10/01/2014 - 13:59

Practice key to behavioural change

10/01/2014 - 13:59


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Effective workplace training requires more than the transference of knowledge and good intentions.

Learning new information is a world away from becoming proficient in the new skill or behaviour.

Can you imagine learning to become a builder or a dentist in a day? So why would you expect your employees to master vital business skills such as customer service, communication, teamwork and leadership by sending them on a one or two-day business training course?

Yet that is exactly how a lot of business training is done these days. The training providers conveniently package their ‘soft skills’ subject offerings into a one-size-fits all workshop over one or two days, with the promise that when participants come back there will be an immediately changed, improved, skilled worker.

To back it up, they will provide ‘evidence’ in the form of happy quotes – generally taken from feedback forms handed out to previous participants towards the end of their course when the mood is still high and people are at their most obliging.  These testimonials will be even more favourable if the ‘training’ has been fun and entertaining, and the trainer has been anything other than a boring drone.

At heart we all know that ‘happy sheets’ are not an honest measure of training effectiveness.

The proof of the pudding is in the changed behaviour that follows, not in the new knowledge and good intentions that people might have at the end of their training course.

Of course that’s not to say business training is a waste of time. Training can be an excellent investment of time and money when there is essential information that needs to be conveyed, or information that will help people do a better job.

For example, training is important when employees need to learn safety procedures, understand company strategy and policies and learn about new product or service offerings.

No-one could argue against induction courses for new employees.  The key thing here is that you are providing need-to-know information and sharing it in an efficient way. In fact it would be more accurate to call this kind of training ‘knowledge transfer.’

It is in the areas of changing behaviours and learning new skills that a one-size-fits-all training approach starts to look suspect. No more than you can learn to be a builder or dentist in a day, or even train a dog, you simply cannot expect people to learn news skills or behaviours in any meaningful way in a one or two-day workshop. The most you can expect is that they will learn new information.  That is a world away from becoming proficient in the new skill or behaviour.

Knowledge is certainly an important part of the process of learning a new skill or behaviour, but it probably accounts less than 10 per cent of the overall time and effort required. 

What accounts for the other 90 per cent is practice – ideally practice under the supervision and feedback of an already skilled person, and ideally practice under real work-like conditions.  

Next time you are invited to attend a one-day seminar or workshop that promises to teach you a new ‘soft’ skill or to transform your staff into highly engaged and focused workers, you need to ask yourself what is realistically on offer.

If the name of the course entices you with words such as ‘tips’ or ‘secrets’ or “essential” – remember these are code words for giving you information – which is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning a new skill or behaviour.

Unless you have a plan in place to allow people to practice and apply their new skill after they have returned to work, the information learned will fade away as quickly as yesterday’s newspaper. 

Stan Gregec is a reformed business trainer and now ‘chief enthusiast’ at Showing Up, a learning and development consultancy based in Perth.


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