Effective training is about changing behaviours

Effective training is about changing behaviours

If someone attends a training course and they come back and continue to do what they did before, was that money well spent? Was that effective training or effective learning?

I’d argue it would be a “No” – that is not effective training.

Sure, sometimes we want to make people aware of new tech, new ways of working, compliance, legal issues and new methods, but let’s not pretend that is training. That’s awareness.

When we dig deep into training and we ask the question “What problem are we trying to solve with training?”, we must at some point come to the conclusion that training is about shifting behaviours.

It is about someone learning how to do something differently; better, different, smoother, quicker, more effectively. And all of these will result in a change of behaviours.

Managers should guide training, HR should provide the initiatives.

In the majority of companies the HR / People Team are taking on responsibility for sourcing, building and instigating training – all under the mantra of “train our people”. Learning management teams are all over and metrics about training are often found in boardroom discussions. But they can be misleading. We’ll come on to that in a minute.

It is great that investment is being made in training – it is wonderful actually – but only if that training is relevant, needed, effective and changing behaviours.

Managers should know their people really well. They should know what their strengths and weaknesses are. They should know the work and what is needed. They should be thinking about the future and preparing people for it. They should know what people want from their careers. And I use the word should there on purpose – many managers do not know this.

This information, combined with financing, purchasing power, platform selection and course building from HR, should be a match made in heaven. Managers, who know the needs, working with HR who have the initiatives, should lead to great outcomes; training that solves problems and shifts behaviours.

It’s the wrong way around in most organisations though.

Managers are told to send people on training provided with little insights from those who are facing the problems.

Managers aren’t consulted about what training is needed – and worse of all, managers have literally no idea what training IS needed.

It’s no wonder the HR / People team are picking up the mantle.

Sure, some generic legal, ethical and compliance training should be directed and guided by HR. But day-to-day, skills and behaviour training should be guided by managers.

  • After all, who should know each individual’s needs and requirements well?
  • Who should know where the business is going, obstacles they are likely to face and what’s required to solve the very problems in their teams?

The manager.

It’s unreasonable to expect HR business partners or learning teams to know every single person’s needs in a growing business.

But every manager should know what their people need.

Training mass groups of people and driven by learning targets, typically results in generic training

In one organisation I worked in, there was a real need to train the leadership team in the basic foundations of communication. I mean basic elements of listening, speaking, solidifying ideas, treating people well….basic stuff (don’t ask how they became leaders – the story is too depressing).

When I pointed this out to the manager of that leadership team, he asked the HR team for targeted training on foundational communication skills.

The Learning Team came back with a list of courses they provided. Some online, some in person. They sounded ok, very generic, not scientific, but ok. But here’s the thing;

The leadership team had already done those courses – yet their behaviours hadn’t changed.

So, instead of changing the training, making it more specific, reenforcing it through effective management (see later), they sent the whole team on the same training again.

Same results. No shifts in behaviour.

Time wasted. Energy wasted. Money wasted.

Managers need to work with Hr / People / Learning teams to apply the right training, at the right time, for the right reasons. This is how to build effective training.

It’s hard. It’s much harder than rolling out online courses and measuring attendance.

So here’s what I would suggest you do if you need to train your people (you do), you want to avoid behaviours not shifting (you do) and you want to ensure every individual is growing in to the role (I reckon you do).

Here’s are some ideas worth playing with:

Idea 1 – Instigate On-the-job training

On-the-job training is the first place to start implement training in your team. I would argue this is the most effective training there is – learning from someone who’s already brilliant at what they do. Edward Deming rated on the job training highly as the best way to empower and train people too. (deming, n.d.)

I’m amazed at how much money and effort is spent on centralised training courses and workshops, with so little effort spent on implementing good on-the-job training.

It’s no wonder people are pulling so hard on central learning teams.

On-the-job training comes in many forms, but it should be a staple part of any learning and development program in your team.

We learn from those who’ve done the role before, or are currently performing it well.

We can ask questions when we get stuck. We can emulate their positive role modelling. We can take risks, be innovative and experiment under the guidance of someone who has more experience.

And if you don’t have very positive role models in your team, no amount of training will solve that problem,

On-the-job training is provided in real-time by experienced people. People who know the job, the process, the bottlenecks, the flaws, the gaps, the amplification points; the work.

On-the-job training is a brilliant way to provide mentoring, coaching, role modelling and the real-time application of knowledge.

Juniors being coached by seniors. Seniors being coached by Team Leaders. Managers coaching where possible. People who know the job – training those new to it.

