Archive for month: February, 2012

Back to Basics: Using consequences to get training to stick

Categories: Behavior change, BMT Courses, Feedback, Leadership, TrainingAuthor:

Training is not the solution you’re looking for, it’s the consequences that really make the difference.  This might seem a counter-intuitive statement coming from someone who teaches courses in behavioral science for a living!  However, as with most things involving human behavior, this story is deeper than it first appears.

Our BMT course is designed to get behavior started. It’s pretty simple:  If you show up and you do the work inside and outside of the course, you learn enough behavioral science to make improvements at work and at home.  However in general, humans rely far too much on knowledge and knowing (i.e., training) and not enough on what needs to be done afterward to support its application at work.

Remember that antecedents drive about 20% of behavior and consequences drive about 80%?  Training, on the whole, is an antecedent.  This is not unique to our BMT courses, it’s a problem in all courses and workshops.  The real learning happens when you go back and try to apply the training.  Most studies show pretty clearly that without coaching, it’s really tough to get people to use what they learn in training.

So, what can you do after a training course or workshop, to support its application on the job?  The simple answer is to ask leaders in the business to talk to their people about it on a weekly basis.  Think of the things that ‘stick’ in your business – they probably all have people who doggedly bring them up at every turn.  Below, I’ve tried to break this set of behaviors into some simple steps for you to try:

Step 1. Spend a few minutes each week asking your direct reports what they are doing to apply the concepts learned in the training.  Assuming that you see a need to apply the training, give them examples of what is possible.

Step 2. After getting this base behavior going steadily, spend some time encouraging people to find and fix frustrations at work.  Doing this is as simple as asking people what frustrates them, fixing some of those things, and feeding data on the improvements back to people to confirm that the solution made things better.

Step 3. Once you’ve got this going, you can encourage people to take on a project of their own and make improvements.  You can spend some time with individuals who find an improvement project, to help them make it relevant to the work, data-based, and simple.

This pretty well corresponds to the coaching model that we use, and it promotes often tough behavior change via taking on simple steps one at a time.  In behavioral science, we call it shaping.

Remember, if you’re not reinforcing behavior, you’re punishing it.

Forget Employee Engagement, Focus on Leader Engagement

Categories: UncategorizedAuthor:

I am going to start with a bold assertion, employee engagement is an illusion.  No really, let me explain.  Leaders create the environment where employees work and it is what the leaders do and say every day that impacts how engaged an employee feels and behaves.  Therefore, employee engagement is nothing more than a side effect of Leader Engagement.

So, what do engaged leaders do to increase employee engagement?

1.  Discover what frustrates employees and fix as much as they can. 

Daily frustrations wear people out.  Especially when the people who have the most control over reducing frustrations are the leaders, and they aren’t doing anything to fix them.  If the computer system is always shutting down, meetings are mostly wasted time, and it takes a monumental effort to order a pack of pens, it’s hard to get excited about work.  Employees aren’t likely to bring these problems up unless their boss has specifically asked for them, reinforced sharing them, and fixed what they can.  Trying to increase employee engagement without putting effort into reducing major frustrations is an impossible feat.

2.  Give employees control over their work and don’t micromanage.

No one likes having someone look over their shoulder all day or having to ask permission to do every little thing.  Lack of control over work that you feel competent to complete is a serious drain on engagement and is directly linked to stress.  Engaged leaders look for opportunities for employees to have input and flexibility in how the work gets done.

3.  Understand and use positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is a big source of happiness for people and in most workplaces, there isn’t nearly enough.  Research says that students do better in school, work teams perform at a higher level, and marriages are happier when people get about 4 or more positives for every negative.  Sending a bulk, generic “good job” email doesn’t count.  The reinforcers should be personal and specific.

4.  Focus on developing relationships.

Think about someone you highly respect.  If that person praised you for a job well done, how would you feel?  If that same person suggested something you could improve, would you want to improve it?  Now think about someone you really dislike and ask yourself those same questions.  The answers change, don’t they?  The successes are even more invigorating and the tough times are easier to endure when we have robust relationships with our colleagues at work.  We want to do good work for and with people we care about.  Relationships must be developed and nurtured.

If leaders engage in the four behaviors described above, employee engagement will be inevitable.