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When coaching and training doesn't work

Us human’s are pretty complicated beings. When we get stuck and look for ways to move forward, we tend to focus on 'What' we need to do.

What is the intellectual understanding of the approach. Whether this is to tasks, the ways we communicate, our ability to assess or ways to lead others. This matters for sure and it is a key part of development. The 'What' cannot sit in isolation though. We need also to consider and act on the 'How' of personal change.


When coaching and training doesn't work

I will offer an example.

Jim is an experienced sales director and he attends a communication skills training course. In the course Jim learns about the value of listening. He understands the benefits for the other party in the conversation. He understands he can use listening to help the other person feel understood and valued and that this means he is better placed to influence them. He understands what good listening looks like and feels like...i.e. the slight discomfort of silence, the open questions he can use before going quiet to drive more revealing information, how this can increase rapport and reveal useful information. Jim knows what to do. It is not enough though he needs to understand when coaching and training doesn't work. The difficult for Jim is though that he is he likes to hear himself speak to fill silences, he likes to contribute to conversations, he likes to offer value to others. He has always been this way. He is experienced and successful, and he knows a lot about his industry. For Jim this means engaging in better listening is trying to change an ingrained behaviour. While he is aware that there is additional value in the new approach, and that he can build faster connections and learn more about his clients he cannot help but do what he has always done. It is habitual for him to talk up and offer his ideas. If Jim wants to benefit more fully from the personal development his organisation is offering him there are other things he needs to work on beyond just knowing what to do. In practise while he might initially try these new and interesting approaches. He will not be likely to stick with it. It may not become a new habit for him unless it is has attention and is done on purpose. Before he did not know what he was not doing, then when he understood he was not doing it he concerntrated on a new behaviour. As such Jim has progressed from being unconsciously incompetent at listening to being consciously incompetent and on occasion consciously competent.

Where would it benefit Jim to be? In an ideal world he would progress further to being unconsciously competent. To turn this new skill into a practised and easy way of operating, just like when he changes gear while driving his Volvo down the road. So what is missing from his learning journey? Jim needs also to understand the principles of changing and building new habits. If he knows how human beings adopt new habits and what the process looks like he will be able to embed his knowledge permanently until it becomes second nature like brushing his teeth in the morning. So what does it take to embed a new positive habit of any sort having understood what we need to do? There are four ingredients here: Intent, Repetition, regularity, and review. Intent: Jim needs to make a decision that it is worth it and it is how he wants to behave. There is a difference between Repetition: Jim will embed a new habit if he repeats it 8 to 12 times. This builds familiarity and the pattern repetition creates new neurological pathways. Regularity: If the new behaviour is acted on several times per week it is likely to create a pattern. If Jim only used this approach once a week and carried on as normal the majority of the time it would be a less effective way of forming the habit. Review: It is useful to consider and capture the actions taken and the outcomes. This will re-enforce the value and benefit and specific methods of the new practise. Creating a self-feedback loop gives us an opportunity to refine the behaviour. This might be scribbled down with a pen in a journal or diary just to keep a record. He also needs to really believe he can do it. If he has a willingness and openness to growth and change he is more likely to be successful.

Some of us believe change is possible. Some are more wedded to the status quo. Jim can choose to believe that there are limits on his behaviours. Or he can take risks in his change process believe we can progress and develop new habits and behaviours. Growth mindset is about belief in our ability to change adapt and grow and people who have or who develop this growth mindset achieve more in their careers than those with a fixed mindset.


How might Jim re-enforce this? He can use a technique which involves choosing certain language around forming his new habit. The term to describe this is modal operators. At the outset on is change journey he is exploring possiblity. He may say to himself "I want to or I could listen harder." This is useful but what would be more useful would be if he was to say. "I need to or I must work harder to listen so others feel understood." In this example he is moving from The mode of possibility to the mode of necessity.


What will be even more powerful than necessity for Jim is if he adopts a highly intentional mode of certainty around his plan. "I will or I am going to work harder to listen to others so that they feel understood and open up to me and allow me to offer them what I have of value to them."


If Jim follows the habit forming process and considers Intent, Repetition, regularity, and review and then adds the special sauce of certainty to his intent he will embed the change and very likely increase his sales success.


Without an understanding of the psychology involved in building a habit and making ourselves accountable for seeing the actions through or the training we have will not work.


To make coaching and training work we need to fully embrace the process behind behavioural change. We must make ourselves and our employees accountable for embedding new habits and behaviours or the investment of time and money in coaching and training will not give us the return we are hoping for.




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