Andreas Priestland

If there were a way to get 10% more people to do what they say they would, would you be interested? What about if it concerned an annual spend of over £3 billion? A study involving some 200 managers in five countries gives some insight on how this could be done.

According to 2013 UK statistics, employers spent over £3billion on third party suppliers of training. And 42% of companies said they would have spent more if further time and resources were available!

However, despite the size of spend studies quantify that only about a tenth of the expected benefit flows through to job improvement. The issue is so widespread that it even has its own name: the transfer of training problem.

Why does so little of the benefit seem to flow through? Unfortunately the situation is not straightforward. As well as the training itself, it involves the training outputs and transfer conditions, as well as the goals, motivation, intention, and planning and execution ability of the learner too.

As the proverb states, “There is many a slip twixt cup and lip.”

Part of the challenge lies in what is known as the “intention – behaviour gap”. Goal intentions do not always result in action. People often falter along the way. The size of the gap is influenced by, for example, the degree of control the individual believes they have, changes to the level of importance, and the level of detail that people work through. In addition to the intention to do something, we need to plan how to do it.

A process known as Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) helps bridge the gap.

The first part of the process, mental contrasting, helps to establish motivation by identifying the desired future and current obstacles standing in the way. The second part, implementation intentions, helps with the planning by identifying cues in the environment that people can use to trigger the desired behaviour.

In a study of 200 junior managers in five different countries and six different locations a randomised controlled trial (RCT) was used to test if the use of MCII following attendance at a one day leadership workshop would increase the application of training outcomes to day-to-day jobs.

The four-step MCII process

Example response from the study:

1) Desired future - his goal?

To have more open conversations with team members

2) What outcome(s) would this give?

This would help to build trust and engagement within the team, and point to more tangible ways of supporting them.

3) What obstacles were getting in the way?

The constant pressure for delivery of tasks made it hard to find “the time and patience” to talk with staff

4) Specify the situation and behaviour to overcome the obstacle using an ‘if – then’ statement

The team leader wrote “If I have a task that cannot wait, then I will specify a time to catch up with my employee” and “If my employee is at their desk, then I will invite them for a coffee”

The trial found that just completing the four questions increased implementation by 10%. Although this study had a response rate too low for statistical significance, it found that the process, more widely used, could result in a major financial benefit across the UK each year. Not a bad return for a few minutes answering four questions.

This blog post was written by Andreas Priestland as a summary of the research undertaken for his dissertation as part of the Executive Masters at LSE, 2016-17. Andreas is currently Director at The Learning Project Ltd. Find him on linkedin.com/in/andreaspriestland.