Practise, practise, practise to build new habits!

Gary Williams on how to turn workplace learning into sustainable, positive habits.

An organisation’s ability to learn – and translate that learning into action rapidly – is the ultimate competitive advantage, according to Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric. 

And figures from the annual UK L&D Report showing that top-performing organisations are five times more likely to have learning cultures would seem to echo the suggestion that a culture of learning is a key component of business success.

We’ve all heard the comment about how, if we train our people to excel and they leave, that’s bad – but if we don’t train them and they stay, that’s worse. So it’s no surprise that organisations of all shapes and sizes run training courses ranging from mandatory topics such as health and safety to business skills such as leadership and management.

After all, good companies invest in their people.

But the best companies take training to another level – and create new, powerful and sustainable habits. They avoid the trap of trying to achieve a quick fix – the so-called ‘sheep-dip’ approach – which all too often leads to the cry of “training doesn’t work”. Too many organisations are reactive and use training as a sticking plaster when they see a problem.

When done well, a learning development plan should be thought through and congruent with the strategy and direction of the company. You need to consider what skills are required to take your organisation where it wants to go.

This will obviously affect recruitment – but it’s also vital to develop the talent you already have in place. Analyse your people, considering both ‘skill and will’ – the right attitudes are just as vital as the right skills. Competency frameworks can be useful to set out road maps at different levels of seniority but ensuring the motivation to learn is in place is vital.

Senior people who haven’t been trained can often display bad habits, which can be a real problem. For example, all too often junior staff can be heard complaining about a senior colleague making cringeworthy gaffes in front of clients.

When done well, a learning development plan should be thought through and congruent with the strategy and direction of the company

For new habits to form, you need to work on skills and behaviours in the classroom and then allow people to practise in the real world. On-the-job practice with a colleague or mentor is essential for habit forming and it has to be done well – including highly proficient feedback.

Little and often is a good mantra for habit forming. Take small elements of training, such as listening skills, and ensure they are practised until ‘unconscious competency’ is in place – when someone is really good at something without having to give it too much thought.

It takes time to form a new habit but old habits can very quickly creep back in if they’re allowed to. This is where coaching comes in – after all, even the best professional golfer regularly goes back to their coach to hone their skills, even when they’re at the top of their game.

One final thing about nurturing new, positive and sustainable habits is that they need to be allowed to develop. This means the whole organisation, from top to bottom, needs to have a learning culture where everyone is encouraged to grow and develop, and to become more skilled, more confident and more fulfilled. When companies think like this and truly invest in their people, the rewards can be enormous.


About the author

Gary Williams is founder and CEO of professional services business development coaching consultancy BD Coaching Hub



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