickiness over the program’s lifetime.
Get learning programs to scale.
Learning is tough to scale for many leaders, but it doesn’t have to be. Practicality and relevance are key. Word of mouth through networks is also an engine for driving scalable growth. Let’s explore these in more detail.
Some training applies to very niche subjects, which makes it difficult to scale to hundreds or thousands of employees. However, some skills, like business storytelling, can apply to just about every role throughout a global enterprise. The simple reason is that we all have points to make, initiatives to justify, and positions to clarify, whether that’s a high-stakes presentation or a quarterly business review. By learning a few tricks of the trade, every employee in every department can enhance their confidence, clarity, and executive presence.
Additionally, McKinsey research notes how the most desirable skills within today’s organizations are so-called soft skills. These include leadership and management, decision making, adaptability, and continuous learning, as well as interpersonal skills and empathy. With this growing group of in-demand skills, it’s no wonder that communication skills have seen a huge increase in training programs.
This is in part due to the fact that many soft skills — which are increasingly referred to as power skills due to the growing understanding of their impact — apply to every level of an organization as well as every stage of an employee’s career. Even the most junior employees need to learn how to understand their audience’s needs and things they care about, communicate their ideas effectively, and build communications as a team.
The difficulty with the way business works now — with hybrid, flexible, and asynchronous environments becoming more commonplace — is that training must also evolve to fit into the day-to-day lives of employees everywhere. This is where practicality and relevance come into play.
That is, getting learning to scale requires providing real skills employees can use in their daily work lives, which in turn helps others get on board. We’ve seen over and over again how one employee’s storytelling and presentation skills become so advanced in such a short time that other employees lean over and ask, “How did you learn to do that?” They can see the confidence and clarity on every slide, and they want the same training for themselves. Employees who have gone through this training receive positive feedback from their managers or audience, proving that the training paid off — through closed deals or approved initiatives — and convincing them that the training should be more widespread.
We’ve illustrated a few ways L&D initiatives can help learning start, stick, and scale throughout an organization. Underneath each of the trends and experiences we see, storytelling holds the key.
Business storytelling applies to everyone in your organization — starting today.
Scaling your learning programs is possible even in today’s hybrid, remote, and digital work environments. By following these tips, you’ll find that communicating effectively can make your content start, stick, and scale better than ever.