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What instructional designers need to know about behavioral change

When i was a trainer, whenever I found myself into one those impromptu meetings called by desperate managers seeking to fix an old problem with a quick training intervention tailored to the need, the challenge sounded the same – people (in the organization) needed to change their behavior.

Whether it was about something that they had been doing for a while and had to cease or about something completely new that had to be done starting the day before, a dramatic switch in the way employees acted at work was always in the highest demand.

Needless to say (but I’ll state it anyway), that is almost impossible to achieve with a single training intervention.

Genuine behavioral change requires a personal epiphany and even though instructional designers always try to create some powerful ‘a-ha!’ moments in learning materials, they are not the same (nor have the same power) for all participants.

Here’s what organizations have to understand about the intricacies of bringing about behavioral change in their employees.

Work behavior is exclusively value oriented

This means that the values of the organization should match those of its employees. People should be able to work for something they truly believe in, not just for the paycheck (though that one is still a very important factor in determining a person’s satisfaction in the workplace).

Ultimately, how individuals behave at work is a reflection of very personal and intentional strategies for achieving a sense of value. The only way to influence that is to build a culture that is very true and highly expressive of its own values. These should be more than a bumper-sticker worthy enumeration of positive words.

If a change in behavior is really wanted then there should be a constant value exchange between the individual and the company – HR specialists need to listen, adapt and explain when necessary – transparency and open communication are crucial, especially in times of transformation.

Read more: What HR professionals need to know about the neuroscience of values and purpose

Results are excellent motivators

I’m not talking only about the moment when they are finally reached – though that one is always pretty neat. I’m talking about being able to picture it and deem it as a possibility.

Climbers who set out to conquer some of the most inaccessible peaks in the world meet a lot of hardship but they go on because they are thinking about being at the top when the journey ends. There is an emotional connection that any individual has with the goal they are trying to reach.

The energy of that emotional connection to a desired outcome is amazing fuel for behavioral change. There is that very wise saying: ”if you truly want something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find excuses”.

When asking employees to change their behavior, organizations have to paint a realistic and attractive picture of what there is to be gained, thus being worth all the pain.

Self-fulfilling prophecies are real

There are few powers in the world as strong as the one of autosuggestion. If we tell ourselves something long and convincingly enough, it will probably come true. I’m not talking about hoping to win the lottery, though I wouldn’t gamble that if somebody genuinely believed that it could happen (and continuously participate, of course) it wouldn’t eventually happen.

In a business context, this is about mindset. HR specialists and managers have to make sure to help employees cultivate a powerful personal value story. Positive feedback, coaching and generally offering support when it is needed and praise when it is due are simple yet very effective tools of ensuring the sort of healthy mindset required to make any beneficial behavioral changes.

The Pygmalion leadership style is one of great value in transformational circumstances – positive expectations, even if they are set rather high, can lead to spectacularly good results.

Change is a process, not a moment

Even if genuine change happens as a result of an instant of epiphany, it is actually a cyclical process that needs to be supported by a series of minor and major successes in order to be permanent.

An efficient organization has to be able to create and sustain all the steps in the change mechanism. It’s imperative to have tools for monitoring progress and be ready to intervene when roadblocks are identified.

Communication and constant interaction with all parties involved are a key ingredient in brewing the desired behavioral change. People have to be truly engaged and convinced about where they are going.

The initial enthusiasm is likely to dwindle when things become more difficult and it can’t be let to the individuals alone to find internal resources for continuing on the path. External incentives and genuine support are paramount for a successful transformation.

Wrapping up

The corporate world is highly dynamic and demanding. The digital revolution brought about unbelievable metamorphoses and continues to do so. Being static is no longer an option as it can’t lead to success so the need for constant change is ever present. Organizations need to be aware that simply calling for change is not nearly enough; they have to commit to a complex process and support employees through it.