How to turn workplace learning into long-term habits

Training is ultimately about changing behavior

How to turn workplace learning into long-term habits

We've all heard the comment about how, if we train our people to excel and they leave, that’s bad – but if we don’t train them and they stay, that’s worse. Good companies invest in their people. But the best companies take training to another level – and create new, powerful, and sustainable habits. They avoid the trap of trying to achieve a quick fix.

Training is ultimately about changing behavior. Whether you're focusing on technical skills, people skills, or leadership, it's about trying to help people perform optimally in their workplace. Every skill is learnable – our brains are incredibly flexible and can form new neural pathways throughout our lives. The more we practice a skill, the better we get. And if we carry out a behavior enough times, it becomes a habit.

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Our professional lives are filled with habits – from how you manage your time to how you lead others. Workplace training is largely about shifting people from their existing habits to new behavior that, over time, will become new habits. But most learning initiatives are not designed as habit-shifting experiences – which can make them ineffective in the long run.

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When done well, a learning and development plan should be thought through and in line with the strategy and direction of the company. You need to consider what skills are required to take your organization where it wants to go. This will obviously affect recruitment – but it's also vital to develop the talent you already have. Analyze your people, considering both 'skill and will' – the right attitudes are just as vital as the right skills. Competency frameworks can be useful to set out road maps at different levels of seniority, but ensuring the motivation to learn is in place is vital.

For new habits to form, you need to work on skills and behaviors in the classroom and then allow people to practice in the real world. On-the-job practice with a colleague or mentor is essential for habit forming and it has to be done well – including highly proficient feedback.

Little and often is a good mantra for habit forming. Take small elements of training, such as listening skills, and ensure they are practiced until 'unconscious competency' is in place – when someone is really good at something without having to give it too much thought.

It takes time to form a new habit but old habits can very quickly creep back in if they’re allowed to. This is where coaching comes in – after all, even elite athletes regularly go back to their coach to hone their skills, even when they’re at the top of their game.

One final thing about nurturing new, positive and sustainable habits is that they need to be allowed to develop. This means the whole organization, from top to bottom, needs to have a learning culture where everyone is encouraged to grow and develop, and to become more skilled, more confident, and more fulfilled. When companies think like this and truly invest in their people, the rewards can be enormous.


By Gary Williams, founder and CEO of professional services business development coaching consultancy BD Coaching Hub

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