Imagine a team member, Jude, who is chronically late. After countless warnings and growing team frustration, he is sent to time management training. When he returns, he says he is committed to putting what he learned into practice. Whether you’re his manager or a learning professional, how can you make sure this behavior change happens?
Classroom training is still the dominant channel for learning and development, but to truly achieve behavior change, formal training is only half the battle. The real war is fought back at the desk, in daily routines, and in day-to-day conversations with colleagues and customers. To help with these challenges, here are three simple hacks to drive lasting behavior change in your organization — whether you are in charge of post-training outcomes, are designing learning experiences or want to help team members sustain their learning.
The foundation of these hacks is the COM-B framework of behavior change. Inspired by how the U.S. criminal justice system proves someone guilty of a crime (means, motive and opportunity), COM-B suggests that to change behavior (B) we need to address capability, opportunity and motivation (COM).
1. Just-in-time Action Planning
Why do people use journals and diaries? They keep our deepest darkest secrets, sure. They also bring focus to our world and help us visualize what’s to come. Essentially, they help our brain prepare for situations we might face in the future. In terms of the COM-B framework, they fuel behavior change by building capability as an effective action planning tool. Mentally focusing on when and how we will use our new skills helps the learning stick.
As soon as people return from training, try encouraging them to plan when and how they will use their new skills. Classic use of journals, diaries and planners work well, but digital methods, like notes on a smartphone, self-recorded voice messages and email reminders, can help learners plan on the go.
To make it even more targeted, suggest using “if-then statements” for specific situations. In the case of tardy Jude, they might be, “If I think I might be late to a meeting, then I will…” or, “If I’m regularly having dial-in issues before a conference call, then I will…”
2. Use the Buddy System
Employees don’t have to continue their learning journey alone. Why not suggest that a partner go along for the ride? In fact, research shows that giving employees a “buddy” to practice their skills with is a valuable way to ignite lasting behavior change. Buddying employees with one another drives behavior change through opportunity, as it gives each employee someone else to look out for chances to practice and improve. In addition, a partner increases accountability and social pressure to change, resulting in employees’ seeking out more opportunities to do so.
Pair employees who have the same development needs to maximize their opportunity to change. This approach would mean pairing up Jude with another time optimist who is actively working on his or her punctuality.
3. Speak to Their Pain
People only change when they feel it’s in their best interest to do so. As employees return to work, it’s critical to continue addressing the “what’s in it for me?” by speaking about their newly minted skills in the context of their pain points and what they care about. For example, if an employee cares about performance, you might say, “This skill will help or hurt your performance rating.” Maybe an employee is more concerned with living a balanced life outside of work; in this case, saying, “This skill will enable you to go home and see your family earlier” would suffice. This behavior change technique works by capitalizing on motivation. If you’re able to show how the desired behavior solves a problem the employee has, he or she will feel more motivation to change.
If you’re finding that Jude is still finding it hard to put what he learned into practice, consider deploying this hack: First, ask curious questions like, “What do you care about most?” or, “What is your greatest challenge right now?” Then, position punctuality as the solution to satisfy his needs or cure what ails him.
There you have it: three simple hacks for lasting behavior change. Keep in mind that they are simply suggestions. Feel free to mix and match, use them to spark other ideas, and use what works for you.