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Why Learning Is Never Enough: Implementing a Multi-faceted Change-Management Strategy

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Fri Oct 12 2012

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You’ve just finished facilitating an entertaining and informative training course. Judging by the enthusiasm of your training graduates, they can’t wait to implement the ideas they’ve learned. Two months pass and one day, while visiting with a training graduate, you notice the training participant manual lying under a pile of papers on his desk. You think to yourself: “What exactly has he done differently as a result of attending that training?”

After all, the training program not only cost money, but it also took two days from yours and his busy schedules. If he didn’t change how he acts, then it was a waste. So you try to convince yourself into believing he thinks differently as a result of his experience which has resulted in many subtle behavior changes which, in turn, have yielded better results. But you know better. You’re tired of making that slim argument.

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So exactly what did happen after the training? No doubt your graduates left the course enthused to implement new skills that would transform their world. However, while they eagerly took their training materials back to their offices, two days away from their desk yielded ninety-five e-mail messages. Before they got past their second email, the phone rang. It was a big client with an urgent question. So they set their participant manual aside and started putting out the fires.

Sound familiar? It should. The ability to transfer knowledge and skills learned in training back to the office is never easy. The training finishes, participants return to work, and they’re immediately pulled in a dozen different directions—none of which are designed to help them transfer what they’ve just learned into part of their daily routine.

In fact, one training course I recently studied revealed dismal transference rates. Ironically, the training designers were experts at getting people to learn the material. At the end of the course, participants could pass a cognitive test with flying colors. Unfortunately, the designer’s cognitive success was all for naught because training graduates didn’t implement the material soon after completing the course.

Only 7 percent of graduates who returned to work with the full intention of engaging in post-training mastery actually logged on to the website to access the follow-on skills and exercises. The other 93 percent couldn’t find the time. If accessing a website is too much to ask, what are the chances this large majority would do something even more demanding, like monitoring and changing their behavior? And without skill transference, training is merely an expensive vacation that employees take from their daily responsibilities.

So what can you do to ensure learning translates into action? Better still, how can you manipulate the forces that currently draw people away from adopting new skills to forces that both motivate and enable a genuine change in behavior?

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Successful trainers know that learning is not enough. These influencers find ways to ensure their training graduates implement new ideas and skills soon after the training ends. They use the Influencer Model to supplement their learning experience—a multi-faceted change management plan that was named the Change Management Approach of the Year by MIT Sloan Management Review. Using the Influencer Model, _s_kill transference is acquired by combining multiple sources of influence into a cohesive change strategy that both motivates and enables graduates to adopt the skills taught in training. In addition to training, use the following Influencer tactics to create a well-rounded change strategy:

Co-opt the Performance System

It’s surprising to discover how many training programs aren’t supported by an organization’s formal performance review system. Effective formal review processes purposefully reinforce the skills and ideas taught in training. Start by hard wiring the skills into the review. For instance, if you’re training people in how to hold others accountable, the specific skills taught in the course need to be contained in the formal review paperwork.

You can also tailor the performance system by linking formal rewards to changes in behavior. In one company we worked with, HR professionals pre-measured the targeted behaviors using a 360 survey, conducted the training, and then re-administered the survey two months later. The theory was that if participants started using the skills learned in training on the job, their improvement would show up in the 360. The mantra at this particular company was if you want to change something, measure it.

Before participants attended the training, they were told the skills being taught would be routinely measured and that a certain percent of their bonus would be linked to their improvement scores. If they put the skills into practice, they’d be rewarded. This certainly captured their attention. It also sent the message that the training wasn’t some sort of informal perk but an important part of the way the organization would do business in the future. Not only would employees be wise to learn and implement the skills—they would also be rewarded.

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Enlist Informal Support

While it’s a good idea to build the skills from your aspired culture into the formal review system, it’s equally important to take steps to ensure that informal rewards are also aimed at the target behaviors. This is best done by enlisting managers and leaders. Supervisors will need to talk about the new behaviors, discuss them in meetings, watch to see that the training graduates do what they’ve been taught, and then praise graduates for their progress. For example, they might say, “I couldn’t help but notice that you’re using the new project software you studied last month. It’s good to see you using the new processes. Thanks.”

People often underestimate how important delivering praise is to encouraging new behavior. When receiving praise, on the other hand, it’s quite clear that a good word from a colleague or person in authority goes a long way to ensure you continue with your new actions. A simple thank you is often viewed as more meaningful and sincere than more formal means of approbation.

As you work with supervisors and managers to bring informal praise into the culture, remember that givers of praise tend to forget the power of informal encouragement. Make sure you talk with supervisors about the importance of providing the occasional “Way to go!” and discuss with them what it will take to remember to do so. What cues can you place around them? How can managers remind supervisors? You might even hold a meeting one week after participants return from training and discuss the role of leadership in coaching, measuring, and encouraging the new behaviors. Take five minutes and brainstorm different informal ways to say “Thank you.”

Connect to Core Values

Much of what is taught in today’s leadership and other soft-skill courses is value-based. In addition to informing people what they should do under certain conditions, the courses explain the “why” behind the targeted behaviors. These “whys” usually connect to the company’s core values—or at least they should.

For instance, you don’t ask people to be involved in decision making simply because it’s the new training trend. Rather, you ask people for their ideas because you value individuals, creative or innovative thinking, or constructive feedback and criticism. You also believe that it helps people feel part of the decision and aligns teams. Involving others may also lie at the heart of diversity. As an organization, you seek to rely on the varying views of diverse specialists and realize that doing so leads to the best choices. These may be just some of the values underpinning a training course on teamwork or decision making.

Unfortunately, the idea of talking about values is often far from the minds of leaders whose job requires them to focus on numbers and charts. As a result, these leaders miss an important opportunity to link to what their people really care about. People don’t connect strongly to charts, facts, figures, and logic. Rather, they connect to direct and vicarious experiences, personal stories, and deeply held values. When you explain how the skills and concepts participants have learned in corporate training link to the company’s core values, you breathe excitement and life into vanilla behaviors. Leaders should never be afraid to talk about theories, skills, and values.

Link Coaching to Training

When it comes to interpersonal skills, training participants need more than knowledge. They need to turn the knowledge into actions. This requires them to take ideas, shape them into their own words and behaviors, and then try them out. This calls for deliberate practice. And as the old adage says, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

How do you experience perfect practice? Not alone. When it comes to seeing how well you enact new skills, you live on the wrong side of your eyeballs. You can’t see how you come across to others. You need someone else to watch, stop you when you go awry, and then give you specific behavioral advice on how to improve. In short, you need a coach. A coach doesn’t simply look at the scoreboard and tell you to hunker down. A good coach watches you in action and then advises you on what you need to change to affect the result.

Don’t Forget “Things”

Finally, to help people remember what to do at the right place and time, make use of cues. Put up charts that summarize training skills in meeting rooms. Ask people to carry summary cards with them at work. Put your electronic devices to work. Build in reminders that pop up every morning. Send participants video clips that either remind them of what they’ve learned or maybe even teach a subtle variation on the theme. Ask your IT folks and video specialists to build tools and reminders that are tailored specifically to the skills you cover in training.

In Summary

Training courses work best when combined with a variety of other sources of influence that both motivate and enable training participants to practice what they have learned at work. This calls for a multi-faceted roll-out plan that supplements classroom training with both formal and informal rewards, coaching, value links, and the use of cueing and reminders. These strategies are the sources of influence that both motivate and enable employees to change their behavior for good.

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