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Creating Effective Training to Support Change Initiatives

By Joanna Siebert, Associate Director of Business Programs, UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education

Joanna Siebert, Associate Director of Business Programs, UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education

As the pace and volume of change continues to increase in today’s organizations, HR professionals, managers, and others are charged with providing effective training to equip employees with the knowledge and skills they need to contribute to positive business outcomes. Yet, whether we’re integrating a new technology or improving a process, organizations frequently make mistakes that hinder learning and limit the viability of the change that’s being introduced.

Change management refers to a systematic approach for initiating and managing change, with specific attention toward helping people adapt so they can perform effectively. Employees often need and want training to acquire new skills and practice behaviors that will support the success of a change initiative.

"By integrating effective training practices with change management strategies, we can design learning experiences that lead to increased self-efficacy and organizational success"

Whether you are an HR professional, business leader, or training designer and facilitator, it’s valuable to consider common mistakes that arise at the integration point between change management and training design and delivery. 

Three Common Mistakes

Regardless of how much time, energy, and money we invest in a change initiative, it’s easy to miss the mark for addressing learning and development needs. You may recognize some of these common mistakes:

• We put too much emphasis on training to promote the development of new skills and behaviors, and overlook other aspects of change management that influence the success of a change initiative.
• We under-recognize the need for training as part of change management, or fail to implement the right training at the right time.
• Our approach to training doesn’t integrate effective practices to support learning and changes in behavior.

Success Strategies

Avoid putting too much emphasis on training and not enough on other aspects of change management

Training is pivotal because it helps employees develop skills and capacity to support a change initiative, but other aspects of change management are also instrumental for achieving success. We often fail to recognize the value of building a strong foundation for change, and instead presume that training will serve as both a catalyst and reinforcement for adopting a new process or tool.

To successfully implement a change, we must first ensure that employees are aware of the initiative, including why it is needed and how it will impact their work. In addition to understanding the change, employees must also want to adopt the new tool or process. Individuals typically arrive at the desire to change on varying timelines and for differing reasons--and some may never get there--so this aspect of change management requires significant attention.

What happens following training is also important. Once employees have learned new skills, we need to provide ongoing support by reinforcing the new way of working, making sure expectations are clear, addressing concerns about performance, and resolving unanticipated consequences of the change. Training, alone, is unlikely to result in success.

Recognize that a change initiative may require more or different training than initially anticipated

Quite often, we underestimate the gap between current capabilities and newly identified performance goals. We may assume that employees will be able to adopt a new tool or process with minimal training, or even that they’ll be able to pick it up on their own by diving into the new way of working. In some organizations, decisions about the length and frequency of training may be based solely on budget and available resources.

It’s beneficial to ask ourselves, are we setting up employees for success by providing the right training at the right time?

While a thorough needs assessment should be conducted before designing training, it can be helpful to continue gathering input and assessing training needs as the change initiative progresses. Depending on the complexity and roll-out of the change, you may discover that learning and development needs are greater, or different, than originally anticipated. If possible, build in flexibility so that training can adapt to meet employees’ needs.

Integrate effective practices to promote learning and change

Keep in mind that people not only adapt to change but also approach learning in differing ways. Attitudes and feelings about a change initiative can impact learning, just as the timing and quality of training can affect perceptions of the change initiative.

As training designers and facilitators, we need to anticipate that participants will display varying levels of readiness and desire to learn and modify their work behaviors. In a training session, we may notice comments or actions that reflect a lack of confidence while learning something new or frustration with how the new workflow is being implemented--two distinct situations that should be addressed through varied approaches. To create a supportive learning environment, fatigue and heightened emotions need to be managed thoughtfully. And, while some participants may be quick learners, others may require repeated opportunities to learn and develop skills over time.

By integrating effective training practices with change management strategies, we can design learning experiences that lead to increased self-efficacy and organizational success.

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