Does Training Really Change Behavior? The 2 Reasons Training Programs Fail – and What to Do About It
The other day, I happened across a feed on LinkedIn where someone was insisting that training cannot change behavior.
I thought to myself, “That seems silly. Why do we train people if we’re not trying to change their behavior?”
The challenge is that behavior has two components: what we’re able to do both physically and mentally and, more importantly, what we’re willing to do. Most companies don’t understand the distinction, and their training programs reflect that problem.
Here are two key reasons training programs fail.
1. Companies assume that training is the answer to a performance problem without first conducting a training needs analysis. I receive team training requests all the time, and when I ask the client what they think they need, they answer, “Well, my people don’t get along.”
What’s training going to do about that?
Training for the sake of training, without a goal, is the number-one reason training fails.
2. Companies push their training program to create willingness to behave a certain way. Training can’t do that. We must focus training on developing skills and the knowledge to support those skills. Creating willingness comes down to reinforcement, which is really all about attitudes.
For example, say that I’m your boss and you’re OK at your job, but you and I have conflicting personalities. We don’t get along, so you start to resent that I’m your boss. No amount of training will change those feelings. You and I should try to work out that problem together as coworkers.
This situation really becomes a problem if you allow your resentment to start impacting your performance. If you start showing up late or making mistakes, that could be a behavioral reflection of your attitude toward me as your boss. Training will never resolve that problem, but an in-depth discussion and positive reinforcement can have an impact.
Ultimately, training needs to create a willingness to perform and behave appropriately.
Does training change behavior? In and of itself, no. If I train you on a new skill and don’t put a reinforcement plan in place, there is very little incentive for you to use your new skill.
The challenge is that most businesses would rather implement a reinforcement program based on discipline to resolve these types of issues. Discipline will change behavior but not necessarily in the way we want it to be changed. If we put a training program in place and think discipline is how we’ll effectively manage knowledge and skills, we’re kidding ourselves into thinking it will stick.
Reinforcement programs can come in different forms. They could include non-monetary incentives, bonuses or a game with a reward. The key is to focus on accountability after training to help people change their behavior. We must ask, “What barriers might already be in place that keep people from exhibiting the desired behaviors?”
In any behavioral change program, there should be organized and frequent contact between supervisors and employees. When there is, employees know that they will be expected to exhibit the behaviors they have been trained on. The next step is to eliminate any obstacles that discourage the desired behaviors.
Ultimately, I believe that if there are performance problems in the workplace after training has already been introduced, that means that somewhere along the way, some of these basic behavioral principles have been ignored. The culture of the company is what will really determine the level of success of a training program.
These are the key mistakes that companies make that result in failed training programs. I encourage you to look at your own training programs and company culture. Are you sending conflicting messages? Does your culture encourage the right behavior change? Do you have effective incentives in place that sustain that desired behavior shift? Answer these questions to ensure training results in behavior change.
Ed Krow, SPHR, CCP, SHRM-SCP, CHCM, HR consultant and partner at TurboExecs, works with results-oriented, small and medium businesses that are struggling with chaos. He helps them put in place training, compliance and compensation systems so they avoid legal issues while offering both development opportunities and competitive packages that incentivize performance in alignment with their business goals. When he’s not working with clients, Ed can be found teaching at Millersville University or speaking at human resources conferences, seminars and professional development sessions.
About the Author