Workshops Aren’t Enough — We Need to Help People Make Sustainable Change

Mark Teitell Coaching, People Development Leave a Comment

I’ve recently made that case that: (1) As a leader you face a growing human-effectiveness challenge for yourself and your teams. (2) You should thus “double down” to help people strengthen their foundational effectiveness.

Do you feel ahead of the curve here? You might think, “Yeah. That’s why we already invest in many Learning & Development programs.” But to unlock the greatest impact, especially for vital “soft” skills that underlie most success, you need an approach that’s built with true sustainable change in mind.

Let’s take a closer look at this need to help people make lasting change, and what you can do about it.

True Change is HARD – That’s Why Built-in Change Support is Key

Old riddle: Five frogs are sitting on a log and four decide to jump into the water. How many are left on the log? Answer: five. Because deciding to do something and actually doing it are not the same!

As humans, intellectually understanding desirable changes – and feeling initial motivation to achieve them – are relatively easy. Making long-lasting behavior change is very hard, for things both big and small.

This is the New Year’s Resolution syndrome. And it doesn’t just apply to things like exercising more or quitting smoking. It’s equally in-play for many of the things that corporate Learning & Development programs focus on.

So your company may offer great content on topics like positive mindset, emotional intelligence, leadership, teaming, communication skills, productivity and the power of habit, unconscious bias, mindfulness, and wellness. But if this content is delivered mainly through stand-alone periodic workshops, training and events…then you’re leaving a huge amount of the potential benefit on the table.

By analogy, imagine you’re coaching a high-potential golfer. You jointly decide to re-make his or her swing. You talk about the new approach and do some quick practice to try it, of course. But what then? Just start playing tournaments and hope for the best?

Of course not. You’d have the golfer put in a LOT of practice time, letting the feel of the new swing and its constituent parts truly sink in and become part of muscle memory. And during this practice phase you’d troubleshoot and make tweaks along the way, based on his/her experience and feedback while implementing the change.

What Change Support Looks Like

This “muscle memory” analogy applies directly to the cognitive, emotional and behavioral shifts we target in order to become more-effective professionals. So as a complement to education-style programs, we need a meaningful “tail” of support to help people viscerally feel, step into and rehearse their new way-of-being.

This type of support is one of the things a good executive coach provides. But there are options for “coach-like” change support via different approaches, too. However it may be provided, coach-like support helps Learning & Development program participants design and follow concrete action plans so they can truly ingrain and make-native the benefits being targeted by those programs.

Such change-support plans often include a mix of:

  • Structured self-reflections, inquiries and observations
  • “Embodying” types of practices
  • Reading or multi-media resources as continued education and inspiration
  • Regular opportunity to discuss and interpret experiences with a coach, mentor and/or cohort of peers going through the same process

As science now understands, things we purposefully and repeatedly think about, feel, and do…literally add new wiring to our brains. This is part of the concept called Neuroplasticity. And the highest-impact Learning & Development approaches put this concept to work by fostering and supporting this critical change-cementing process.

Options for “Coach-like” Change Support

So truly supporting change – in fact, demanding it as an outcome from your investments in People Development – requires some level of personal change process support for each participant.

You may ask, “Does this mean every participant needs their own coach?” (And you might think high-touch, 1:1 coaching is only cost-feasible for a select group of upper-level leaders or fast-rising managers.)

I’ll always argue the ROI of coaching is much higher than people imagine. And most execs who have had a good coach will agree.

But I understand if you find yourself drawn to these ideas but concerned about cost. In this case, you can manage costs by providing multiple complementary modes of change support. In this approach, program participants experience an integrated experience of:

  • Training / workshops (significantly, these can be ones whose content and goals are more ambitious because they count on post-event support!)
  • Limited 1:1 coaching to activate and steer participants’ post-workshop action plans
  • Peer co-development relationships to keep them on track and in a development mindset (with buddies and/or within development circles that have a coach or in-house mentor as facilitator)

You may also consider experimenting with access to 1:1 coaching for “lower level” employees than you’d ordinarily offer this to, and using a thoughtful ROI measuring approach to determine where and when such coaching is cost-justified.

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Let’d go back to the points we started with. There’s a growing crisis of human effectiveness facing leaders and team members in today’s business world. There’s a compelling need to invest in helping people (including ourselves) strengthen the skill, effectiveness and ease with which they navigate work and the life within which it occurs.

And now let’s add…when you invest to help people in this way, make sure you’re building true coach-like change-support into your approach. The cost of NOT doing so is just too high!

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