From TJ Magazine: Certificates send the wrong signals

Training courses traditionally conclude with a certificate. A good ending? Unfortunately not, says Dr Ina Weinbauer-Heidel. Here, she explains why and reveals what works better

Reading time: 4 minutes.

Transfer – the successful application of what has been learned – is the ultimate goal of every training programme and at the same time the Achilles’ heel of our industry. In its more than 110-year history, transfer research has identified a large number of factors upon which transfer success depends.

One of these factors is the so-called ‘transfer expectation in the organisation’. The question is: does the company notice whether the participants (do not) apply what they have learned?

The research results confirm what common sense already tells us: if the organisation recognises and positively rewards participants for whether and to what extent they put into practice what they have learned during the training, the transfer success increases.

Unfortunately, however, in some organisations the opposite is true. Attempts to apply the new knowledge attracts negative comments such as ‘we can’t do it like this, we’ve always done it that way’ or even ‘he’ll calm down again, he’s just attended a seminar’. Soon enough, not much of the learning is remembered.

The certificate is awarded to those who have successfully participated; not a word about the application of what has been learned. 

But at least there is the common practice of receiving a certificate or confirmation of attendance at the end of the seminar as an official reward that each participant can display in their office. So, everything is great? Unfortunately, not quite… 

Wrong signals instead of clear expectations

What, then, do we actually confirm and certify? In many cases, if we are honest, it is just the attendance at the training event. The certificate is awarded to those who have successfully participated; not a word about the application of what has been learned.

And that sends a fatal signal because it says: in our company it is important you were physically present at the seminar for the scheduled time. What you do afterwards with what you have learned is irrelevant. By handing over the certificate, the programme is finished and what was expected of you is done.

And this also applies to longer development programmes, for which it takes a little more to get the certificate; for example, an essay on the scientific examination of a topic. The signal here is: you will get the reward if you have shown that you can write a theoretical paper.

If you follow this thinking, you will find a lot of similar signals. For example: 

  • Participation in training is mandatory, participation in follow-up is not. Signal: It is critical for me to attend the training. Implementation or reflection on implementation isn’t that important.
  • The training description roughly outlines the goals (eg: the participants increase their sales competence). Signal: The company itself has no clear idea of where the training should lead.
  • An evaluation is made of whether the participants were satisfied with the training. Signal: It is not important what is ultimately put into practice.
  • Key performance indicators of the personnel departments are, for example, the number of training days. Signal: Transfer effectiveness is not a relevant parameter. 

All these practices are widespread and with them the sentiment that transfer is nice to have but neither expected nor demanded. And that is a crucial transfer barrier.

No one feels responsible

Whose task and whose responsibility is it to communicate the transfer expectations in the organisation? Should trainers and L&D consultants really deal with this? Do they have any influence at all?

These questions lead us to one of the main reasons for the lack of transfer success – there are no clear responsibilities, because the success of transfer is always a joint success. It needs several stakeholders who pull together and make their contribution.

Each contribution, however, needs to be defined and managed, and first stimulated by critical questions. But none of the stakeholders feels accountable, each assumes that the other already ensures that what needs to be done is done.

And this is where trainers and L&D consultants can come in, especially when it comes to the level of transfer expectations in the company. They should not rely on their clients. Because they are not only stakeholders of the transfer success, but also important challenging and development partners for their associates in the companies.

L&D professionals often have catastrophic blind spots. Therefore, they usually do not recognise the signals they send regarding transfer expectations. It is worth taking the time to address these blind spots, reflect critically on the client and together search for alternatives to promote transfer; and ultimately to prove themselves as a committed and professional service partner.

This is taken from September’s TJ Magazine. For the full insight click here for a 3 month trial.


About the author

Dr Ina Weinbauer-Heidel is head of the Institute of Transfer Effectiveness in Austria.


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