We live in the "Information Age," so virtually anything you ever want/need to know is a mouse click away. Despite the information overload, a huge gap remains between what we know and what we do. If changing behavior were as easy as knowing something, there would be no unsuccessful dieters, gyms would be packed with exercisers, and there would be no smokers. As trainers, we need to ask ourselves the following: Are we trying to influence what people know, or what they do? The answer to this question leads to two distinct paths.
Think about the language we use to describe our efforts. What we call "training" is usually just an orientation. Typically, we move from what we hear or see to what we learn. With practice what we learned becomes what we do. This means we move from orientation to education to training. In organizations, what we call training (bringing groups of people into a room to either lecture to them or show them a video) is, in reality, nothing more than an orientation. Since it’s labeled "training," the organization assumes employees were "trained," and its work is done. Far from it!
REP: The Rational, Emotional and Physical Approach to Training
There are three key ingredients to successful orientation for employees. First, the rational aspect: Does the information make sense to learners? If they are sitting in the classroom rolling their eyes and thinking the content doesn’t make sense, how successful is the session (the true cost in time, money, and energy)?
Next is the emotional side. People act based more on how they feel than what they know. Information is important, but it's not as powerful as emotional engagement. Do learners understand why they should act on what you're telling them? We like to believe enlightenment via new information is enough, but it isn't. Sessions need something inherent to them that helps participants see how they will benefit from use of the material.
The final part is the physical aspect. Has an environment been created that supports the information presented? Which has greater influence on the speed an employee works: providing a seminar on working faster, or speeding up the assembly line? Classes do a great job introducing employees to the language of what you want them to do, but it's the environment that drives behavior.
Treat the training you deliver like a product. A presenter at a conference once asked the audience: If no one had to attend the training sessions you provide, and your salary depended on 100 percent participation, would you do anything differently? Participants overwhelmingly responded, "Yes!" A great way to engage employees is by imagining that your salary depends on their attendance. You can do this by recognizing you have a product for sale. You're selling information, ideas, and a new way of doing things. How do companies sell their products effectively? They have a plan, and this plan will work as well for training as it does for anything else the organization is trying to sell.
Companies do market research to ensure the product they are developing meets the needs of customers. Companies should talk to employees before training, get their feedback and ideas, and incorporate these into the program. Participants are vested in the presentation that way because they've helped put the content together. Organizations market their products to generate buzz and let potential customers know the product has value. They work hard to establish an emotional connection with the product. Why? Because you don’t have to buy it—you have to want to buy it. The same is true with new ideas. An employee doesn't have to buy into new ideas. Letting them know what's coming before it arrives sends a message that your training has value. Companies can use their own marketing departments to do this. Tell your marketing gurus you have a product you need to market to employees, and see if they can help.
Many employees would rather work than attend another boring training program. Boring and ineffective training programs are expensive. They guarantee a limited return on investment for employees' time. In addition to the use of humor, movement, and interactivity to help information stick, you need to keep in mind there are different types of adult learners. Some need to see it to learn it; some need to hear it; some need to do it; and some need a combination of the three. Anyone can get up in front of a classroom, and show a PowerPoint presentation, or pop in a video. Effective training is defined by what happens after the sale, whether employees transfer learning material to on-the-job performance. Follow up with workers, and ask them whether the information has proven useful. If the information didn’t work for them, what can you do to help? Orientation/education doesn't become training until it leaves the classroom, and enters the workplace. What plan do you have in place to make sure that happens?
We all watched as consumers lined up to get a new Apple iPhone. They did this because Apple raised their expectations by consistently offering innovative products. The same holds true for training. With a little effort, an organization can create an environment where participants enter a training session anticipating a fun, dynamic, practical, and interactive learning experience and enter a work environment that turns what they know into what they do.
Michael S. Melnik, M.S., O.T.R., is an occupational therapist with a Master's Degree in exercise physiology. He has written and starred in several award-winning videos in distribution throughout the U.S., Canada, and Australia, including "Batteries Not Included: The Energized Approach for Achieving Great Programs." His most recent production is "From Knowing to Doing: Maximizing the Return on your Safety Training Investment." For more information, visit www.preventionplusinc.com, www.michaelmelnik.com or e-mail Michael@michaelmelnik.com.