If it’s not bust don’t fix it!
For decades, if an organisation wanted to develop its people as leaders, team players or as top performers; or for people to become more motivated, or have the ability to handle change, to improve communication, it simply left it to the professionals; those trainers, and Learning and Development (L & D) specialist who would put together a ‘package’ aimed at providing knowledge learning. It is the way things are done.
It works so why change it? Some specialists are in-house whilst there are a myriad of individuals or small organisations and professional bodies with the promise of success or increased performance or a more dynamic team. In addition, universities and colleges also provide management development training in various guises. It sounds so simple.
Years of experience in delivering training cannot be wrong – or can it?
Now this is where is gets interesting.
Two key questions relating to people development that many providers struggle to answer are,
- “Does it work?” and
- “Where is the evidence?”
If you ask an L & D professional the answer is invariably
“Yes it works. You just have to look at the reams of feedback forms.”
This is an understandable and not unreasonable response because if your intention is to provide people with the knowledge that they need to become better leaders or to increase personal effectiveness then as a professional, you set about to ensure that it is provided in the most suitable format. You absolutely believe it works. You probably tested participant reaction to the event in the form of what is often referred to as a ‘happy sheet’ so that you can discover if the event met their expectation. You may also have checked on the learning by asking questions, or with a knowledge and understanding test. The results invariably show that people did enjoy the event and learnt from it so as a professional you have done your job. The longer the course the more learning can be tested. Who can dispute that?
Unfortunately, doing this you will have made a fundamental mistake. All you have done is test participants reaction and the learning. Providing people with knowledge that they may need to become better in their role does not mean it delivers results for the organisation – unless the programmes intention is just to provide knowledge. Where’s the performance improvement? Who has measured or even noticed that?
Putting it in context
In 1959 Donald Kirkpatrick published what has become known as the Kirkpatrick model: the principles for the evaluation of training. They are:
- Level 1 – Reaction
To what degree participants react favourably to the training
- Level 2 – Learning
To what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitudes, confidence and commitment based on their participation in a training event
- Level 3 – Behaviour
To what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job
- Level 4 – Results
To what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement
What transpired from this model is the assumption made by the learning and development community, is that level 1 (reaction) led to level 2 (learning – new knowledge), which in turn led to level 3 (behavioural change) which ultimately led to level 4 (results in the work environment). This thought process, this belief, assumed each succeeding level is more informative and connected to its predecessors. Therefore, knowledge provided causes learning which can be tested. Learning causes changes in attitudes and behaviours, which results in the learner applying new knowledge in the workplace. The outcome for example, being improved performance, communication, time management, customer service, leadership… or just being better.
Unfortunately, and largely ignored by a majority of learning professionals is the proven gap between the act or process of consuming learning in the form of knowledge, and the performance of observable behavioural change.
It is important to understand what type of learning we are referring too. Technical training has a high level of transfer back into the workplace subject to the individual being given the opportunity to use it within a working context. However, it is in the area described as “soft” skills including topics such as team working, leadership, engagement, change, performance management and stress is where the real problem lies.
There are several key sources documenting the poor transfer of soft skills knowledge into behavioural change and tangible results. They include:
• Alliger & Janak (1986) – who found a poor correlation between the four levels of Kirkpatrick. One level is not linked to the next and each is a separate entity.
• Detterman & Steinberg (1993) – in their review of transferable training they found 86% of people fail to action training.
• Pfeffer & Sutton (2000) – researched and described the Knowing–Doing Gap
• Bramley (2003) – comment on the supporting evidence for any transfer of learning into behavioural change being no better than due to random chance.
• Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick (2005) – acknowledged the need to examine the reasons for the “devastating disconnect between learning and behaviour”.
• Pfeffer & Sutton (2013) – reiterated the enigma and continued existence of the Knowing-Doing training gap.
With Donald Kirkpatrick himself highlighting this major problem it is surprising that the Learning & Development profession have largely chosen to ignore it?
The staggering failure of knowledge-based training to tackle real issues in the work place persists, resulting in large expensive investments in training having a minimal impact on changing behaviours and delivering tangible results. It has left organisations with many major problems that knowledge-inputs purport to address yet fails. Trainers are still trying to solve the same problems in the same way they have for decades. At this point, Einstein’s definition of insanity as the application of old solutions to problems in the hope that something different will happen springs to mind. This intransigence in terms of method probably explains the longevity of the same old problems in organisations, especially engagement and poor communication and leadership.
Learning & Development professionals need to acknowledge the reality that the traditional knowledge approach to change attitudes and behaviours has failed, and will not work.
