Reinforcement: What, Why, & How?

Reinforcement – What, Why & How?

How effective is your organization’s training? According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), 90 percent of training is forgotten within days no matter how skillful or engaging the trainer is.  If research studies are accurate, very few of your learners have actually changed their behaviors as a result of training. Reinforcing knowledge and skills learned in training or professional development programs is a process that takes time and strategic investment. Ultimately, your training will be more effective because of reinforcement.

What is reinforcement? Basically, “…training reinforcement is a solution that uses your current training material, learning objectives, and (reinforcement) goals to reinforce important skills and knowledge learned during a training event or course.”[1]

One explanation – and one aspect to reinforcement – is the Ebbinghaus Retention Curve, which displays the percentage of a topic that we recall after paying attention to it repeatedly. Named for psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus, this concept is about teaching people to remember something important. Ebbinghaus hypothesized that it is much harder for learners to retain something that is not meaningful to them, and that learners will have more success if the learning is stretched out over a period of time, instead crammed into a short burst. However, remembering information is only part of the issue when it comes to training and development.  Changing behaviors and/or developing new habits based on one’s training – that’s the other part of the issue.   A good reinforcement tool maximizes your training investment dollars and helps to change your learners’ behaviors.

So how do you change behaviors? Training reinforcement focuses on changing old habits and developing new ones. “Without behavior change, you’re not reinforcing; you are only reminding.” – Anthonie Wurth.  One of the founders of Mindmarker®, Wurth understood that your training content must be reinforced with small, bite-sized messages to engage the learner. More than a reminder service, Mindmarker® is considered the leader in training reinforcement.  The three learning phases of your reinforcement program are: awareness, knowledge and skills, and behavior change.  Of course, timing and content are critical to the process through each phase.

Just a few of the benefits of training reinforcement, according to Mindmarker®:

  • Training reinforcement leads to better training practices, which creates superior performance results.
  • A fully-integrated training reinforcement program helps decrease the amount of knowledge lost post-training.
  • With the training dollars spent by businesses each year, it’s critical to obtain the highest ROI.

Alber Enterprise Center has been integrating post-workshop reinforcement for clients who want specific behavior changes in workshop attendees, and those clients have seen positive results.  As you can imagine, instead of the normal 10-20% retention of the workshop material, clients are realizing a much higher return on their training dollar investment.

[1] From Mindmarker “Beginners Guide to Reinforcement” page 6

Booming Paralegal Field

Lawyers are not the only legal experts out there. In fact, it is common that lawyers depend on their paralegals and legal assistants to help them be more efficient and effective. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of paralegals is expected to grow by 15% over the next eight years! You’ll find paralegals in law firms, government offices and legal departments in corporate companies. They are qualified legal experts who draft legal documents, research laws and regulations, and assist attorneys and lawyers with cases and help prepare for trials.

Paralegals may help with some administrative tasks, yet most of their workload is engaging with clients and working on cases. Charged with keeping track of and analyzing case documentation and information, paralegals need to be well versed in the online world of databases and computer software to be successful in their positions.

According to Paralegal EDU, there is a lot of variability in the opinion of what certification/credentials a paralegal needs for the industry to recognize them as qualified. There is no standard paralegal preparation course, certificate or degree. Because of the variability, you will find a variety of certificate programs and undergraduate degrees that aim to teach paralegals the skills they need to be successful.

Paralegal EDU just released the results of a months-long assessment of more than 250 accredited schools offering pre-degree certificate programs in paralegal studies. They chose which programs to recognize based upon a number of factors. Some of these factors include; the flexibility of the course work to fit into learner’s daily lives, opportunities to gain experience by practicing their new skills as well as how well the program aligns with current job demands. Check out the full list of criteria.

Paralegal EDU has recognized Alber Enterprise Center’s Paralegal Certification course as one of the best programs in Ohio for Paralegals to earn their certificate. This program includes the flexible online course, a Microsoft Office Suite course to develop your computer software skills, and an externship that allows you to practice the new skills you have learned in the course.

Understanding the Voice of the Customer in Education

Voice of the CustomerA critical component of Lean Six Sigma is understanding the Voice of the Customer. This concept is essential to identifying activities that are value-added and non-value added or wasteful.

In education it may be agreed that the student is the customer as they are the recipients of the outcomes of the institution. Some disagree with this concept thinking that we are unable to satisfy the customer. At one of my presentations someone in the audience indicated that satisfying the customer in education “the student” means giving them all “As” and that was impossible. Of course this is not correct – this is not what customer satisfaction is about.

