by Sam Whitney
The Arbinger Institute
Getting training to stick is by far the most pervasive problem being faced by L&D professionals today. In this post, we explore the root cause of this problem and a tool to fix it.
I want to start off by sharing a story – a story that might seem irrelevant at first. Stay with me though, as it will reveal the underlying problem with getting training to stick.
Resistance and Avoidance
I recently moved to a new apartment. In the week before the move, my wife took charge of organizing the effort and distributed the packing duties between the two of us.
But I didn’t really want to pack up and move. Work was busy; it wasn’t a good time for me. Every evening, all I wanted to do was relax.
So I avoided my share of the packing. I found reasons to stay late at work, and after coming home I’d play with my 10-month-old daughter for as long as I could. By Friday, I’d finished less than a quarter of what I needed to. We were moving on Monday.
On Sunday morning, my wife said she’d finished her share of the packing. Sure enough, her half was totally organized and neatly stacked. I felt far behind and even more reluctant to do my part. As Sunday came to a close, I found myself resenting my wife and even thinking of reasons we shouldn’t move.
A Change of Heart
Then I began thinking about what it would be like to move with someone like me – to organize an entire house with someone who was dragging their feet, rolling their eyes, and not doing their share. I looked around and saw what a fantastic job my wife had done despite my difficult attitude. She had worked hard, caring deeply about our family’s success, and I’d made her life a lot harder by thinking of the move only in terms of how it affected me.
In that moment – as soon as I realized my impact on my wife – my bad feelings melted away and a wave of motivation washed over me. For the first time, I felt excited to pack and move. The next morning, I woke up earlier than my family and in three hours packed everything I needed to. I did it with a light heart and no feelings of resistance or resentment.
Mindset Leads to Resistance or Acceptance
How does this story apply to making training stick? Notice that what ended up making the difference in me was when I experienced a change in mindset. At first, I had what we call an “inward mindset” – a singular focus on my own objectives.
From this mindset, certain behaviors made sense to me: avoiding the work, playing with my daughter instead of helping, and working late. These behaviors served my inward-mindset interests.
But after Sunday, I had a new way of seeing the situation. I’d shifted to what we call an “outward mindset,” in which we take into account our impact on others and look to be helpful to them.
As soon as I experienced a change in mindset, a door opened onto a whole new set of behaviors – behaviors that would not have made sense to me prior to this shift.
An Outward Mindset Foundation Helps Training Stick
Most training efforts focus on effecting behavioral changes. We ask people to be more open, helpful, engaged, and so on.
The reason these training efforts don’t stick is because we ask people to change their behaviors without helping them change their mindset. From a self-focused inward mindset, they might resist change, blame others, or comply for a while but revert to old behaviors as soon as the pressure or attention goes away. Without a change in mindset, different behaviors won’t make sense. It isn’t possible to drive outward mindset behaviors with those who possess an inward mindset.
But with an outward mindset, new behaviors suddenly make sense. Moreover, with this mindset people want to act in new, more helpful ways. The resistance, blame, and other dysfunction we so often see in response to training melts away.
The Right Question to Ask
With this new understanding of how mindset drives behavior, we now need to change the premise of our discussion. Instead of asking, “How can we get behaviors to stick?” we need to ask:
How can we change mindset so that desired behaviors become natural?
This is the central question Arbinger helps organizations address.
A Tool for Changing Mindset
I want to share with you a tool that will give you the power to change mindset both personally and with the people you are endeavoring to help improve.
Meet S.A.M. (No not me – the tool!)
S.A.M. stands for See Others, Adjust Efforts, and Measure Impact.
It works in three steps:
- See Others. We see others as human beings who matter just like we do. We do this by getting curious about them – their needs, challenges, objectives, and headaches. We ask questions and truly listen to understand what it’s like to be in their role. We might even ask how we have made it harder for them to accomplish their goals.
- Adjust Efforts. With this information, we analyze our own efforts. How might we have gotten in their way? How can we adjust our efforts to be more helpful to them? We then adjust our efforts in order to be more helpful.
- Measure Impact. We tell the person how we have adjusted and ask if our efforts have truly helped them achieve their objectives.
And we repeat this S.A.M. process, continually evaluating whether we’re being helpful and if there is anything else we can do. This process should be practiced as systematically as possible, not only with people we lead but with everyone we affect in our role.
As you apply S.A.M. in your work and life, remember that mindset is at the very core of what drives human behavior. If we can change mindset, we can more permanently change behavior – including the behaviors we want our training to make stick.