Willingness To Change Required

As the New Year begins, many of us have made or are thinking about making resolutions; habits we would like to drop, hobbies we may want to take up, old friends we may want to look up – it’s that time of year! The common denominator to all of our resolutions is the need for a change. In order to drop a bad habit or start a new hobby, we have to be open to the idea of making a change; changing how we do things, changing how we live, changing how we see ourselves. 

It is not enough to want to do something better (or to not do something at all) but to be truly successful is to first make peace with the idea of change; we have to embrace the idea that change has to happen in order for us to lose weight, quit smoking, learn how to play guitar. The reality is that change is involved in just about everything that we undertake, and that includes learning something new. Learning something new means that we go from one state, a before picture, if you will, into a whole new state, an “after” state that can accommodate the knowledge that we now possess. 

Now take the idea of change a step further

I had not put the notion of change and learning together ever until I sat in a virtual conference space over the summer and heard Dr. Michael Allen, of Allen Interactions, give a talk entitled, “Training Can Defeat the Resistance to Change”.  He made two significant points about change and its relationship to training right at the outset. First, he said that people “behave in accordance with their personal beliefs”. Ok, I get that. Second, he said that the “affective state of a learner has a profound effect on learning and performance outcomes”. So basically adults in a classroom not only have to have the skills and abilities to learn, that is, to change, but more importantly, they have to be willing to do so in order for learning to happen. Essentially, successful performance improvement = successfully executed change.

Seems like a simple notion. But after over twenty-years in the field, that “simple notion” blew my mind. Think about your employees.  They are going along, doing their jobs, when they are told they have to attend a training class. They are then registered for class and off they go – without necessarily a single thought as to their “affective state” – they may be heading in to class thinking, “Why am I going to this class? I already know how to do my job!” Think of the facilitator who has no idea how open their students are to receiving what is being taught; trainers like to think that their students are empty vessels waiting for their knowledge to pour forth and fill them up (wishful thinking). For all they know, the employees are there under duress. Or they’re thrilled just to be out of their routine for a few hours. Or they have no idea why they’re there – they were simply told to show up (this happens a lot).

Mind you – Dr. Allen was speaking to an audience full of trainers who needed to hear his message in order to better prepare themselves, and their students, for a successful learning experience. But as I contemplated this in the context of my role with EANE, where I am responsible for recommending training programs to our members to address their business challenges, I realized that the notion of successful learning starts before an employee even comes into one of our classrooms. Managers and supervisors set the tone for this to happen by gauging how open their employees are to changing the way that they do things. It is important to note that not every employee starts at the same place in his/her learning journey – some people are curious and open-minded, recognizing that a process or a way of doing things has outlasted its effectiveness and so a change is needed. Some people’s minds are slammed shut with no chance of being pried open – even by the most engaging trainer! They are not interested in learning, and so are not interested in changing. As trainers, we assume that the people in our classes are there because they want to learn – they want to change. But that is a huge, mostly misguided, and often incorrect, assumption for us to make. 

So what can managers do to ensure that the employees that they send to a training class are ready to learn, open to trying something new, in effect, ready and willing to change? How can managers find out where their employees are in terms of their “affective state”? The best and most effective way of gathering this insight is to do something novel, crazy, and unheard of.

Ask them! 

Managers can easily find out where their employees are at in terms of their affective state, or mindset, by asking them how they feel about going to a training class. Have a conversation. Managers should explain to employees why they are headed to class and let them know how they will benefit from going. Further, they should explain that attending class is an opportunity to learn things that will not only help them in their jobs, but will help the company be more efficient, more profitable – so everyone wins. It may be that one or two employees aren’t ready to make a change, and so may not be the right candidates to attend class. And I’m not implying that simply giving employees this information will magically open their minds to change. But the trainer they will ultimately be in a classroom with will have a much better shot at providing a successful learning experience, and your investment in training will yield more positive results, if you simply ask.

As for me, I can tell you that the next time I enter a classroom, the very first question I plan on asking my students is “How open are you to making a change?” Because after hearing Dr. Allen’s talk, I realized that without that willingness to change, even the most well-meaning resolutions – and training classes – are less than successful. It is essential for you to protect your investment by having those pre-training conversations with your employees to set them up for positive and productive changes in 2022!

Thank you for viewing this article in EANE’s  Notes From The Development Desk Blog, Authored by our Learning & Development Solutions Manager, Michelle Desaulniers. Please visit again soon to stay up to date on timely updates and best practices for maximizing the value of staff development.