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Working out, brushing your teeth, eating healthy, nail biting, and procrastinating. What do all these things have in common? They are habits. Some are healthy habits, and some are not. Habits can be natural or learned. Some people can build and break habits quickly while others may take a lot of time and effort to create new habits or break bad habits.
What is a habit? According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a habit is:
1. a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior.
2. a: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.
b: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repletion or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.
Recently, as a part of my personal development, I embarked on a journey to create healthier habits and to break some of my unhealthy habits. During my research to find ways to begin this journey, I started thinking about the relationship between training and habits. As trainers, we want our learners to use the skills we are teaching in our courses back on the job and, ultimately, have those skills become a natural habit day in and day out without much thought.
Before joining the Langevin team, I worked for a residential management company. As a company, we decided to change our corporate culture and our approach to customer service for both internal and external customers. This was a huge change but, over time, the skills we taught became unconscious habits that our employees used on a regular basis. So much so that these habits began to overlap into their personal lives. So, what was the trick? How did we make these skills become habits?
Reason, Relevance, Repetition, and Rewards
Before the Course
Have the manager set up a meeting with their employees to discuss the following items.
Identify the reason for training by asking these questions:
- Why is this skill/behavior important to me as an employee and the company? (reason)
- How is this skill/behavior relevant to my job? (relevance)
- How will the new skill/behavior help me to do my job better? (reward)
Identify what support will look like during and after training:
- Will your normal work duties be covered during the training so that you can focus on the new skills being taught?
- Will you have a mentor or coach post course to work with?
During the Course
Complete the presentation, application, and feedback (PAF) loop.
Present the new skill/behavior in small, bite size chunks (keep in mind the memory rule of 7). In the training industry, this is known as a task analysis and is part of the design process. For example, if you are delivering “conduct a sales call” training, you’d want to chunk the content into smaller sub-tasks like this:
- Greet customer (complete PAF loop)
- Identify customer needs (PAF)
- Upsell product (PAF)
- Close sale (PAF)
- End call (PAF)
Allow plenty of time for application/practice and feedback for each sub-task. How much time? 1/3 of the time should be spent on presentation and 2/3 should be spent on application and feedback. As a last step, have the learners complete the entire “conduct a sales call” task as one final application/feedback phase. Remember repetition is key in building habits!
End the course with an activity to help aid in the transfer of training. For example:
- Action Plan – Have the participants develop an action plan that details how they’ll use what they learned when they return to their jobs.
- Partner Planning – Have participants pair up to create a plan to support each other to ensure they’re implementing their ideas for how to continue using what they’ve learned.
- Letter to Manager – Ask the participants to write a letter to their manager telling them what they learned and how they’d like to implement what they learned. (The letters don’t have to be sent to the managers. They are used as an outline for the learner to use during a debrief discussion post course with their manager.)
After the Course
Incorporate additional practice and include motivation/incentives:
- Partner with the learner’s manager to ensure they are afforded plenty of opportunities to practice the new skill/behavior. Have the manager/supervisor observe performance using a performance checklist. (repetition)
- Implement motivation/incentive programs for completing the new skill/behavior. (reward)
- Create SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) with your manager for the new skills learned to help manage feeling overwhelmed.
While these are just a few quick tips to help learners take skills learned in training and turn them into habits, there are many other techniques that can be applied before, during, and after the course. Again, our desired goal is for the skill taught in the course to be turned into a habit on the job.
Check out this handy eBook for a set of comprehensive tools and techniques to ensure that training really “sticks” back on the job, long after a course is completed.