Changing Performance by Changing Behaviors:
The Missing Link between Training Programs and Performance Change

By Brian Willett

Training is supposed to change performance by changing behaviors but so often this is just not the case. At the April ATD Meeting, we discussed the missing link between training programs and achieving the performance change our training is designed to enhance.

We focused on the following 3 key areas:

  • Learned the Cycle of Performance Change
  • Discussed how to get better performance by changing behaviors
  • Identified three ways to get participants (learners) engaged in training

Cycle of Performance Change: 

Most training programs fail to actually state the real objective of the training. When developing a training program, it is critical to actually state the key objectives, or what it is the participant will actually learn and should be able to do at the end of the training. Stating these objectives allows the participant to know what they are getting, and what they should expect. It also allows the participant to state their goals for the training as well. None of this happens in silence. All of this should be discussed in advance of the training and reiterated throughout the session and/or program.

Once we have identified the goals and objectives, we can move on to what we will call attitude. With attitude, it is pretty simple: Does the participant see the need to make a change? If yes, move forward. If the answer is no, it’s time to find out why.

If the participant sees the need, we now have to determine their desire. Do they want to make the change? If the answer is yes, move forward.  If it is no, we need to again, find out why. Then we have to assess skills and determine if they can make the necessary change. And secondly, does the participant believe he/she can make the necessary change or changes.

Lastly, we have to assess whether or not the participant will make the changes. This is not only for trainers to determine, but the participant must determine this for themselves as well.

Attitude comes down to this:

  • Does the participant see a need?
  • Do we see a need?  
  • Do they want to?
  • Do we want them to?  
  • Do they think they can?
  • Do we think they can?  
  • Will they do it?
  • Will we follow up to make sure they do it?

After we determine our goals, assess the participant’s attitude toward training and toward changing their behavior, we can now introduce new information to our learner. This new material includes techniques, information, processes, skills, etc. that can enhance their performance when it is used.

There is no point in training someone who doesn't have the right attitude to embrace the training and actually use their new knowledge to obtain better results and enhanced outcomes.

Now equipped, we need to provide opportunities to practice the new concepts, processes, and techniques. Practicing these new skills is the participant’s first step to becoming more comfortable with them.   With continued practice, they will turn these new skills into a permanent way to conduct business. The new skill becomes a changed behavior in how they conduct business.

Three Ways to Get Participants Engaged in the Training

Before. During. After. These are the three areas most critical to success for a training program. Training is not something one just goes to or through. Training is an ongoing process for everyone, especially those seeking better results. 

Before the Training:  Sit down with participants and get their buy-in on the training. Have them articulate why they think it is important for them to attend. As pointed out above, we also let them know the objectives of the training and learn their objectives and goals.

During the Training: There are many ways to get participants engaged in the training while we are actually delivering the content: Facilitate, don’t lecture. I think everyone knows this. However, it still happens. Adults learn best by doing. The best way for us to teach is to get them practicing sooner than later.  

The process I use is simple:

  • Introduce the concept
  • Give an example of the concept being used
  • Have participants practice the concepts using their own examples
  • Provide coaching to participants while they are practicing
  • Summarize how it worked, and when and how they will apply it

Have participants work in pairs, triads, groups, then the entire group as a whole. In each of the different pairings they have the ability to learn from each other. As a pair, they may be more willing to be honest. In triads, they have an extra person holding them accountable and giving them feedback. In groups, they get the benefit of seeing what others learned by applying the concept. Mixing up pairings and groupings creates a more engaged participant.

After the Training: This is one of the most critical pieces of an effective training program, and it is often overlooked. After the training, you can provide assessments to determine what was remembered and learned. You can also assess the program to see if the expectations were clearly understood and met. But what is most important, is following up with the participants to ensure they are using the new concepts discussed. It is hard to change a behavior.  

If you have a veteran employee, this step is even more crucial, as it will be easy for them to fall back into old habits and old ways of doing things. A newer employee may be more open to change.

When we use the Cycle of Performance Change correctly we can change behaviors, making our training programs more effective. Getting participants involved in the training from the very start (before, during, and after) supports buy-in and creates an atmosphere of wanting to learn versus having to learn. Practicing newly learned concepts in the safety of the training environment also makes the training experience more enjoyable.

There is no perfect way to ensure training leads to an actual change in performance.  The key is to be creative, keep it simple, use lots of examples, and lastly, get them involved in the training, practicing the material. 

If you have any questions please contact Brian at 

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