Management & Leadership Training – The Age Old Problem of Transfer


The simple fact is that management and leadership training is an absolutely huge industry, with billions being spent each and every year on the pursuit of emotionally intelligent, strategically minded and of course exceptionally performing managers and leaders of organisations. However, how do we know that this endeavour is worth the investment of time, effort and resources?

Some will posit that a truly accurate measure of evaluation of training is the learning and development holy grail. However the real issue seems to be the applicability and transfer of learning, with estimates suggesting that only 40% (Berks, 2008) of off-the-job training or classroom instruction is actually transferred into the workplace. Therefore, this kind of statistic begs questions such as, what is going wrong and at what stage is it all going wrong?

There could of course be training being commissioned for an organisational ailment which cannot be cured by training, therefore a thorough learning needs analysis is crucial. Equally important is the method of delivery of any training and how relevant and applicable it is to the work environment and task/job roles of the trainees. And lastly, is the crucial point of what exactly the evaluation measures are and whether there is a clear idea of the return on expectation (Sloeman, 2008), rather than just a figures based approach of return on investment.

An important element which seems to be overlooked in training is the entire learning process. At the risk of sounding rather cliché, it is a journey which has a beginning (for which there must be preparation), middle (the instructional design) and an ending (i.e. the achievement of successful application or transfer). Research by Jaidev & Chirayath (2012) found that pre and post training activities were collectively more influential than during-training activity in the eventual successful transfer of training into the workplace. This finding echoed previous work by Saks and Belcourt (2006) who  found the effects of activities before training (e.g. supervisor involvement, training attendance policy), and after training (supervisor support, organization support) were more strongly related to learning transfer than actual training activities (e.g. training rewards, training feedback).

A very important element in the success of learning transfer, which has been touched upon in the above section, is the transfer climate. This refers to the opportunities for application and the responsiveness of team members and managers alike to newly learnt skills and knowledge.  These factors would come under the category of ‘situational variables’ in a model of learning transfer by Cheng and Hampson (2008), where they review the existing literature in this area and create a particularly comprehensive model of successful transfer of training.

With the ultimate aims of post-training self-efficacy, positive reaction to training, and knowledge and skill acquisition, there are a number of factors which influence this goal of transfer from training to work. There are individual characteristics such as Personality and Locus of Control. There are also job/career variables such as organisational commitment and personal career commitment. These elements influence the motivation to transfer, along with situational factors (such as opportunities for practice/transfer) which can either facilitate or hinder successful transfer.

This aforementioned review by Cheng and Hampson (2008) advocates a more person-centred approach to understanding transfer of learning. They suggest the seminal and well established Social Psychology Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 2002) as the ideal lens to view learning transfer through. The model consists of attitudes (beliefs and outcome evaluations), subjective norms (normative beliefs i.e. what society dictates as the norm and motivation to comply) and perceived behavioural control. These three elements inform the intention to perform a behaviour, which then follows onto the behaviour itself.  Of most importance in the learning transfer context, is perceived behavioural control. This is a function of perceived self-efficacy and perceived controllability. In this instance, it refers to the confidence an individual has that they can perform a new skill or use newly acquired knowledge in the workplace successfully and will have the control over their work climate/job role to be able to do this. It is these two elements which will motivate individuals to explicitly engage in learning transfer behaviours, according to Cheng & Hampson (2008)

When thinking about transfer of learning, it’s crucial to take a step back or transcend to a level above behaviour/skill/competency. This involves consideration of the business need that this newly learnt skill/knowledge/capability will help strive towards. Ultimately, Learning and Development must be a tool for achievement of business objectives and strategic visions, if it is to continue to see meaningful investment and be seen to add value. Therefore, asking the question of how a learning intervention helps to achieve an organisation’s business goals, should not only be the first question that is asked, but it will also form the key to motivating transfer behaviour. Employees should be able to see the value chain which links their learning, to their performance and hence, organisational success.

Written by Raj Chopra, Committee Member of The Psychometrics Forum – twitter @Raj_Chopra24

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Ajzen, I. (2002). Perceived behavioral control, self-efficacy, locus of control, and the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 1–20.

Berk, J. (2008). The manager’s responsibility for employee learning. Chief Learning officer, 7, 7, 46-48.

Cheng. E.W.L. & Hampson, I. (2008). Transfer of training: A review and new insights. International Journal of Management Reviews, 10, 4, 327-341.

Jaidev, U. P. & Chirayath, S. (2012). Pre-Training, During-Training and Post-Training Activities as Predictors of Transfer of Training. The IUP Journal of Management Research, Vol. XI, No. 4, 54 – 71.

Saks A M and Belcourt M (2006), “An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 629-648.

Sloeman, M. (2008) Latest trends in Learning, Training and Development. Reflections on the 2008 learning and development survey. CIPD.