Gentle Bamboo Solutions

Have you thought of everything else?


[This week's emails are contributed by Rakshith, and he ponders about a serious topic in a lot of detail: How to develop a Learning Organization?]

Yesterday I outlined 3 steps to develop a culture of continuous learning in an organization and elaborated on the first step. Today we explore Step 2: Design learning into the workflow

One of the first training programs I designed was for the call center of a U.S. recruitment services company. The job of a recruitment representative in this call center was pretty demanding. Not only did you deal with grumpy people all day, but you also had to review prospects’ information from several different dashboards. The reps had to constantly flip back and forth between different dashboards and there was no centralized database.

As you can imagine, it took a while to get really good at this. We figured that, despite our best training efforts, it took about 6 months before a rep was really comfortable navigating all the dashboards and answering most prospects’ questions. It was also an entry-level position, and reps could often transfer out to other, better-paid, positions in the company or leave the company pretty fast.

So it worked kind of like this: By the time a rep came up to speed (about 6 months) they were also most likely to move out of the team.

While there were definitely many things we could do to improve the training experience, that wasn’t really the problem. There were several exceptions to recruitment rules in different U.S. states, and many instances where reps had to learn and remember long procedures to get the right information to answer the prospect’s question. The environment was difficult and the fact that reps got better at their job was a testament to their hard work and determination. The real gaps weren’t knowledge, or skills, or motivation. The real gaps were in the environment. That’s what we needed to fix.

While I never solved the problem for that particular client, I learned a very important lesson about the culture of continuous learning. The proximity of the knowledge imparted in the training to the task the learner is expected to perform or behaviour they are expected to showcase matters. The closer you can get the knowledge to the place the user is going to use it, the more likely they’ll actually do so.

One of the best examples I have come across of this was documented in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article titled, ‘How One Company Got Employees to Speak Up and Ask for Help’. The approach followed here elevates training by designing for performance support after training.

Let me make a point clear. I am neither saying that every business problem can be solved with training, nor am I saying every training should be followed up by performance support. I am saying though, that when we design training programs to solve business problems, we must ask ourselves – What’s everything else we could do (besides training) that will allow learners to succeed?

How can you do this?

At Gentle Bamboo Solutions, we have employed checklists, job aids, and reminder cards. Where possible, we’ve worked with management to support training with coaching, one-to-one mentoring, and a buddy system. We’ve also experimented with a collectible card game, points, badges, leaderboards, and a rudimentary reward system. Learners and the L&D department have generally been very appreciative of these efforts. In one case, the recommendations we made were adopted by the management and instituted a revised Performance Development Program in the company. We are now building a gamified app to track learning and provide immediate performance support to trainees.

Why go so far? Why does this work?

Behaviour does not change with just motivation and/or ability. Behaviour change requires a trigger. The aids we’ve discussed here can be that trigger. Most training also fails because if people fail the first time they try something new, they are more likely to revert to old habits. Early success is essential to maintain motivation and effort. Performance support ensures that trainees are not left alone when they are most vulnerable.

Asking ‘what else’,