Entraining Part 2: Quick Wins

Last week, I wrote about the great corporate training myth — the misguided belief that you can get people to change their behaviors as a result of a one-day (if that!) “training” session:

What we do need are practical approaches that entrain new skills and new behaviors in people so they actually stick — and make a difference. Entraining is a process of skill development, attitude change, and cultural evolution.

In my field — creativity and innovation —entraining productive new skills and behaviors requires five things. I’m going to talk about each of them over the next several posts.

Hooray!This entry is about the second requisite for entraining: quick wins.

By quick wins, I mean opportunities for people to test their developing skills in low-risk, rapid-reward situations where they can see how their new learnings can benefit them, where they can fail without pain, and where success delivers the clear message, “Yes, I can do this!”

Contrast this with the more usual way we try to deploy new learnings. Here’s a typical example of the kind of “just in time” learning strategy used by most organizations:

A new change initiative is mandated. “We need to work faster and smarter,” says management. Training programs are designed to deliver new skills across the organization. On completing their training, employees are thrown into the deep end to implement the change. The pressure to succeed is high. So are the consequences of failure. When the going gets tough (as it always does), instead of practicing their new skills, people fall back on the behviors they’re already fluent in, and which worked in the past. Wouldn’t you? On balance the change program is less effective than expected, and people gravitate to doing things pretty much they way they’ve always done them.

Is anyone really surprised by this?

Try this thought experiment: A colleague has just shown you a more efficient keystroke combination to accomplish a particular task in your spread sheet, word processing or presentation program. Because it’s unfamiliar, you need to actively think in order not to default to your old approach. Now imagine you are working on a deadline. You’re under the gun. You’ve got to finish within the next 45 minutes.

What will you do? Use the new, arguably better, method you’re not yet comfortable with? Or the tried-and-true method, the one you’re used to, which may not be as efficient, but which you know will get the job done? The answer is obvious. You’ll revert to your old behavior, reinforcing it even more.

What you need is a low-risk opportunity to use the new behavior in a way that allows you to feel good about what you’ve learned. You need to practice it on quick-win, rewarding tasks until the behaviour becomes a true skill, and replaces the exisitng habit.

Well-designed entraining programs recognize this. They first demonstrate the value of the new skills. Then they map out a framework for practicing and integrating them. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the major thrust of such programs isn’t to teach skills, but rather to help people learn how to learn them. They encourage experimenting on quick-win opportunities, so new skills can be used and reinforced early and often.

The quick-wins approach is one of the surest ways to entrain new behaviors. After a few quick wins, people discover they actually want to use their developing skills. And the more they use them, the better they get.

Next week, the third entraining requirement: language.

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