How to break through the mindset barriers that prevent training getting used

This is the third of a series focused on how to transfer learning into on the job application and results from Practical Training Transfer.

When surveyed most companies want their employees to get better at skills like creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability or time management. Learning those skills is relatively easy but applying them isn’t. That’s because application success depends not on perfecting difficult skills or remembering dense knowledge, but on changing the mindsets or perceptions of the learners before they try to use the skills in the workplace.

Why it’s important to take notice of this problem

How people feel about using new processes in the workplace is as important in some cases as their ability to apply skills and knowledge. Here are a couple of examples of what goes through the minds of learners when they think about applying certain skills.

Most people associate being creative with being artistic. However, in the workplace, being creative is usually about things like problem solving, innovation, or critical thinking. When people can’t get over the mindset that creativity equals being artistic, they perceive that they won’t be able to use creativity skills and so don’t try. Their thought process would be ‘I’m not artistic and so can’t be creative, therefore the skills in this training aren’t for me’.  

Another example would be with using collaboration skills. If people are used to an established workstyle, such as leading by example, or hands-off management, they might mistrust new ways of working. They would think ‘I’ve always had success doing things my way, if I change now, there is a risk of failure’.

Another problem not usually discussed is the transfer of classroom-based activities to office-based activities. Let’s say a learner took part in an innovation skills activity in class. They would apply those skills by have a meeting with their team and replicating the activity. However, they might feel unable to repeat the activity in the same way as in the classroom. They would say to themselves ‘I don’t think I can do this activity as well as the facilitator did. What if I make a mistake, or what if the outcomes aren’t good?’.

The effect of all those mindset issues is that training doesn’t get used at all. So, how do we break through mindset barriers?

How we overcome this problem at work

There are two areas that affect learner mindsets. The first is what we call external and the second we call internal. Put simply, we don’t get involved with external factors like company culture, working environment or negative peer pressures that we can’t influence as designers. However, we do try to affect how the learner thinks or feels about using new skills and knowledge through our learning designs. There are four design tactics that we use to break mindset barriers.

The first tactic is to use new skills in a live project. All learners who take part in training programs for mindset change, like innovation training, must start out with a project that requires innovation to be at the heart of their problem solving activities. Those projects are used in class to practice using skills and to take real steps towards the outcomes needed to make the project successful.

The second point is to have collaboration between learners, their managers, and other learners. We design a meeting plan for the learner and the manager to discuss what will happen at each stage of the program and what support is needed to apply the training. We also collect and post stories of successes people have had using their new skills on notice boards and share them among the learners.

The third tactic is to supply support tools, like videos and flow charts, that help learners replicate classroom-based activities in the workplace. The tools reduce some the pressures of trying to emulate experienced facilitators when the learners are repeating the classroom activities in meetings and workshops.

Lastly, we supply coaching. Breaking through mindset barriers is a clear area where coaching can be a useful tool. It gives learners the opportunity to talk through their issues and to make a plan of action to overcome them.

Hints and tips about what you can do to combat this problem

Whether you’re looking to change the way you work or your outlook on life, it’s important to know that change isn’t easy without having a process in place. In other words, just setting goals, hoping for change, or using will power won’t get you to where you want to be.

A good example of this is making a new year’s resolution to lose weight. Anyone who does that knows what they want their ideal weight to be and can usually set a deadline for getting there. However, in the absence of a plan and some support, most people give up their resolution at the first setback.

If your goal is to learn new work practices you need to start out with positive intentions, have clear goals and a step-by-step plan to get to your goals. Learn and practice with other people. It’s easier to change mindset and improve work practices if you collaborate. Think of that collaboration as a support group where you can share successes and give each other a boost. Use social media and chat groups to post your success stories and to talk to each other.

Finally, don’t forget to use your new skills in a real project. If you don’t have a work project right now, think about how you can apply your training in your personal life. We could all do with more collaboration, adaptability and better time management in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. So, set your goals, create a plan, involve your peers and friends and good luck.

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