Her name was “Negative Nancy.” She complained about everything and always looked at the downside of her job. In meetings, her responses to her co-workers were “that won’t work, we’ve always done things this way,” or “that’s not my job.” Nancy’s manager, Tom, decided to send her to a training seminar called “Communicating with Difficult People.” After attending the training and returning to work, Nancy made a negative remark about one of her colleagues in a regular scheduled team meeting. What happened? Was the training a total waste of time and money?
After training thousands of supervisors, managers, directors, and senior-level leaders across the world, one of the most frequently asked questions we receive about employee training and leadership development is “how do you make the training stick when employees return to work?”
Frustrated by the lack of behavior change after investing in employee training, many senior-level leaders are telling human resource managers to pull the plug on professional development training budgets. However, just as the great speaker and trainer Zig Ziglar stated, “the only thing worse than training your employees and losing them, is not training them and keeping them.”
Perhaps what’s needed is training on why employees don’t change after training, so that senior-level leaders and human resource managers understand that training is an investment in their people and results are typically seen over time depending on the type of behavior change desired.
Based on our research from managers and leaders of organizations that have obtained positive returns on their investment in employee training, there are three strategic best practices that can maximize employee behavior change and application back in the workplace:
1. Pre-Training (it must be positive and important) One of the first steps to making employee training successful is in the pre-training phase. Managers and leaders should set the tone that training is positive and an important process of individual and team growth, not negative or punitive. Although it’s not completely necessary, if an employee has a positive mentality about training, application of lessons learned will occur faster. Many employees confess that they have attended a training with low expectations and a defensive mentality, only to leave the training with a positive mentality armed with, and ready to use, new tools.
Managers and leaders can help employees think positive about training by not making them feel like they need to be “fixed.” For example, it will be very counterproductive to tell an employee that you have signed them up for training because they need to “fix” or work on their attitude. It would be more effective to tell the employee that this is a professional development opportunity and a chance to develop specific skills that would not only help the team, but possibly prepare him or her for future opportunities. Using the “coach leadership style,” managers and leaders can help the employee see what specific skills they could improve, and then ask the employee to write down two to three goals he or she would like to attain from the training so they are focused before they attend.
2. During Training (it must be engaging!) Whether you hire an outside training consultant, send employees to public training seminars, or create an in-house training program, the training must be engaging! Learn all you can about how the training is delivered, because it doesn’t matter how great the content is if the training means sitting through fifty powerpoint slides and listening to a monotone speaker all day. Employees will simply tune out, become disengaged, and/or completely fall asleep.
An effective training program that will maximize employee behavior change should consist of the following:
Insightful content (15%): New ideas, approaches, and tools for workplace challenge
Interactive exercises and activities (40%): Targeted workplace situations that can be analyzed and discussed, and practical team activities
Engaging speaker (45%): High-energy, dynamic, inspirational, experienced, credible expert
3. Post-Training (it must be reinforced) The primary reason why employees don’t change after training is the lack of reinforcement upon returning to work. The most critical mistake managers and leaders make is sending employees to training and then not providing them the time and opportunity to practice the new skills back on the job. Managers and leaders must also understand that behavior changes don’t occur overnight. According to a recent study from the University College of London, it will take an employee about sixty days to develop a new behavior, but this depends on the complexity of the behavior and the employee’s deliberate commitment to adopt it.
To facilitate the process of behavior change, a post-training action plan should be provided immediately after training, and for the first four to six weeks, managers and leaders should meet periodically with employees to discuss the plan and progress. During this time, managers and leaders should provide recognition, positive reinforcement, specific feedback, observations, and rewards for any level of progress. The key is to start building momentum inside employees to continue the desired behaviors.