If you’re a senior leader or company owner I can lay good money on a few facts about you. First is that you believe your employees are the most important aspect of your company, along with your customers. Second, is that you believe in order for your company to grow and remain competitive, you need to invest in the training and development of your employees. Third is that it is surprisingly (or maybe not) difficult to free up the time and resources for this task that everyone acknowledges is critical. Fourth, and this is that part that might be hard to admit, is that significant investment into in-house or outsourced training has not produced the results you want.
If this is you, you’re not alone! The training industry, in the US alone was $161 billion (yes, with a ‘B’) in 2016 with worldwide training estimated at $359 billion, and these figures do not include additional expenses such as paying for workers’ time while they are at training, or the cost of their replacements while they are out of work. Of course some training is essential. If employees don’t know how to do something, you’d be mad not to train them. There are some highly specialized fields in which safety and proper execution absolutely depends on acquiring knowledge, and there are also governing bodies that require you to perform X hours of training in order to remain compliant with their regulations.
And there are also millions if not billions of dollars invested annually in training geared towards making your employees function more as a team, or your managers more effective, or your communication more meaningful, or your conflicts more resolvable. You get the idea. And let me state very clearly that I’m not saying this training is unnecessary. However, I am stating, categorically, that it is not sufficient to attain the objectives you want. I’ll lay out the evidence proving my point.
Let’s look at the science behind it, first. Applied behavioral psychology puts it like this: At the center is a behavior that you would like someone to perform. Because the behavior is a discrete event in time, things can occur before the behavior and things can occur after the behavior. As it happens, things that occur directly before the behavior (antecedents) do have an impact. A short term, quickly extinguishing impact, but an impact. Things that occur directly after the behavior (consequences) have a much greater impact on that behavior, and if those things occur consistently, and contingently upon the behavior, you can ensure the continuance or extinction of the behavior. There’s a significant body of work dedicated to the types of reinforcers (consequences) that work best to strengthen various behaviors but the law of behavior remains in place. Training is an antecedent, in that it always occurs before the behavior you are hoping to elicit (as are motivational talks, by the way).
The anecdotal evidence certainly backs this up. I wonder how many of us have ever found that simply telling someone what you’d like them to do results in them doing it? Certainly telling them how in addition to what (a condition surprisingly missing in a lot of corporate training) helps, but just walk into the lunchroom of any office anywhere in this country and I guaran-darn-tee you that you will find AT LEAST one sign taped up somewhere ‘reminding’ people to not steal each other’s lunch, to flush the toilet, or to clean up after themselves.
Clearly, telling people what you’d like them to do doesn’t even work for something s basic as lunchroom etiquette and yet we expect that training, even when accompanied by pastries, is going to mobilize a company of individuals to go against self interest (in many cases) in favor of the company? And those of us who are parents can relate doubly to this. I highly doubt the plethora of kid-junk on my living room floor right now is due to the fact that I have neglected to ‘train’ them in the fact that they are supposed to PUT AWAY THE STINKING LEGOS!
Last is just something I’ll pose to you. If training is so effective, why is it no training ever comes with a guarantee of better performance? No one is willing to put their money down saying that training WILL improve performance because it almost never does, on it’s own. Furthermore, not to sound completely cynical (maybe just 99% cynical), is it possible there’s more money to be made treating the symptoms than in treating the disease? Just saying. I know many professional trainers and all the ones I know are amazing people with a heart for helping. That doesn’t mean that training will get you the results you need. I know I said it before, but after this paragraph it probably bears repeating. I am not saying training isn’t necessary, only that it is not sufficient in most cases to get you improvements in performance and goal achievement.
So what does? If you go back to the science of it, the only way to really get the behaviors you want is coupling training in what and how with a schedule of consistent reinforcers contingent upon the behaviors occurring. In other words, you need to define what you’re looking for, explain it to your employees, and then be diligent in catching them doing something right and rewarding that, and that only. Now you can do this the effective way or the ineffective way (and guess which one is the easy way?).
Ineffective is what most people do first after they see the logic spelled out for them, Which is of COURSE to identify the productive behaviors, explain to their staff that these are the keys to success, and make an effort to reward those behaviors. And then life kicks in and guess what? This amazing endeavor goes the way of the team-building obstacle course and the employee of the month initiative. Don’t beat yourself up about this though. Your exposure to these concepts is, also, an antecedent. Presumably you are human and so therefore not immune to the laws of human behavior, even if you are the boss. So the impact of knowing this only has a short-lived affect on the behavior of you and your managers executing it.
So is all hope lost?
Actually, far from it. A solution is in not only the understanding, but also the systematic execution of the interventions proven to cause lasting behavioral change, including interventions that set up rewarding consequences to you and your managers for completing your part (and that’s in addition to the increased revenue and profitability you’ll see from doing this, of course). And yes, I am talking about OBM (Organizational Behavior Management). Again. There’s much more to this than I’ve spelled out as briefly as I could here, so if you’re interested in hearing in more detail about each of the interventions, please give me a call or an email and I can walk you through it in about 30 minutes and gift you with the overview and slides for you to share with your teams.
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people. With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work. Carrie can be reached for consultation at email@example.com