This article was originally published under Jeff Miller’s column "The Science of Workplace Motivation" on Inc.com.
When most people think of training, the first thing that comes to mind is a mandatory meeting in a stuffy conference room with a boring instructor walking through poorly designed slides. Even though US companies spent more than $70 billion last year on learning and development, this training stereotype is unfortunately the reality for many employees.
The good news is there's a better way -- and it can usually be accomplished with the same amount of time and resources as a "stand and deliver" training. The first step is to acknowledge the problem with typical instructor-led training: "Mandatory" doesn't mean motivational. And if you want employees to grow and improve, you have to motivate them.
Self-determination theory, a popular theory in psychology, suggests that people are motivated by three things: autonomy, relatedness and competence. Applied to learning and development, self-determination theory demonstrates that training should provide employees with ownership over their work, community with fellow employees and enough support to apply new knowledge on the job (and improve as a result).
After more than three decades as an educator -- in both the classroom and the corporate world -- I've found that the most impactful learning and development program integrates this theory from beginning to end with three main strategies.
Make it learner-centric.
Why should an employee take this training? As you design your lesson plan, write up objectives and promote the training, be sure to demonstrate how it will enable people to have more ownership in their work and influence on your company as a whole ("autonomy").
Whether this training is a three-minute video, an hour-long session or a two-day conference, employees should have a clear understanding of how it's relevant to their role, what information they will learn to improve their daily work and how this improved work impacts the organization's success. For example, if you want a sales manager to attend training for a new platform, explain the new features it offers, the time it will save her and the potential increased revenue it promises for the company.
Follow the "Think, Pair, Share" model.
During the actual training itself, form a community among learners to achieve "connectedness." You can accomplish this in both digital and physical learning by providing people with structured time to digest the information on their own, discuss and apply it in pairs and share questions with the group.
For example, in a recent six-week management training our team hosted, we prompted individuals with questions after each lesson and encouraged people to share their thoughts on a group-wide forum. As you can imagine, there were a few participants who were extremely active on the forum, while others would rarely comment. To ensure everyone was receiving value from the training, I set up regular one-on-one check-ins with each learner. This model ensured participants not only had plenty of opportunities to interact with each other, but also heard my personal struggles as a manager, which created a safe space for discussion and encouraged them to share their own experiences.
Hold people accountable.
Fulfilling the third need of self-determination theory, "competence," requires empowering employees to actually develop the skills taught in training.
In many ways, competence comes down to support and accountability. After a training, ask employees to write down how they will apply the information to their work, and then put a meeting on the calendar to follow-up with them.
If employees see that you believe in them and are willing to help them achieve their goals, they are much more likely to proceed with confidence -- and eventually succeed. If there's no follow-up scheduled, employees aren't likely to go out on a limb and try something new. This natural fear of failure will diminish their growth, and impede your development as an organization.
Remember: Today's employees only have one percent of their entire week to dedicate to training, so you need to make every moment count. By following these three steps, you will create content that is motivating for employees before, during and after a training -- and beneficial to your organization for years to come.
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