As Learning and Development professionals, one of the big distinctions we need to make when developing training is that behaviors and skills are two different yet related constructs. It is teaching a skill that ensures that the future behavior modification will last longer than just trying to modify a behavior. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (1977) argues that one way we learn is through mere observation but also warns that this may be pure mimicking, void of context and social sensitivity. A great example is how a child learns from observation. A little boy sees his father grab a beer from the fridge after a long day mowing the grass. The child sees this and is compelled to do the same after he does his chores. One can easily see the issues here. This is observational learning and reinforced through mimicking.
Behavior is ultimately the thing we want to see changed in people when we are training them to do something. It really is our only manifestation of whether or not we believe they can do something in the future. Although a person is not simply the sum of his or her behaviors, behaviors are the only thing we can observe. Thus, it is important that we are able to answer this question: "How can you tell the difference between a skill and a behavior?" There are three considerations when trying to discern whether someone has gained a skill or is merely performing a behavior.
Skills Transcends Context
To distinguish the difference between somebody knowing a skill versus just displaying the behavior simply change the context. The skill will be transferable, while the behavior will not.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s discuss the ability to play guitar. I have a good friend who sings well; however, he doesn’t know how to play the guitar. During high school, he had the opportunity to be the lead in a musical. This particular role required him to sing a song while playing it on a guitar. He certainly didn’t have enough time to learn how to play the guitar (let alone become a guitar player), so someone taught him the mechanics of strumming and fingering the guitar chords for that particular song. He was shown where to place his fingers on the fret board and how to strum at the right time when he was singing the lyrics to the song. He picked up the behavior quickly and did a marvelous job in the play. Yet, if he had needed to play another song, in a different key, with different lyrics, or even the same song in a different key, he certainly would not have been able to do so. Playing different songs, changing keys, etc. necessitates having the skill of guitar playing. What my friend did was merely demonstrate guitar-playing behavior. He was playing the guitar (behavior) but he was not a guitar player (skill).
Closer to our interest, because of such great emphasis on behavior, many training programs focus on behavior modification and not skill attainment. For example, sales training programs provide the "10-step" process to conduct a sales call. The sales programs are contingent on the context of the sales call not changing. They are laced with assumptions for the program to be able to work. However, anybody who has been in sales for more than five minutes knows that nothing ever goes as expected. Many variables change within any given sales call, sales cycle or overall account management. Thus, to become a well-equipped sales rep, you must have the requisite skill that transcends behavior and context. One diagnosis might be to challenge your skills for behavior by changing the context. If your skill or behavior does not stand up to that change, then it is merely a behavior.
Behaviors = "What" / Skills = "How"
The second consideration when evaluating the differences between skill and behavior is the classification of each. In essence, behaviors really describe what is going on while skills describe how it is happening. Again, many training programs give you a lot of what and very little how. For example, how often have you heard "gain trust" or "build rapport"? These are all very valid outcomes for one to tackle if learning better communications; yet, these statements address what one needs to do (behavior), not how she needs to do it (skill). This is commonplace in our field because too often management truly wants the employee to attain an outcome but seems not to care how they get there. Arguably, there are multiple ways of achieving these behaviors; however, rarely are they addressed in a systemic way through skill development.
Behavior Is a Result of Skills
The bottom line here is that we must have some kind of skill to be able to manifest the behavior consistently. We must ask when we observe behavior, "What are the skills that are truly being manifested in the behavior?" Someone who wants to develop a new skill is most likely mimicking what a more successful person is doing and is not developing the skill; rather, she is simply mimicking another’s behavior, which ultimately fails as the context shifts.
It is my experience that many successful employees utilize different skills and approaches to achieve similar results. What distinguishes one employee from another is their associated skills and approaches; thus, someone mimicking another’s behavior without understanding the underlying skill will most likely not lead to similar results. Ultimately, while I can’t say that a particular skill always yields a particular behavior, we can argue that a particular set of behaviors likely stems from multiple diverse skills.
What other constructs in learning and development need more clarity when it comes to their operational definitions in order to enhance training and learning effectiveness?
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Creating an Action Plan for Your Agency’s Skills Gaps
Times change, and agencies cannot predict when their employees will need new skills. Triggers such as new hiring mandates can leave agencies painfully aware of the abilities their workforces lack. However, there are many strategies that exist for closing these skills gaps. GovLoop and Cornerstone OnDemand put together this worksheet to help you and your agency develop an action plan for effectively filling its skills gaps. In this worksheet, you’ll gain insights into: Best practices from the public and private sectors for addressing skills gaps. The strategies for closing skills gaps including recruitment, reskilling, and upskilling. Your agency’s triggers, biggest skills gaps, and the best approach to eliminate those gaps. Download this worksheet to create your action plan to close your agency’s skills gaps.
