July 29, 2011
There is plenty written about staff retention which tells us that financial incentives alone do not prevent people leaving. High up there on the list of retention factors is purposeful professional development which not only adds to people’s skills sets, both hard AND soft, but also assists people to feel that their work is meaningful and part of something bigger. I would add that people want to feel engaged in a job which affords them the opportunity to grow as a human being, not just to learn some things they can add to their work-based skill set.
It is also well known that the costs of losing people who aren’t quite right can be high, in terms of recruiting replacements, loss of ‘company memory’ and lost production time while getting the new people up to speed. In other words, it is important to develop what you’ve got.
The distaste for the term notwithstanding, it is the so-called ‘soft skills’ of your people which will assist them to put their technical skills into good practice. Poorly developed ‘social smarts’ can get in the way of high performance at work. There was even a survey in 2009 that showed that 85% of high-performing companies identified the soft skills that were essential to improved performance. What I am talking about are such things as empathy, ability to see a bigger picture, conflict resolution, genuine team playing and self-awareness. What’s more, the further up the ‘food chain’ someone is, the more the lack of these soft skills is felt by the business, hence the need to provide opportunities for staff to grow themselves. Once identified, how do you develop such skills?
There are lots of good professional development seminars or presentations providing essential ‘content’ orientated towards ‘soft skills’. This is the ‘what’. You learn about competencies (or soft skills, or whatever term you find most palatable). You learn about emotional intelligence, for example-what it is, where it comes from perhaps, maybe even the ’10 top tips’. But this is like learning about skiing from a powerpoint presentation or a book, rather than learning how to ski…you know, on the slopes?….falling down now and then?….feeling what it feels like to turn gracefully?
The training euphoria that people often experience following many training events tends to wear off rather quickly. At times, any initial behaviour or attitude shifts vanish quickly, and it seems that people are more or less back where they started. The ‘how’ to make the learning stick just hasn’t happened, which leads to the high level of cynicism about ‘soft skills’ training. According to Goleman et al (1998), “In order to reprogram neural circuits connecting the amygdala and neocortex, people need to actually engage in the desired pattern of thought, feeling, and action. A lecture is fine for increasing understanding of emotional intelligence, but experiential methods usually are necessary for real behaviour change.”
The secret is in how you deliver the learning. Goleman’s exhortation to use experiential methods applies here. Use of action methods, such as concretisation, sociodrama and role training is proving to be highly efficient and effective in producing real, lasting and immediate shifts in workplace attitude and behaviour. Such methods engage the whole person in learning: their thinking, their feeling and their behaving. Such methods also facilitate the integration of new learning into the being of the person. Also inherent in such methods, when carried out sensitively, is a dove-tailing of the learning with the person’s own value system. Result: people being authentic and true to themselves while exhibiting behaviours and attitudes which are in line with wider organisational needs.
In the current climate, when businesses are becoming increasingly more careful of how they spend their L&D budgets, it is vital that any investments are well targeted and get best results. This means businesses need to look at both what is getting taught, as well as how this is done with real and lasting impact on people’s performance.
November 9, 2010
>I’ve been party to many conversations about behaviour and attitude change in the workplace. This is because I’m in a line of work which not only advocates for it, but sets out to catalyse it. There are a couple very important questions that deserve some consideration, however, and they are: Is behaviour change necessarily a good thing and who determines what that change should be?
I can instantly think of cases where behaviour and attitude change is absolutely necessary and where the person in question would be given little choice about the changes to be made, for example, cases of workplace bullying or discrimination. Human social groups always have and always will expect a standard of behaviour that they enforce. This is not to say the person at the receiving end of any intervention will necessarily change, but in cases I’ve dealt with, they are left in no doubt that neither their attitude nor their behaviour is acceptable and that change is conditional to remaining part of that workplace.
However, in the area of professional development, it requires an act of will on the part if the person to change. It is arrogant for anyone, be that the CEO, the HR Manager, the project manager or the consultant, to assume that you can make someone change just because you want them to, or you re-write the company manuals or you change systems and processes. People are not weak-willed and do not take kindly to being treated like puppets. People also want to be the chief agents in their own lives, both at home and at work.
If a change is called for, what is required is a good, solid ‘warm up’. This means you make a good case for change, field people’s questions and anxieties, treat them with respect and allow them to engage their will. Shifts in workplace culture, enhancements to systems and processes or the successful introduction of innovative ways of working will only really embed when people have taken these things into their hearts and minds. We can, of course, enforce these kinds of changes and just tell them what to do, however what we get are compliant behaviours with low levels of real engagement, workplace dissatisfaction and disharmony and the lower productivity that ensues (until they leave, that is).
So applying ‘warm up’ when seeking a change at work will create the fertile conditions for people to learn and change. Sometimes, that is only the first step and there is further work to be done. We have all been in situations where we really wanted to do something, we were excited about doing something new, we knew what we had to do…..but we just didn’t know how. When our internal wiring stops us from enacting a change we actually want, the use of human technologies which aid people to ‘re-wire’ themselves can be invaluable. Technologies such as role training or sociodrama can assist us, with our will fully engaged, to become the person we want to be.