How to make training sticky…
I’m delighted to introduce the latest blog from our leadership expert Paul Dowding. This week he’s tackling the eternal question; “How do we make training stick?”
We all want a magic bullet that will transform learning into workplace change and improvement, create new behaviours and excellence, is there such a thing? There is no one single solution but if we understand how we can translate learning into practical change that’s a good start. From there we can look at the what.
Ideas about how learning translates into practical action have been around since the mid 1970s when James O. Prochaska defined his Transtheoretical model. This snappily named model describes the stages an individual goes through when turning ideas into new action or behaviour. (For the purposes of this piece we’ll call it ‘The Model’).
It is far too easy in our 21 century way to see change as yet another area of our life where we need to speed up, save time, get there quicker. There is a problem however.
The faster you attempt to change the less likely it is to stick.
Okay so a simple change such as ‘I’ll use honey on my cereal rather than sugar’, a simple substitution behaviour, can be achieved quickly, we can go through The Model almost instantaneously and make it stick if we have the commitment (a big ‘if’!).
Work based change is often more complex in a more complex environment:
- ‘I’m going to get those reports in on time from now on’
- ‘I’m going to be on time for every meeting’
- ‘I’m going to stop getting so frustrated with people…’
These changes require a longer timescale. The three stages; Preparation, Action and Maintenance can be a long process requiring discipline to keep up the pressure and deliver actual, sustainable change.
It’s clearly not just time that is a determining factor on whether change is successful or not. Training and coaching have a big part to play in the delivery of lasting change if the training or coaching embodies The Model. The following groundrules bridge the space between training and actual change:
- Consciously accepting there is a problem…
Training and learning is the solution to a problem, a situation that needs to change or a different outcome that is desired. Without conscious realisation that there is a problem in the first place (even if its, ‘I know I can do this better’) there can be no possibility of change.
- Devise the change you want to be…
If individuals generate their own alternative behaviours, approaches or attitudes they will have thought about it for themselves, weighed up the options and have exercised choice. Having thought the change through comprehensively and then making a conscious decision to change helps overcome internal objections and builds determination.
- Repetition, repetition, repetition…
To behave differently, use a new approach or have a different attitude requires conscious thought day after day, reminding yourself of the change you want to be. Checking that you have delivered every day helps keep the commitment in front of mind.
Training should encourage the discipline of taking a planned, structured approach to change each day e.g.: taking time out each day to reflect on change achieved in practice at work.
- Broadcasting – get it out there…
Training should encourage learners not to be reticent about the change they want to be. Telling others helps firm up resolve and provides added incentive to deliver. Training can build in change motivation by helping individuals explore who would provide them with very honest and reliable feedback and reinforcement.
- Right first time?
Unlikely. Training can help individuals give themselves permission and build persistence to improve each opportunity / each day. New strategies take time to master but the early failures are where the nuances and choices are learned that make it possible to adjust appropriately to each situation.
Whilst the above may seem intellectually ‘bleeding obvious’ not all training and learning activities build this change success into their curriculum or their agendas.
What does this mean for training?
Training can easily incorporate all the 5 points above. Whether the learning is self learning, coaching or training the simplest way to incorporate success is to ensure self exploration. The simplest version of this is questioning… not telling.
There are times when to ask rather than just tell is a waste of time and the benefits of exploring are minimal. If an individual needs ‘data’ then either tell them or enable them to be self sufficient by knowing how to go about finding it. If the subject is very simple then telling saves time for exploring subjects difficult to explore alone. However one of the areas of change that people find hardest is around social / personal interaction.
Training can incorporate each stage of The Model if trainers and coaches (that includes all leaders of course) deploy the straightforward approach of questioning. Questioning places the emphasis on the learner to think for themselves. The questioner becomes a catalyst enabling the individual to transform themselves. So how does questioning work in the context of each stage of The Model?
Questioning can be deployed at each stage to enable the individual to:
- Identify and define the problem.
- Define and scope the practical change needed.
- Explore the blocks, mental and otherwise, that may get in the way.
- Identify new behaviours, approaches and attitudes
- Help the individual identify whether or not they have the will to make the change real e.g:
- ‘When have you achieved a significant change before?’
- ‘When did you overcome barriers like this before?’
- ‘How did you do it then?’
- ‘What help did you need?’
- Explore strategies to prevent back sliding
The process of change is a psychological as well as practical one, the move from consciously skilled to unconsciously skilled the ultimate goal. If training only generates an intellectual response such as: ‘I can see that arriving late for meetings isn’t ideal’ then change is less likely to happen or stick.
There has to be an emotional engagement / realisation as well as an intellectual one: ‘I know that being late for meetings will hurt my reputation.’ Or ‘I know that when I get frustrated with people they get anxious…’. That emotional element often more often than not provides the drive and energy to change.
Practical actions such as ‘planning in contingency time for report writing’ can only work if there is a psychological will to stick to it. Some call it discipline.
So how to make training (and coaching) sticky?
‘Fast is good’ is a modern mantra. It can result in greater productivity, pace of delivery, satisfied customers internal and external, reduced costs etc. There are some things that cannot / should not be rushed. Personal change is one of them. Training has to provide the space for individuals to fully understand The Model and develop the skills and thinking to take them through it to change.