This ‘gap’ costs economies across the world billions of dollars yet is rarely challenged. It is so embedded in our psyche that whenever a people-development need is identified, learning & development professionals are inevitably tasked with providing a knowledge-based solution to the topic that may include leadership, change, engagement or underperformance inputs. What rarely happens is a challenge to the provider when the programme does not deliver as promised. What you tend to get instead are the results from a ‘happy-sheet’ and the key learning from the event itself, and not its application.
How many learning & development professionals monitor attitude, behavioural change and tangible results?
How many know what to look for, and how to do it?
Many will tell you that it cannot be done – however they are wrong. We have designed a scientifically sound questionnaire that has been tested for validity and reliability that measures attitudes and behaviours and can be used to measure shifts in behaviours linked to desired business outcomes. This is want employers want and not just a knowledgeable workforce. You can also measure results if you know what you are doing or looking for.
Changing the Paradigm Shift
To close the knowing-doing gap a paradigm shift is required. The solution is simple; split the knowledge–doing continuum into two halves; then start at a different place.
- If the need is knowledge then seek that from the appropriate development professional.
- If attitudes and behaviours need to change to deliver the business imperative, then you need a different kind of professional.
And this is why a paradigm shift is required. The Knowledge – Learning approach is an ‘outside-in’ approach during which learning professionals use a number of relevant theories and models or provide experiences as the basis of learning. What makes it worse is that many of the theories or models are not useable in the real world, however interesting they may be, or have become obsolete whilst others have been misinterpreted.
The key for any professional is to ensure that any knowledge input is relevant and useable in the workplace. If the knowledge is interesting but not useable the provider is wasting time, effort and money.
If knowledge is relevant and required then the outcome of that knowledge should be learning. The problem remains however, that even if the learner ‘knows’ the relevant knowledge, in a majority of cases they do not apply it because their attitude has not changed. People justify this by making excuses such as “We are too busy.” Or “There is no money.” Or “We lack resources.”
The New Start Place
If behaviours need to change, then the real start-point is to begin with attitudes and behaviours and not the acquisition of knowledge learning.
Generating a willingness in people to change their attitudes and behaviours requires a completely different approach. It requires an ‘inside-out’ approach. Through new insights, real experiences and practical tools, participants’ self-awareness is raised so that they intuitively self-assess how they behave in different situations and the impact that has on performance, productivity and the end consumer.
To help people understand whether they consistently operate from a negative or positive bias, we use our Mind Fit Map® which provides a simple and intuitively understandable construct of where they consistently operate from namely, ‘Can’t Do, ‘Won’t Do’ or ‘Can do’ states. This enables participants to make their own choices leading to stopping or reducing old behaviours that waste time, effort and money and start new and focused activities that lead to improved performance and productivity for the benefit of the organisation, and its stakeholders.
By tackling attitudes and behaviours first, people often identify when they need knowledge that is relevant to them at a specific time and situation. So knowledge follows behavioural change.
A simple example of the behaviour first approach happens when we buy a new phone such as an IPhone or Android. We do not go on a workshop to learn about the new phone, its development history or technology. We switch it on and use it. We play with it, make mistakes and sometimes get stuck. At that point in time we go to the help menu for the relevant information and move on. We grow our capability to use the phone by using it.
The same can apply to leadership, change programmes, team working and so on. By doing leadership first for example, with a ‘Can Do’ mind-state, will lead to you being a better leader quicker with a willingness to improve performance to deliver the desired outcome. Of course, you will make mistakes on the way however, that is how you grow. Getting to the ‘Can-Do’ mindset should be the priority.
What about our Learning and Development professionals?
Unless traditional professionals and trainers acknowledge the Knowing–Doing gap and abandon their futile dependence upon knowledge input as the solution, organisations will continue to waste time, effort and money on something that has little effect and remain stuck with the continuing problem of poor leadership, underperformance and disengaged people.
The reality is we are dealing with two continuums. All you need to do is identify which is relevant at a moment in time and use the appropriate professional.
• First, acknowledge and accept that the “Knowing–Doing” gap exists, is vastly expensive and counter-productive as the approach is rarely able to deliver what it promises. The published evidence is out there.
• There is virtually no link between learning knowledge and behavioural change in relation to soft skills. Check it out.
• Accept that Kirkpatrick’s original four linked levels are in fact two continuums – ‘Knowledge – Learning’ and ‘Behaviours – Results’.
• Start with the end in mind – what attitude and behaviours will increase performance and grow your business?
• Create an environment that stops those attitudes and behaviours that cause Behavioural Waste™, which may be personal, cultural or systemic or a combination, and promote those behaviours that are linked to business and personal growth.
• Ensure that people have relevant and useable knowledge to perform their role. If the knowledge is interesting but not useable – don’t deliver it.