On his quest to find the best way to reinforce organizational learning, Anthonie Wurth identified seven principles for achieving this. The first two had to do with closing the various gaps between the actual situation and the desired one and with mastering the steps towards lasting behavioral change.
The following five principles refer to what the organization should do to ensure employees not only learn but get to apply that knowledge in the workplace for better results.
Provide a good balance of push and pull
The concept is borrowed from the gym and refers to a prolonged practice for building muscle strength. Any new skill has to be exercised in order for it to become habit. Reinforcement means a lot more than re-training so apart from having follow-up sessions when it is deemed necessary it’s important to make sure that the employee has the chance to try out the newly acquired knowledge and have the possibility to clarify issues or find out more. Providing an online platform for this purpose will give people the confidence that they are really supported in their self-development journey. At the same time, this type of „learning on demand” will have a minimal impact on daily responsibilities as everyone can access it when they have the time to do so.
Create friction and direction
Lasting learning occurs when there is some discomfort – any step outside of the comfort zone stings at least a little bit. The brain needs to be challenged in order to work so when designing reinforcement programs, L&D specialists should strive to avoid making them boring or predictable. It’s better to give direction and be ready to offer support if it is asked for rather than micro manage every step of the learning process. Instead of giving out extensive reading material, it’s more advisable to provide opportunities for learners to apply the new information whether this happens on actual projects or pre-determined scenarios or simulations. The key is to generate a certain necessity for the newly acquired skills or competencies to be manifested. If this is to occur in a social context it’s even better.
Follow a perfect reinforcement flow
Challenges are great but they need to be alternated with reward and celebration. Retention, engagement and adoption rates grow when there is a high degree of satisfaction. Failing to reach it will lead to employees underperforming and eventually leaving the organization – by their own choice or not. The company ends up losing money either way since training costs to begin with. It’s a lot better to keep and develop already existing employees than it is to constantly start over with new hires. The reinforcement flow needs to be a lot more than a simple reminder service – it has to challenge and reward. It’s a good place to use gamification techniques in order to motivate and engage the younger demographic. It’s also advisable to constantly update the program to make sure it does not become obsolete or redundant.
Create measurable behavior change
This will obviously require that the reinforcement objectives are set from the very beginning. They are different than learning objectives as the point of them is to tweak the metrics for behavioral change. These should be set by starting with the fourth level of the Kirkpatrick model – the impact that should be observable at the end of the learning and reinforcement process. It is best if the organization’s LMS can provide enough intelligence and analytics to put everything into numbers and percentages. Reinforcement is not a measurement in itself but a complex solution for effectively driving behavior after a learning intervention. This is achieved through a variety of methods that include one on one coaching sessions, team projects and surveys that are set up with the purpose of contextualizing the learned material.
Place the participant central
It’s very easy to think that training is about the information, the skill or the competency it is meant to pass or develop. Yet learning needs to be first and foremost about the participant so building the entire program around him is the only way for it to be successful. Both the actual training and the reinforcement that follows should focus on addressing all the various learning styles and preferences. Centering learning around the individual will maximize engagement during the training interventions and drive actionable results for the very coveted long-term behavior change. It’s crucial that every message that a learner receives has some value for him. We live in an age where everything is personalized and people have high expectations in this respect. L&D specialists need now more than ever to know their audience and adapt to it.
All in all
The only way organizations can thrive is to hire the right people and invest in their development. Learning is continuous and implementing the correct reinforcement plan can only lead to efficiency and improved results.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.