There is little point in expending energy and attention on training courses, unless you’ve already set up on-the-job training.

By doing on-the-job training you’ll also be mitigating against single points of failure; where only one person knows how to do something. You’ll also be contributing to succession planning, which is so very important.

On-the-job training is not about creating documents, models and how to guides, it’s about people sitting with each other and working together. There is so much we miss when we try to write it down, codify, centralise it and make it efficient.

A good demonstration beats a brilliant description every single time.

Idea 2 – Everyone should have a coaching plan. And yes – that means managers too.

Everyone should have a coaching plan. Everyone. A coaching plan is not just for people leaving a business or at risk. It’s for everyone. The highest performers, the lowest performs, you as a manager,

We cannot expect people to know everything, and to adapt to every change that happens. But we should expect everyone to learn.

Learning must be relevant to the needs of the business, the strengths and weaknesses of the person and always inline with addressing behaviours.

A coaching plan is about knowing what’s needed now or in the immediate future, where someone is right now, and then addressing the gaps in skills and behaviours.

The coaching plan should be directed by managers. They should know their people well, they should be studying and observing them at work, and they should be asking for more from them. A managers input to performance should form the basic direction of a coaching plan.

Let’s say for example you have a senior team lead who is a terrible listener and meeting facilitator. Their coaching plan should be guided by you, the manager. Your input and feedback is about making it clear they need to improve their listening skills and meeting facilitation.

The direct report and manager together should then build the elements of this coaching plan.

It could be:

  • Working with someone who’s excellent at what this person lacks
  • Reading a book.
  • Attending a great HR training course.
  • Watching a webinar.
  • Going to a conference.
  • Being invited to a meeting to expose them to leadership discussions.

List out the resources, set a date, work through it with your direct report.

I suggest that every fourth one to one (and you are doing them weekly right?) should be about performance.

Every single person in your team should have a coaching plan.

It should be tailored to them. Their weaknesses, their strengths, their career ambitions, their seasons of life, but most importantly – what the business needs them to do.

I see lots of people attending training in areas unrelated to their work, unrelated to their weaknesses or strengths, and unrelated to what the business needs them to do.

Sure, there is value in offering a wide array of training and people studying things that might pique their interest. But let’s balance that with what the business needs from them.

  • What behaviours do they need to improve?
  • What obstacles are facing the business?
  • What change do people need to embrace?

A good manager will ensure every single person has a coaching plan. It will be tailored and specific to everyone.

All training efforts should be guided by the coaching plan. And this is exactly why generic, off the shelf training designed for the masses rarely shifts behaviours. How can it? We all require something different. Effective training is tailored to the needs of the employee. Sure, generic training may be a good first step – but it needs building on to make it work.

Idea 3 – Only pull training from HR that solves your problems

This ones hard for any single manager in a business to fix. It’s why I spend so much of my time working with HR teams and managers to bridge the gaps.

HR Learning teams are full of talented, passionate trainers who are very good at what they do. The problem is they are often lead by well intentioned, but ill-informed leaders who want to “Train Our People”.

That “train our people” mantra needs measuring..of course. And the easiest and quickest way to measure training is to simply measure how many people in the organisation attend a training event, or watch a video, or sit a course.

This is fine, but it’s not measuring whether the training is effective.

Effective training is about shifting behaviours – and I’ve yet to meet a learning team who are measuring behaviours without the input and guidance of the managers who are pulling on the training.

Please let me know if you do – I’d be keen to visit and see what you’re doing.

Instead, they measure annual performance reviews, which are flawed and usually wrong. Or they measure the number of people sitting courses. Or they organise 360 degree reviews, which, let’s face it – are usually biased and more of a popularity contest than a useful guide for improvement.

The only way to shift this thinking, is to shift the leaders away from measuring the number of people attending training, towards the quality and effectiveness of courses requested by good managers.

The best people to ascertain the training an individual needs is the manager AND the individual. The best people to deliver and organise the company’s budgets and buying power is the learning team – who are great at doing this.

The best people to assess whether behaviours are shifting off the back of training is the manager AND the individual. When the manager, HR and individual work together you see some exceptional training; and shifting of behaviours.

HR often step-in to own training and learning because managers aren’t doing their jobs properly. But how can a learning team, removed from the work, with lots of people to train, truly understand each individual need? They can’t. So they make it generic and scalable. And generic training rarely shifts behaviours.

I love a good training team, but the leadership really need to stop playing the numbers game and start letting training teams actually train people.

