iStock_000015022036_SmallFour months ago, I attended a phenomenal training. It was entertaining and I learned several new and powerful ways of doing my daily work. In my feedback, I gave the program top ratings. And then … nothing. I fell right back into my old way of doing things.

If my story sounds familiar, it’s because changing behavior is hard. The training industry focuses on the gap between what is taught and what is recalled. But that’s hardly the issue. There is an enormous gap between what we learn—what we know—and what we do. We all know what to do to get in better shape—eat better and exercise more. So why is 35% of the United States obese?

Reviewing the literature of behavior change, it’s easy to see why this gap persists. Many training programs are designed to hold our attention, so they entertain with stories and exercises. But in doing so, clarity is often lost. And behavior doesn’t change unless someone knows exactly what he or she is supposed to do and when to do it. A second issue is focus. We tell our business leaders to focus on a few things and do them well, yet we train people on dozens of concepts at once and expect them to get them all. It doesn’t work. A third problem lies in support. It is incredibly difficult to build new habits on your own. With support it’s easier. Our own work shows that people are 3.5 times more likely to build habits when their manager is supporting them than when they are on their own. But few organizations consistently close the loop after each training session to ensure that behavior change sticks.

As organizations shift their focus from learning to behavior, we expect to see many changes to L&D programs. Content will be modularized with bite-sized learnings that individuals master one at a time, in Khan Academy style. Tools to support habit building and structures that enable practice and role-plays will become commonplace. And coaching paradigms will evolve with the manager doing less telling and more supporting. Social learning will create peer pressure to raise your game.

How would focusing on behaviors will change your learning and development or training programs?

Topics: Dan Frey, sales training, habit building