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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Replacing that Dripping Faucet?

if you really want to replace employee behaviors, take the long view

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

"Things are going to change around here!" In her youth, my wife's large family unfailingly generated chaos every Sunday morning as she and her many brothers got ready (or didn't) for church and the special schedule of that day. Like clockwork, her father would reach a point where he roamed the house proclaiming that mantra. Next Sunday, he would loudly declare, things would be completely different, everything would change, no more chaos.

Well, my father-in-law never made much progress on that front, but he did highlight one approach to producing change: complete replacement. Just replace the problem behaviors, the old, ineffective methods with new "best practices".

In many organizations, training and communication are driven by breathtaking schemes to do things entirely differently in a short period of time, by "initiatives" intended to produce overnight behavior replacement. Sometime these dramatic efforts reflect significant shifts in markets, new competition or regulations, or new tools or products.

But just as often, a massive effort is hastily launched because, like my father-in-law, management has run out of patience with a nagging problem -- the way that dripping faucet you've had for ages suddenly drives you to leap out of bed in the middle of the night and attack the sink. The problem has been there a while, but it finally bursts into awareness, and all of a sudden it is a major issue . . . for as long as it takes to roll out training or to hold a series of meetings.

Whatever the reason for the new urgency, the challenges of "behavior replacement" are many. One of the most daunting is that your employees already have a behavior to fall back on. If they have any trouble executing your new plan, or even remembering the latest best practice, they'll just go back to what they did before.

That's why replacement takes a sustained effort over a period of time. If you're not there with mentoring, supporting tools and systems, and management attention when employees begin to drift back to their old ways, you've wasted your investment in the big event, in the great training initiative.

And you have probably wasted time and money by overreacting. You tore out the old sink and bought a brand new one, when a little maintenance would have been just as effective, and much less costly.

Finally, because the one-shot approach probably won't work, you'll waste more time and money when the problem returns, when the faucet keeps dripping, and when it eventually becomes annoying enough to management, once again, to provoke another all-out attack on the issue.

Changing work behavior is more like lifestyle change -- like building an exercise habit, or learning to eat healthier foods -- than it is like putting in a new sink. Often the best approach is a series of smaller efforts over a longer period of time, thoughtfully designed so that as performance improves from the first "adjustment", the training to support the next small change is available.

Unfortunately, people are used to using single events to address problems. Managers and supervisors know they can get a chunk of money for a dramatic "initiative", but they can't get the same funds for a series of smaller communications and training events. Staff working to spread best practices and enhance performance learn can have employees for four hours one morning, but they can't get them for one hour a week for four weeks.

For better, more lasting results in your company, perhaps the first behavior to replace is the habit of trotting out one-shot, short-term, massive training and communication efforts whenever you need to replace current employee practices with better ways of doing things.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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