Idea 4 – Work with HR

As a manager, work closely with HR, understand their demands and goals and have tough conversations around the quality and effectiveness of training. In my experience, the trainers would love nothing more than to build the right training, they often just work under leaders who just want numbers.

Measuring behaviour change is hard if you’re removed from the work and people’s needs – and HR are further away than managers.

It’s why I believe training should be guided by managers – and supported through HR initiatives such as training.

Be the manager that challenges the quality of courses and the effectiveness. It’s your people’s time and energy that is being consumed sitting courses and training that is not solving their’s, or your, challenges.

Be the manager who builds amazing relationships with HR and gets to understand what drives them. Be the manager who challenges executives over their need for snapshot numbers of attendance.

Be the manager who provides the right training for your people, not just any training. Use HR initiatives, but ensure they hit the mark.

The best way to do this is to work WITH HR, build the training together, study it and improve it, and build a positive relationships around it.

Intentions are always good – start with that view – and work with it, not against it. But don’t let the achievement of numbers and targets stop you from doing the right thing. Find a way, carefully.

Idea 5 – Information acquisition is not enough

Most training is about information acquisition.

Some training may have activities to practice what is being taught – this is better than information sharing alone.

However, it’s a far step from practicing what is being taught around the very work that people do day-to-day. In the meetings, in the one to ones, in the strategy sessions, in the code, in the daily pressure environment. Not just the classroom.

Never accept “training” that doesn’t have hands-on application, experimentation and interactive activities. But also don’t assume that these activities, practiced in a staged and fake environment, will map directly in to the world of work.

True learning is about studying information and implementing it in your day to day activities.

Information Acquisition requires Task Acquisition (learning from doing) for us to truly learn something. We can then adjust our information, discard what is not useful and seek more information around areas that are still unclear.

We learn by reading or studying something (Information Acquisition), and then trying it (Task Acquisition).

  • Have you ever learned to play the guitar simply by reading a book? No.
  • Have you ever become a great manager simply by reading management books? No.
  • Have you ever become a better communicator just by reading a book? No.

Learning is about acquiring information, and then putting that information into action to obtain knowledge.

Knowledge is information in action

But, I hear you say – “it is possible to learn to play the guitar, become a great manager, be a better communicator simply by doing the task, without the information acquisition part”.

True. But imagine all of the mistakes you will make. Mistakes other people have already made – and in business some mistakes are more serious than others.

Why make mistakes when we can learn from people who have already made them?

We accelerate our learning by learning from others – and often this can come from courses, books and videos. Information.

It’s also why it’s important to implement on-the-job training – see point 1.

In fact, if you have the right people doing the right on-the-job training, then you will see less demand on external or centralised training.

Idea 6 – Managers must remain engaged

Manager must remain involved in their direct report’s training over the long-haul.

As a manager, if your people are being trained and they aren’t changing their behaviours – something is wrong – and it is on you to study, observe and see why behaviours are not changing.

You cannot change someone else’s behaviour – they have to do that on their own – but you can discuss their behaviours, performance and training outcomes with them.

Too many managers send their people on training and assume they have been trained. Not if their behaviours don’t change and that’s on you to observe and study.

Part of your job is the performance of your people and if you’re going to outsource this to training courses and webinars then good luck. You must be involved.

You must understand the impact that each piece of training or learning has had on your people. Have they improved? Do they need more? What other gaps has this training highlighted? What do they want?

We don’t manage teams, we manage individuals – and each individual needs something different. Work with the individual and re-enforce the training. Support them. Help them. Find new resources for them. Work with the people/HR team to provide better training, or more targeted training. Offer them a new mentor.

People need to feel like the job develops them – and that’s partly on you to point out needs, re-enforce training and keep working with them, for the long haul. Effective training leads to people changing their own behaviours because of it.

Bringing it all together for effective training

  1. Start by training your people on the very job they are doing, ideally through on-the-job-training.
  2. Ensure you get to know your staff and build a coaching plan with them.
  3. Choose training carefully and don’t be pushed into sending people on central learning just to hit targets – behaviour change is what’s important.
  4. Ensure all training is both Information and Task acquisition based and make sure people are able to try implementing what they are learning back in the day-to-day work.
  5. Stay engaged with your directs and ensure the training is working – if not, what could you do differently?

Until next time.



deming (n.d.). Institute Training on the Job. [online] The W. Edwards Deming Institute. Available at: https://deming.org/institute-training-on-the-job/.