Norma Simons, President of Performance Innovation LLC and AEC Solution Partner

Norma Simons, President of Performance Innovation LLC and AEC Solution Partner

In the education space the concept of the “Voice of the Customer” has a different meaning than it does in the broad world of consumerism. We tend to think that customer satisfaction rests only on the fact that there is a financial exchange between the customer and the person delivering the goods and that the customer finds value in the purchase.

We need to satisfy the needs of the customer – the student, but what does that mean? It means we need to deliver what is considered as a quality education -one that is delivered so that the student is functional in the wider society. If individuals are able to graduate but cannot either get a job or function at their required capacity, then regardless of what was learned and the grades earned then a quality education was not delivered.

Customer satisfaction therefore is not a passive interaction. For the student to be satisfied, it requires the student to collaborate with the instructor and several different individuals within the institution. The student’s success requires a partnership with the institution which should be promoted and nurtured.

Understanding the Voice of the Customer is a process, a mind-set, a shift in thinking, a culture that needs to be embraced by the entire institution.

Apart from the student, there are several customers who are vested in the education outcome:

  • The parents of the students who might bare some financial responsibility regarding payment of fees and physical and emotional support of the student
  • The loan institutions who might provide assistance to the students
  • All the areas of the institution (business office, book store, advisors, job placement office and other areas) which support or interact with the students directly or indirectly
  • The potential employers who expect a certain level of performance of the students after graduation
  • The institution itself who expects that the performance of students and their ability to be received in the wider society will build the reputation for the school

Well this is my opinion.

To read more on this topic, see the New York Times January 3, 2010 article below:

http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/are-they-students-or-customers/#edward

In this article “Are They Students or Customers” five professors from different business schools weigh in on the debate.

“Students are investing time and money with a purpose in mind. The school that does not serve that purpose will not survive.” Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is president emeritus and professor of public services at the George Washington University.

This blog is dedicated to the team at Alber Enterprise Center of The Ohio State University.

Norma Simons is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, president of Performance Innovation LLC, and an AEC Solution Partner.  Norma heads a team of qualified professionals in the areas of Lean and Six Sigma.  Her success is attributed to her unique integration of performance improvement systems such as Lean, Six Sigma, Design for Six Sigma, quality management systems, business operating systems, and balanced scorecards that have enabled the effective execution of organizational strategy and, ultimately, bottom-line results.

 

15 minutes could save your … strategic plan

W.I.G.We’ve all experienced it, or heard about it.  A team spends weeks or months developing a strategic plan, and nothing happens with it after the glossy document gets printed.  Why does this great new plan just sit on the shelf gathering dust?  Business scholars over the past two decades have been researching why plans fail to be implemented  1. The overarching theme of their conclusions: people resist change.  How do we address this challenge? Through a structured plan for execution.  Your team needs to commit to the plan, yet they are busy with their daily duties (the “whirlwind”) and they don’t take time to focus on the strategic plan.  An effective execution plan starts with committing to a series of 15-minute segments on planning and implementing the strategic plan.

Franklin Covey’s 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX)2 is one formula to follow. The four disciplines are:

Program Manager of The Ohio State University's Alber Enterprise Center

Program Director of The Ohio State University’s Alber Enterprise Center

1.   Select one or two “wildly important goals” (WIG) that drive your strategic plan and can be measured and tracked.
2.  Identify the activities that lead to achieving the WIG(s), ones that your team can influence.
3.  Create a compelling scoreboard: simple, visible to the team, shows the lead and lag measures, and tells immediately if you are winning.
4.  Establish a weekly cadence of accountability in which each team member commits to working on one or two of the lead activities as well as reports on the efforts toward the WIG.

This 4DX plan is easy to implement by committing to 15-minute segments for each discipline:

  1. 15 minutes to identify and establish your WIG from your strategic plan. If you need two WIGs, spend another 15 minutes on the second one.
  2. 15 minutes per WIG to list all of the leading activities required to meet your WIG.
  3. 15 minutes to determine how you will show (scoreboard) the team’s progress toward leading activities and WIG and where it will be displayed.
  4. 15 minutes per week – the same day/time each week – for the accountability meeting.

We facilitated a strategic plan for one of our clients a year ago. After following up with them to see their progress, they reported that the leadership team implemented a few goals but felt they needed our help to really drive the plan throughout their organization with all employees. They embraced 4DX and are starting to see results.

This works! Try it, and let me know how it works for you.

If you need help in setting up your 4DX plan, the Alber Enterprise Center can show you how. Call 740-725-6325.

