Context + Leader Involvement = Employee Training with Impact

By Lisa Rike

What type of activities weigh most heavily on how employees develop and grow? On-the-job training wins that title. A pioneering study by The Center for Creative Leadership found that 70% of learning is done through on-the-job training. Here is the breakdown.

  • 70% of learning comes from on-the-job experiences and challenges.
  • 20% of learning comes from interactions with others.
  • 10% of learning comes from courses and formal training.

Keep in mind, ALL three sources for learning are essential. Let’s unpack how leaders can be involved to intentionally influence employee development by using simple and effective training activities that can ignite the 70% and 20% areas and create a positive impact for the organization.

Create experiences and leverage challenges to develop your employees. Here are ideas:

  1. Open a discussion in a team meeting about expectations team members have of each other. Have them identify the top five. Then each month, have the team rate themselves individually in private and then discuss the team’s ability to meet those expectations during a team meeting.
  2. Identify an issue needing attention in your department. It might be lack of working space, or inefficient equipment or how lunch times are determined or a policy or procedure that is causing issues. Assign an employee or a team of employees to gather input from other employees about this issue. Encourage them to think strategically regarding who they approach about this. Who is impacted, what are the risks of the issue remaining the same or changed. Ask the employee or team to determine a recommendation and present that to you and the appropriate people involved in evaluating the issue and able to act.
  3. The next time you are faced with an employee issue, resist the temptation to “tell” during your meeting with the employee. Focus on asking more questions. For example, ask them to describe what they did in the situation before you share your observations or understanding. Ask them to share the outcome they wanted and to describe the outcome that resulted. Ask them to share who or what was impacted. When we ask questions, we create thinking in others. If you are met with the dreaded “I don’t know” response, try saying that you need their help because you want to understand their point of view.

All three of those activities create a training experience for the employee. Your involvement to initiate these activities shows your interest in them and their opinions. These are influential elements of employee engagement. And yet, there is something missing that will boost the value of these training activities.

As defined as those activities are, they are still generic. It is essential to give context to the assignment. What are you trying to accomplish? For example, is the employee experience or productivity or customer satisfaction an organizational goal that applies to the activity?

Before assigning an activity, make sure to identify what benefit the employee development activity will bring to the organization. What leaders do to guide employee development must be directed toward adding value to accomplishing an organizational goal. Learning is only of value when it equips employees to accomplish something useful. James D. Kirkpatrick and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick are leading experts in training evaluation and wrote a book called Training on Trial. This book makes the case that, as James Kirkpatrick says it, “We must demonstrate the business value of training.” One of the levels of training evaluation is the impact it has on the goals of the organization.

Remember that activity does not always equal accomplishment. To provide context to the training activities listed earlier, let’s focus on an organizational goal that is important to every company with customers. That organizational goal is making progress in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

To identify one aspect of the customer satisfaction and loyalty goal, let’s take a simple approach to define the desired qualities of employees who are customer-facing. Afterall, these employees have tremendous impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Take 30 seconds and make a list of words you WANTcustomers to use to consistentlydescribe your customer-facing employees. The list below might have words that work for you. Use any of these and add your own words.


Fair Resourceful Empathetic
Caring Knowledgeable Attentive
Positive Accurate Responsive
Confident Trustworthy Committed


The words you selected describe the desired characteristics and some say reputation of your customer-facing team members. Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” In other words, act. Proving training experiences for your employees is a form of action and valuable action if it is focused on accomplishing something worthwhile.

Let’s examine the three training activities from earlier in the context of customer satisfaction.

  1. Activity #1 is on the expectations team members have of each other. When we add the context of customer satisfaction, the team members’ conversation has focus. As the leader, you can ask them how the expectations they listed are tied directly to customer satisfaction. The expectations that have the clearest tie to customer satisfaction rise to the top as the most important.
  2. Activity #2 is about identifying an issue and putting an employee or team on the case of evaluating causes, severity, and recommendations. Putting that assignment in the context of customer satisfaction gives them direction on what information is valid such as identified trends in the organization’s customer feedback management. It gives them context to validate their recommendations.
  3. Activity #3 is centered on the leader’s conversation with an employee with a potential performance issue. It makes it easier for you and the employee to assess impact of the employee’s actions when looked at through the lens of customer satisfaction.

Fill in the specifics of this equation to create experiences that provide valuable training.

Context + Leader Involvement = Employee Training with Impact

In our example above, we filled in the equation this way:

Customer Satisfaction + Activity 1 or 2 or 3 = Training with Impact

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said, “Leadership is intentional influence.” Use the equation to be intentional with your opportunities to train your employees.

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