Beyond training: how to re-order the brain to achieve remarkable results

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The key to successfully integrating new learning back into the workplace is in the implementation outside of the classroom. Steve White looks at how to turn training into behaviour change.

The brain is so sensitive to external experiences that you can literally rewire it through exposure to cultural influences, according to John J. Medina, neurologist and developmental molecular biologist (Harvard Business Review, May 2008). Dr. Medina speculates that as a result of this sensitivity, there could be a Boeing brain or a Goldman Sachs brain.

Other research suggests that when attention is paid to a new behaviour for at least three weeks, the brain moves the activity from running in "software" (which uses a lot of energy) to a "hardware" implementation (less use of energy) when the connections in the brain have been literally re-ordered.

"The key to successfully integrating new learning back into the workplace is in the implementation outside of the classroom."

You may recall leaving a training course with the enthusiasm of the recently converted. You saw the world in a completely different way - only to reflect after a few weeks that, while it was a great course, you're still in the same old routine. Like a rubber band, you were stretched only for the duration of the training class. After the tension was relaxed, you reverted to your previous ways.

While this is a frustrating experience for the learner, commercially it's a disaster. Both the opportunity cost and actual cost of the training were not recovered. If the meaning of the training course is the behaviour change that resulted, the training course had no meaning.

The key to successfully integrating new learning back into the workplace is in the implementation outside of the classroom. Clear and integrated `triggers for use', including the right tools, facilitation, and coaching will help integrate new ways of doing things.

So, where to start? For a large-scale training programme make sure you prepare before any training is done. Identify the entry points for the behaviour change and establish how the business will support the individual from their first few cycles of behaviour change until it is integrated into behaviour and the investment is returned.

In addition, stakeholders and change agents - those individuals selected for their peer respect and change leadership reputation - can drive change throughout the implementation. Prepare these stakeholders with some pre-roll-out training that prepares and supports them to make changes in the work environment, test the new process, and refine the implementation so that it is accepted within the company culture and at the individual level.

You may also need to create job aids to support the behaviour change - everything from posters, to customised aide-mémoire forms, to new tools integrated into software.

"Training alone can pay for itself through the efforts of an interested minority who use the techniques right away. "

Coaching is also a vital component of implementing behavioural change. And that coaching needs to evolve with the learner over time - from encouragement in the first few days or tries, to new innovative opportunities once maturity has been established.

The importance of coaches and facilitators cannot be overstated. But for coaches and facilitators to succeed they need:

  • Advanced technical knowledge of the skill-set to be implemented
  • A change implementation model for the skill-set
  • A system for alerting them to opportunities for coaching and facilitation
  • Advanced Technical Knowledge.
Results

By embedding learning through coaching and faciltation we have found a 10 to 20% reduction in time-on-task, 40% reduction in backlog, and 40% reduction in mean time to resolve.

In our experience in service and support, even organisations who don't fully integrate change with coaching and facilitation see some reurn on investment. Training alone can pay for itself through the efforts of an interested minority who use the techniques right away. Their efforts on a number of tough cases are enough to bring the overall mean time to resolve down by an average of 5%.

Coaching has had a significant impact for our clients:

  • A US division of a multinational failed to install coaching and got no results. Now they've initiated coaching to some extent and credit KT processes for $1m in savings.
  • A European division of the same company fared similarly - the first team to start regular coaching showed improvement against key metrics; the others did not until they followed up with coaching.
  • A support organisation that initially produced no results from training began providing coaching for problem statements and saw problem characterisation/definition time drop 16%.

As Medina observed in his article, paying attention to change makes change possible by actually re-ordering the brain. Training alone leaves the behaviour change to chance. Coaching supports change long enough for people to change their minds and integrate the thinking patterns of successful people into their own behaviours.

Steve White is senior business consultant at the Kepner-Tregoe technology practice. Kepner-Tregoe helps clients implement their strategies by embedding problem-solving, decision-making, and project execution methods through individual and team skill development and issue resolution process improvement

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