Citations:

1:  Govindarajan, V., & Trimble, C. (2010). The other side of innovation: solving the execution challenge. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.
Gudmundsson, H., Ericsson, E., Tight, M., Lawler, M., Envall, P., Figueroa, M., et al. (2012). The role of decision support in the implementation of “sustainable transport” plans. European Planning Studies, 20(2), 171-191.
Hahn, W., & Powers, T. (2010). Strategic plan quality, implementation capability, and firm performance. Academy of Strategic Management Journal, 9(1), 63-81.
Kotter, J. (1996). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Larian, L., Day, M., Backhurst, M., Berke, P., Ericksen, N., Crawford, J., et al. (2004). What drives plan implementation? Plans, planning agencies and developers. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 47(4), 555-577.
2:  McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution: achieving your wildly important goals. New York: Free Press.

Learning that Lasts: The Three Secrets to High ROI Training

You believe in developing your employees.  You know that investment in annual training is the right thing to do. But you’re not seeing the change you want.  The vision of a healthy, high performing company still seems far off.

Jim Franks, Strategic Advisor/Coach for Alber Enterprise Center

Jim Franks, Strategic Advisor/Coach for Alber Enterprise Center

We’ve all experienced this.  “The workshop was great.”  “The speaker was engaging.”  You leave with a feeling of exhilaration that things are really going to change this time.  But after a few weeks you realize that things are back to the way they were before the workshop.

To address this very common problem, let’s discuss two things: 1) Why it happens and 2) What to do about it.  

Why training doesn’t stick

We are creatures of habit.  Our habits are engrained with years (sometimes decades) of repeated behaviors that have worked for us.  The conventional wisdom is that it takes three months to change a good habit and six months to change a bad one.  Change is not automatic.  Here’s the good news.  We all have the potential to change – even radical change.

Unless we constantly reinforce new skills over 3-6 months it is unlikely that the change will stick.  There needs to be a way to reinforce the desired change on a regular basis.

We are surrounded by others who are also creatures of habit.  When we come back from a workshop, ready to change, others around us are used to the old way of doing things.  They naturally resist change and impact you by virtue of their close proximity.  They will act in ways that reinforce the old habits.

These influences (your own habits and others), make up the culture of your organization.  Changing that culture begins with you.  You must intentionally persevere against this inertia until the change becomes permanent.

So how do you do this?  What follows are the three secrets to permanent change and finally getting a high ROI on your training investment.

How to drive permanent change

Start at the top.  The first key to getting a high ROI on your training is to get the buy-in and application by your senior executive team.  Otherwise the initiative will go into the category of the latest workshop of the month.  Here are some tips for executive involvement:

  • Have them kick it off with a strong statement of its importance.
  • Actions are more powerful than words. If it truly is important then they will take the time to attend.
  • There is nothing more powerful than a senior executive admitting how they are learning and growing based on the new approach learned from the workshop.

Follow-up coaching.  Visibility and examples from the top are key, but not the whole story of a successful implementation.  Each employee must have someone to remind him or her of the need to apply the new approach regularly.  This is where coaching comes in. This is the secret sauce that makes it really stick.

Over the past decade, professional coaching has quietly become the state-of-the-art method to develop professionals.  It works because it syncs up with how we are designed to change – with repetition and over time.

Here’s how it works.  A coach comes alongside the employee on a regular basis to remind them of the new skills and hold them accountable for putting them into practice.  Each attendee will inevitably face challenges applying the material and will need someone outside the organization to help them overcome these challenges.  The coach is not subject to the inertia of the old habits, but will remain steadfast and hold each employee accountable for change.

As a professional coach I’ve seen this work at organizations large and small and across many industries.  Training + Coaching works.

Peer Accountability.  Have each team member give account to their peers for their new behavior.  Do quarterly assessments that measure the new behavior to show progress – or lack of it.  Many think they are making progress only to find that others don’t agree.  Change doesn’t count unless others see it too.  The only way to know is to commit to it and measure progress.  Then act on the feedback until others agree.

There it is.  This works.  Guaranteed.  If you do these three things, the desired change will happen.  If it doesn’t, one of these three steps wasn’t done.

To learn more about this, watch for a White Paper on the OSU Alber site!

Jim Franks is a Strategic Advisor/Coach for the OSU Alber Enterprise Center (AEC).  He is passionate about helping leaders build healthy, high performing companies.  For more information about how the AEC can help your organization implement the solutions you want leading to the success you need, please call (740)725-6325 for a no-cost, no-obligation needs analysis.