Thursday, November 11, 2010

Myth vs. Reality - What It Really Takes to Get Employees to Bring Their Best Work

In so many ways, organizations have "got it wrong" about how to get the best work from employees. They seem to be hunkered down "inside the box," clinging to old concepts about learning and performance and reluctant to accept reality.

For one thing, they have an over-blown idea about what management can do to influence the performance of employees.

Myth #1 - To get people to do things right, teach them how. Get the best trainers and the best learning programs money can buy.

The reality - Employees decide whether or not they accept what's being put out in training. They decide whether they pay attention, whether they value the content, and whether they retain what's being taught to them. Nobody can "make" them learn.

Myth #2 - When you send people to good training programs, they come back "fixed" and prepared to do things right.

The reality - Even if employees "buy" what's put across in training, the training itself can only introduce the best practices. Translating learning to workplace performance takes weeks and months of consistent application AFTER the program is over. And this rarely happens. The organization has to invest in follow-through coaching and application. Months of it.

Myth #3 - Managers can insist on high levels of performance and get it.

The reality - Employees can be made to do only that which can be measured. Only what's specified in the job description. Most of what really matters in the workplace can't be specified, measured or managed. The employees know what they have to do to keep their jobs. They know where the line is drawn. They decide whether they want to commit that much effort at work.

Myth #4 - Managers can motivate employees with incentives and pressure.

The reality - Motivation comes from within. Employees are interested in incentives, but only their needs, their values, their interests and their feelings about the work drive them to deliver their best work.

I think that's enough for now. You just wouldn't believe how much money is wasted by organizations in this country because they can't - or don't want to accept the realities of how learning happens and what it takes to achieve high levels of performance. Tens of billions of dollars invested annually in programs that don't change a thing. I know it sounds shocking, but I wouldn't kid you about something like this.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


Lori Meyer said...

Thanks for this excellent post. Unfortunately, many organizations take an all-too-shortsighted approach to what employees must learn and how they must learn it. It often goes like this: 1) Employees need to know . 2) Let's get everyone trained. 3) Once everyone is trained, we've done our job...and if they don't "get it," they either weren't listening or don't have the right attitude.

Your post also provides an important reminder that there is no "one size fits all" approach to training. Adult learning is a complex process, and any workplace learning, no matter what the topic, requires a diligent investment of time and patience to truly understand the organization's motives for the training, and how the learners themselves will perceive it, respond to it, and apply it.

Alex Dail said...

Talking with people who work for businesses it is often the case too that businesses and organizations too teach "x" but reward "y". Then they are confused as to why people keep doing "y".