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- I cannot think of a single training or learning solution that is not ultimately about behavior change. Whether we're focusing on technical skills or people skills, we're trying to help people perform optimally in their workplace. This is true whether we're helping employees, managers, or leaders. Real behavior change is what we're all after, and most behaviors in the workplace are habits. We all have habits around how we communicate, how we use technology, and even how we manage others, so it's imperative that learning professionals get really crisp on what the habit is that you want to instill in your learners.
If you can identify the words and actions they need to be using out on their jobs, and you know what they're doing today, you can design a powerful learning solution that moves them from here to there. The good news is that every skill is learnable. Brain science has proven that definitively. By mapping your learning strategy to the Greiner Curve and asking those crucial consulting questions, you should now be clear on the words and actions that need to be instilled. Then the next critical step is to help your talent practice those optimal behaviors enough times so that the right habit is formed.
This is where most of the training I observe falls down. The biggest mistake learning professionals make is thinking that talking about a behavior is the same thing as doing the behavior. It's not, which is why many learning events are ineffective in the long run. A habit has three key elements. There's a cue that signals that a behavior should start, then there's the behavior or routine, and when we complete it, we get some kind of reward. Here are some common examples. You wake up, cue, you make coffee, routine, and you get a reward, the delicious boost of caffeine.
You turn on your computer, cue, you login to your e-mail, routine, and you get the reward of information and productivity. So let's look at some typical and costly learning events. For example, let's say you're changing your e-mail client or your sales software. Not only are there the cost of purchasing the new system and migrating all of your data over, you need to get your employees up and running as quickly as possible to avoid expensive dips in productivity, but the only thing that is really going to help them is repetitions, about 40 to be exact.
If it's something they use once per day, then it will take about 40 workdays before it gets easier and the basal ganglia can run it on autopilot. If it's weekly, it could take 10 months. Until you get to enough repetitions, the new behavior takes effort and concentration, which can be very frustrating to employees who see the change as a roadblock to doing their work quickly. In other words, it's the opposite of a reward. Now software is pretty cut and dry. Once the new software is installed, employees must engage in the new behaviors, so repetitions are essentially forced through day to day use, but you could still really help employees by holding trainings where they practice using the software.
You can also build accessible learning aids like videos and guides, so that help is at their fingertips when they need it most. Let's also consider management training. We all know the data that people leave a manager, not an organization, and that managers control most of the elements that drive employee engagement and performance. Management training is probably one of the most valuable investments an organization makes. Managing is a habit like anything else, and while we can ask managers to attend training, they can still do their old behaviors or habits when they get back to their desks.
In fact, they're very likely to, because the pressure of the job is going to make them default to their well-grooved habits. The only real way you can drive behavior change is to have them practice better management behaviors. This means that instead of just talking about what makes a good one-on-one meeting or good performance feedback, they need to actually practice the words and actions in real-time with another person. Each practice starts grooving the new neural pathway, and the closer they get to 40 repetitions, the more likely you are to see real behavior change.
This is why I encourage learnings professionals to rethink how they approach learning. You need to really focus in on instruction and practice, and the time you have with learners is best spent on developing new habits rather than imparting new information.
- Discovering the importance of L&D
- Identifying your L&D role or function
- Engaging employees with succession planning
- Uncovering organizational and employee potential
- Achieving a competitive advantage
- Delivering critical results
- Building a culture of learning
- Understanding the brain's natural system for learning
- Implementing on demand, embedded, flipped, and blended learning
- Choosing the right format to achieve results
- Adapting to an organization's maturity level
- Empowering practice and accountability
- Measuring the impact using the five levels of evaluation