A Process Approach to Training Effectiveness

by Roy Pollock and Andrew Jefferson, The 6Ds Company



The benefits of effective training programs are numerous and well-documented. They include greater productivity, enhanced competitiveness, improved customer satisfaction, greater employee engagement, better retention, increased efficiency, and many others. Unfortunately, many corporate training programs fall short of the mark, particularly with respect to learning transfer. Training professionals themselves estimate that only 15%-20% of trainees apply what they learn to their jobs well enough and long enough to improve their performance (Wick, Pollock, & Jefferson, 2010, p. 166). A 20% transfer rate means that the vast majority of the expected benefits of training are never realized.


A major contributor to the high rate of “learning scrap” (training that is never applied), is treating learning as an event. Most training organizations dedicate significant time, talent, and creativity to planning and delivering instruction, but pay insufficient attention to what occurs before and afterward. This is a mistake, as it turns out, because what precedes and follows instruction is as important as the training itself. If employees return to a work environment that does not support and reinforce the application of what they were taught, then the training will be largely ineffectual, no matter how elegantly designed or brilliantly delivered.


Process Thinking


The extraordinary progress that has been made in manufacturing efficiency and quality is, to a great extent, the result of applying process thinking. Process thinking is simply the recognition that any business process (including training) can be broken down into a series of steps. Each step receives inputs (materials, information, etc.), on which it operates, to then produce outputs for a subsequent step or end customer (Figure 1). Every step and every process can be improved.

Figure 1: Every business process has inputs, operations, and outputs. Copyright 2014, The 6Ds Company.

Quality is defined as the extent to which the ultimate result meets the customer’s expectations. In the case of training and development, management expects training to improve performance. Their satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with the training department depends on the extent to which they see performance improvement on the job following training—not how much people learned or how much they enjoyed the facilitator.


On-the-job results require both great learning and great learning transfer (Figure 2). As the formula illustrates, the business results of training are the product of the amount learned times the amount transferred. So, even when the learning is a “10 out of 10,” if the transfer is zero, then the results are zero.

Figure 2: The business results of training are proportional to the amount of learning times the amount transferred. Copyright 2014, The 6Ds Company.

Applying process thinking to training means recognizing that the transfer step is critical to the overall success of the initiative. It must not be left to chance or to individual initiative; to maximize results, training professionals need to plan for, manage, measure, and continuously improve the complete learning process, including the transfer step.


An End-to-End Approach


In 2006, we proposed the 6Ds® model as a way to apply process thinking to training and development (Wick et al., 2010). The 6Ds (Figure 3) extend and complement traditional instructional design models like ADDIE. Specifically developed for corporate training, they place much greater emphasis on clarifying the business (not just the learning) objectives at the outset and measuring the business (not just the learning) outcomes at the end.

Figure 3: The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning (The 6Ds®). Copyright 2014, The 6Ds Company.

Briefly, the six disciplines of highly effective training are:

  • D1: Define the Business Outcomes. That is, don’t start designing training until you have reached a clear and shared understanding with the business about the on-the-job outcomes the training is expected to achieve.

  • D2: Design the Complete Experience. Apply process thinking to training. Take into account and plan for all the steps necessary to convert learning into results (including on the job transfer and post-training support).

  • D3: Deliver for Application. This means to select instructional methods, content, and exercises that deliver training in ways that make it easy to use, not just easy to teach. Keep the focus on helping trainees bridge the learning-doing gap.

  • D4: Drive Learning Transfer. Put in place structure, support, and accountability to ensure that participants apply their new skills and knowledge when they return to work. Engage the trainee’s manager; they can make or break the success of any training program.

  • D5: Deploy Performance Support. Provide job aids, peer coaches, checklists, and other forms of performance support to help ensure that trainees can perform on the job as they were taught. Also provide support to the trainees’ managers to help them be more effective coaches and mentors on the job.

  • D6: Document Results. Evaluate whether or not the training (and performance support) achieved the business objectives for which it was created. Seek insights that can be used to improve the process on subsequent iterations.


New Guide Available


John Wiley & Sons, Publishers, have just released a new Field Guide to the 6Ds (Pollock, Jefferson, & Wick, 2014). The Field Guide includes a synopsis of the 6Ds, a robust set of tools, “how-to” guides, and a collection of 43 case studies that illustrate application of the 6Ds principles in many different industries and types of training, in countries around the world, including Singapore and Malaysia.


Terrence Donahue, Corporate Director of Learning for Emerson has called it “unequivocally, the most valuable resource I’ve owned” and Tao Zhou, president of Shanghai Top Learning, considers it “the most pragmatic guide book I have ever seen.”


To help readers implement the 6Ds, everyone who submitted a case report was asked to provide several short statements of “Advice to Colleagues.” The resulting “lessons of experience” have been assembled into a table by theme, for example, “engaging managers” or “moving the finish line,” and cross-referenced to the cases that illustrate them.


The theme that runs throughout the book is that training is a business function. Like every other business function, it must demonstrably contribute to the organization’s success, pay a return on the investment, and improve continuously to remain competitive. The only way to do that is to manage training as a process that starts and ends with a focus on business results.


So, if you are delivering great training, but ignoring the rest of the process, then you have an opportunity to significantly increase training’s value and prestige, by taking a more holistic approach to learning.


References and Recommended Reading


Dirksen, J. (2012). Design for How People Learn. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.


Pollock, R., Jefferson, A., & Wick, C. (2014). The Field Guide to the 6Ds: How to Use the Six Disciplines to Transform Training and Development into Business Results. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.


Smith, R. (2010). Strategic Learning Alignment: Making Training a Powerful Business Partner. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.


Wick, C., Pollock, R., & Jefferson, A. (2010). The six disciplines of breakthrough learning: How to turn training and development into business results (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Engaging Leadership
by Bill Treasurer

Dr. Roy Pollock is the Chief Learning Officer and co-founder of The 6Ds® Company. He is co‐author of the best‐selling Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results as well as Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training and Development.


Dr. Pollock has extensive experience in education, line management, and strategy development. He is a popular speaker and consultant with a long‐standing interest in education and leadership development. He has a passion for helping individuals and organizations excel.


Prior to founding The 6Ds Company, Roy served as Chief learning Officer for the Fort Hill Company, as Assistant Dean for Curriculum Development, Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine; Vice President, Global Strategic Product Development for SmithKline Beecham Animal Health; Vice President, Companion Animal Division for Pfizer; President, IDEXX Informatics; and President, VetConnect Systems, Inc.


Dr. Pollock received his B.A. magna cum laude from Williams College, and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree with highest honors as well as his Ph.D. degree from Cornell University. He studied education at the Center for Educational Development at the University of Illinois Medical School and has authored more than 70 articles and book chapters. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a Fellow of the Kellogg Foundation National Leadership Program.

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