Monday, September 23, 2013

Five Things Corporate Trainers Should Know - But Don't

If organizations nationwide unknowingly wasted $100 billion every year, spending it for things that don't work, that would be a big deal, wouldn't it? Worth sitting up and taking notice? I mean this is a lot of money to just pour down the drain. Wouldn't it be nice to get the hoped for benefit?

This massive loss has been happening every year for decades. The problem lies with the people who are in charge of training programs. By and large, most of them are uninformed about a few crucial facts.

1. What counts is DOING, not KNOWING.

Many trainers don’t differentiate between knowledge and behavior.

They mistakenly believe that if they explain what to do and how to do it—and even give learners some simulated practice in the classroom—then they've done their job. Based on what was presented in the classroom, learners may even agree that it’s worthwhile—a better way. Gosh, they may even later remember what was taught and be excited about doing it. Trainers assume that surely this ought to be enough to produce changed behavior and improved performance.

But KNOWING doesn't always lead to DOING. KNOWING what to do doesn't count unless people actually DO it consistently on the job. Otherwise the investment in learning and development is wasted.

2. Most DOING is triggered by HABIT, not a conscious decision.

Many trainers mistakenly believe that smart, motivated learners will decide to do what they were taught. Why wouldn't they?

The problem is, in a busy workplace this decision usually doesn't come up. Because almost everything people do comes from executing ingrained behavior patterns, skills and work habits – without thinking about them. Most of the time they don’t have time to think about what they learned in the classroom and then decide how to act. They just do things the way they've always done them—out of HABIT.

3. Habits and skills are – by definition - WIRED IN THE BRAIN.

This may sound ridiculous, but by far most trainers don't know how learning happens in the brain. Isn't that amazing? They don’t know that for a skill to take hold as a routine work habit, the brain has to become wired for it.

They don’t know that the brain cells involved in any action are stimulated to connect with each other. After many repetitions, the connections are reinforced, and physical circuits form in the brain. When the brain is wired for this action sequence, the behavior becomes easy and automatic—a HABIT. No need to think about what to do. No decision.

4. It takes a lot of REPETITION – practice – to rewire the brain cells for an improved skill or habit.

Initial attempts at performing a new skill are typically discouraging. Even after people know what to do, it’s awkward at first. Or they forget to try the new skills, get frustrated and old habits kick in. At this point, most people get discouraged and give up.

To rewire their brains for a new skill or habit, they need to persist past this discouragement. With repeated attempts, the new pattern will begin to establish as a circuit and the success rate will improve. With persistence, the new way will eventually become a habit.

5. It’s impossible to provide enough reinforcement in the classroom.

Depending on the complexity of the skill and whether old patterns stand in the way, it could take many weeks or many months of dedicated effort to make a better way of doing something an ingrained habit.

Most trainers simply haven't connected the dots about this. They think that feedback surveys and classroom training ought to be enough to change behavior. Feedback does reveal the need for improvement, and training can introduce new methods.

But ingraining a new work habit has to take place after people leave the classroom. People may want to improve and form good intentions, but nothing will change if they don’t practice what they learned in the workplace—repeatedly—until the new way becomes an automatic part of their behavior.

In other words, the necessary rewiring of the brain for improved performance takes a lot of on-the-job reinforcement. In other words, coaching—accountability, feedback, encouragement, reminders and tips about the right way to do it. Exactly the same process needs to happen when improving sports skills. To ingrain the skill, you gotta do the reps—a whole lot of reps. And this takes time.

Corporate learning and development programs almost never provide this kind of reinforcement. Why not? Well, review points 1 through 5 above. Most corporate trainers don’t understand how behavior change and performance improvement actually happen in the brain.

This means nearly $100 billion is invested every year making the learners smarter while their behavior stays the same. It's an amazing state of affairs, one that has existed for decades.

To help trainers stop this horrendous waste of precious resources, there is now an online platform for coordinating all this reinforcement, while promoting personal strengths and improved people skills. It’s called Strong for Performance.

Do you know any managers or trainers? Encourage them to check it out.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2013. Building Personal Strength .