Making training effective: closing the habit gap

Training has a success rate of 1%

This means that of the total potential value (TPV) that could be added to the organisation if all the skills and knowledge of the training course were implemented consistently and to a high standard, only 1% is realised.

In other words: rV (realised value) is equal to 1% of TPV (total possible value).

OK, I just made that up.

Not just the numbers, I also made up the concept of rV and TPV.

None of it came from any form of evaluation or research, I just pulled it out the air – but they sound true, and that’s good enough for me to construct the following argument.

There are three internal factors that get in the way of learning leading to improved performance. For the first two, I borrow from Blanchard and Hersey model of “Situational Leadership”, the other is from observation and from Peter Senge’s rubber-band analogy about habitual behaviour.

  • Motivation (do they want to do it)
  • Confidence (do they feel they are able to do it)
  • Habit (do they default to other behaviours – do they remember to do it)

There are also three external factors, but I’m not including those here for fear of this post turning into a tome – but for completeness they are culture, management, and opportunity.

Training is concerned primarily with closing knowledge gaps, and to an extent addressing skills gaps – at least giving the learner a start on closing the skills gap.

Training can influence the motivation gap, and by encouraging action planning, coaching and practice, it can begin to tackle the confidence and even habit gap, but it’s that pesky habit gap that’s the big stumbling block.

(See here for a great podcast on action planning and other learning implementation strategies)

The Habit Gap

A habit is the default response, it’s the six-lane neurological pathway that cuts through our brain, it’s the road you travel on autopilot because you don’t notice the poorly-maintained rabbit paths snaking off to the side, paths that could lead anywhere.

Peter Senge illustrated this with an analogy of being held in place by a series of large rubber bands, pulling you in different directions. The place you end up is where the tension in each is equal. Try to move, and for every band that’s pulling you forward, there are more pulling you back, trying to get you back into comfortable equilibrium.

That’s why it’s called the comfort zone: it comfortable!

Senge’s analogy is useful. Having awareness of the different pressures pulling at you is a necessary prerequisite for overcoming them.

Awareness comes first.

Maybe you do notice those alternative rabbit path options, maybe you do think about tugging at the rubber bands holding you in place, but at the end of the day you just don’t want it enough (the motivation gap).

Maybe you do, but you don’t have the courage to try, or you don’t think you’ll succeed, it’s just not you (the confidence gap).

Maybe you do have the confidence and the motivation, but you default to your habitual behaviours through everyday pressure and a lack of mindfulness in our behavioural choices. This happens to us all. Over time we forget the lessons from the training course and all those lovely plans and ambitions we once had start to drift away, the rubber bands gently, unnoticeably, teasing us back into our comfy old grooves.

So how do we escape this?


Getting to the point of this post

The other day I developed the Three Ps Model© to articulate how to overcome these barriers (mainly the habit gap).

Bear in mind I made this up on the spot – it’s entirely improvised (I had just recorded this podcast on the role of improvisation in the training room and was inspired).

P: preparation – when attempting to build a new habit you need to make it conscious practice. Time spent preparing to use the new skills is vital, and also helps to bridge the confidence gap. Winging it can work sometimes, but preparation tends to have a better success rate

For example, if you want to get better at speaking up in meetings, it helps if you read the previous minutes, read any other papers associated with the meeting content, think of some things you might want to say, think through how you might make a point in a confident way.

The second P is for practice – it’s about building new habits, and so you have to keep doing it. Only through practice can you get better, and the repetition means it starts to become a behaviour you naturally have available to you, even under pressure. It’s also worth noting that new skills learnt on training courses rarely have magic properties. They don’t usually change your world with a flick of a switch. They require practice, it takes time to build quality and consistency with new behaviours, and setting expectations about the need to practise helps learners deal with the inevitable loss of motivation when they bump up against this reality (Blanchard and Hersey’s “D2”)

P – the last P stands for shut up and get on with it – sometimes you just have to stop messing about and just do it and see what happens – just get over yourself, stop procrastinating, and just do it!

I’m well aware that the third one doesn’t begin with P, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

When I first invented this model, I hoped I’d think of something beginning with P before I finished explaining it.

I didn’t, so just had to go with shut up and get on with it.

Surprisingly this didn’t make the model more cumbersome, it actually made it more memorable.

However, during discussion with the group, I accidentally crowbarrified a P in there when I was telling a story to illustrate the point.

The third, rather tenuous, P is “Pool”.

Let me explain.

Sometimes there’s no point in sitting there thinking about something when you’re going to do it anyway and thinking about it doesn’t make a jot of difference.

There are cases where thinking is good, I’m talking about when thinking is an excuse, I’m talking about those times when you might as well just stop messing about and get on with it.

Like jumping in the pool.

The swimming pool at my house in the summer months is still pretty cold and you have to be a brave soldier to get in.

If you have decided to get in the pool (no motivation gap), you know you can swim and you can see other bathers enjoying it (no confidence gap), you have two choices: little toe first, half an hour later the second toe, by nightfall you might be up to your ankle … or you just jump in the pool.

These sorts of behavioural habity things are like that.

Sometimes you’ve just got to crack on and jump in the pool.


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