Managers: How to Help Make the Learning Stick

by Rachel Eidan

Acquiring new skills, tools and processes happens in the classroom, but making sure that learning is retained depends on changing habits back on the job. And it’s tough to change. Learners are more likely to successfully improve their skills long term when they have a manager who provides the right kind of support. Here are some ways managers can help:

Ask for a one-minute essay describing the main points learned in the course as soon as possible following its completion. Learning retention is time-sensitive, so be sure you ask for this promptly. Writing helps consolidate key points and clarify the learning. Learners should post a printout of this somewhere for a few days and give it a quick re-read whenever they have a moment.

Ask for the checklists. We provide job aids designed to help writers assess their own drafts and give structured, pointed feedback to their colleagues. It’s also a great coaching tool for managers. Your staff can show you how to use them.

Ask to see their personal action plans. In every course we give, learners have an opportunity to review what they have learned and compile a list of the strategies they want to use when they’re back at work. Ask to see this list. It will be long, so have your staff articulate three key learning objectives and help them track their progress.

Have them teach you something. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Ask your team members to explain two or three of the key lessons they learned.

Reinforce success. Give praise when it’s deserved. Positive feedback is a great confidence builder and it’s good to remember that we can learn as much from hearing about what we’re doing right as from what we’re doing wrong.

Share really good work. Show your commitment to positive change by trumpeting successes. If someone on your team writes a great email, share it with the team and explain what makes it so great. People love praise. It makes everyone work harder and sets a benchmark for what you’re looking for. It also shows you are serious about improvement.

Give feedback with sensitivity. We know our writing reveals a lot about us, so when you give feedback, do it carefully. Point out the positives first, then the problems. When you give your feedback, remember that if a document needs to be restructured or rewritten, or if the content is wrong, there’s no point in correcting grammar and punctuation. That’s wasting everyone’s time.

Model great writing yourself. Make sure you are modelling a plain, warm, professional style yourself. Avoid clichés, big words and a wordy style. Instead, use plain language. Not sure what that entails? Ask your staff. They’ll be able to tell you.

By adopting some or all of these practices you will help your team internalize their learnings, benefit from your investment, and create long term habits.

We are curious to hear about any other strategies you find effective. Please share in the comments!

2 Comments
  1. I think it is covered through a number of items on the list, but one action I encourage employees to do is to document the one thing they will do immediately when they get back to the office. And then I encourage them to share that one item with their leader.

    That one thing, gets the ball rolling and allows them to build upon that success.

    • I think’s it’s an excellent idea—one thing is not a big commitment so it feels doable. And it’s motivating!

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