5 Ways to Empower Employees with Future Skills
With the onset of artificial intelligence and automation, the demand for a highly-skilled workforce dedicated to continued learning is growing. Though these tech tools have vast capabilities, employees need specific skills in order to engage with this emerging technology effectively. But many simply do not possess the necessary knowledge: according to a new report from Deloitte Insights, there could soon be too few college graduates to fill the over six million currently vacant jobs—52 percent of employers say they consistently can't fill open positions. The skills gap is real, and it's widening. Increasingly, organizations need individuals who are able to learn quickly and who are adaptable to outside factors like emerging technology. In today's skills economy—where employees' existing knowledge and their ability to gain new skills are their biggest assets—a lifelong effort to learn new technical, social and managerial skills is a required reality. In partnership with Cornerstone OnDemand, the Institute for the Future unveiled a Future Skills Map highlighting the capabilities that modern workers will need to thrive in an ever-changing, fast-paced, tech-focused work environment. Below are five of the 15 skills outlined in the map that you can already nurture in employees today, and advice for empowering employees to attain them: 1) Get [Course] Credit for Everything To ensure career growth, employees shouldn't rely on existing skills alone. Lifelong learners never stop developing, always getting credit for every new skill they develop, and using those credits to propel themselves along their career paths. Hiring managers can identify individuals who have pursued relevant courses, certifications or made other efforts to learn, and reward them. For example, before looking outward to fill open positions, consider candidates internally who have prioritized gaining new skills. Seeing their colleagues grow will also motivate other employees who may have been complacent in the past. 2) Upgrade Your Digital Fluency Robots aren't replacing humans any time soon, but there's no denying that automation is changing employees' roles. By 2020, companies will spend $150 billion on artificial intelligence, $83 billion on robots and $70 billion on AI-based systems—lifelong learners aren't afraid of this; they embrace it as an opportunity to develop their skills. Managers should help employees more wary of automation focus on ways the technology can simplify their work lives by demonstrating how AI can help them. In the healthcare space, for example, AI now plays a growing role in digitally verifying insurance coverage information, reducing the need for manual calls and freeing up office managers' time to take on important projects, like pricing new technology for the office. 3) Connect the Dots to Make Change Thanks to increased mobility and connectivity, the modern workforce is dispersed. Because of this, insight into everyone's tasks and projects can be a challenge. Lifelong learners make a consistent effort to understand what their colleagues work on—it's the only way to gain a full picture of overall organization goals and help fill gaps that appear. Empower employees, especially leaders, to better understand how their own teams, and other teams across the company, function. This may require bringing on new technology. To connect the dots for its workforce, plumbing-product manufacturing company Kohler implemented a new talent management system across all of its business units. This solution gave leadership deeper insight into employees' roles, skills and team structures. 4) Grow Your Multicultural Dexterity Diversity today means more than different genders, races or religions—it's now about uniqueness of experience, and how these experiences shape individuals and their workforce interactions. Lifelong learners are not afraid to work in unfamiliar situations or with new people, and can quickly and appropriately shift their mindsets and approaches depending on the environment they're working. This skill doesn't come easily to all. Improve employees' multicultural dexterity by challenging them with new environments. Does your organization span multiple offices? Encourage employees to travel between them and interact with colleagues they don't see every day. 5) Grow Caring at the Core Even in the age of automation and AI, humanness is essential in the workforce because it determines how machines are programmed, and how the insight they gather is applied on the job. Empathy is an intrinsic characteristic of lifelong learners because the ability to reflect is key for growth. For others, empathy can be a learned skill. Building empathy should be an ongoing practice in every organization. Open, respectful conversations that address biases and opinions are one way to start. Self-discovery training programs that help individuals assess their own personality types and psychological needs can also help employees better understand themselves before they attempt to understand others. Creating a culture that celebrates lifelong learning and inspires employees to achieve more will only work if the organization's leaders make it a priority. When developing a learning strategy, organizations would do well to remember that just as consumers have expectations of the brands they engage with, employees also expect a great deal from the companies that employ them. The onus is on organizations to deliver the kinds of learning experiences employees now crave—personalized, on-demand and holistic. Photo: Creative Commons
Use Skill Adjacencies to Upgrade Reskilling Efforts
In today’s job market, employers prioritize technical and specialized skills, especially when hiring junior-level employees in an effort to address ever-changing needs. But technical skill shortages in the labor market exist and are likely to continue as technology continues to evolve and rapidly permeate our working lives. As a result, organizations are developing learning and development strategies to address their urgent need for tech talent. Our team at the Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL), in collaboration with the Human Capital Institute (HCI), recently explored this trend, and researched viable solutions for closing the tech talent gap. The final report, titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change," found that one way that organizations can start to more proactively and quickly address skills gaps—sometimes even before they appear—is by locating skills adjacencies and leveraging them to develop new and necessary skills. This is also referred to as "new-skilling," which is defined as a proactive, data-driven approach to learning that leverages partnerships and tools to simultaneously strengthen existing skills and develop skills for new roles. What Are Skill Adjacencies? Skill adjacencies are linkages between employees’ existing abilities and those that they need to learn. By identifying these adjacencies, HR and L&D professionals can identify opportunities for upskilling or reskilling to meet emerging needs. For example, Gartner Research recently analyzed billions of job postings and found that a company in need of a natural-language processing expert can look to employees with machine learning, Python or TensorFlow experience because these skills are closely related. Similarly, employees with email marketing skills have experience that will help them more easily learn community management, while those with interface design skills can pick up the tenants of modern user research. How Do You Locate Skill Adjacencies? Our findings showed that 46% of high-performing organizations actively work to identify adjacent skill sets to better inform reskilling programs, while only 26% of other organizations do. But while using skill adjacencies to refine upskilling and reskilling efforts can bolster the success of an organization, our research also suggests the methods used to identify skills adjacencies might not be effective enough. Our survey revealed that the most common way to study skill adjacencies was by collecting information on similar employee capabilities online and saving that information into spreadsheets and databases. But these tracking techniques can be esoteric and, especially for larger or more complex organizations, collecting and analyzing the massive amounts of data necessary to identify trends is challenging without more advanced technology. As the need for more technical skills revolutionizes work roles, companies will be better served using emerging technological tools like machine learning or artificial intelligence tools to collect, analyze and identify skill adjacencies. These tools empower companies to parse more information—from not only online job postings but also internal skills surveys, competency models, certification requirements, experience metrics and more—in a faster, more automated fashion. The use of these tools will also ensure that reskilling and upskilling efforts zero in on changing skills trends as they appear and address them before they create deficiencies. Skill Adjacencies Keep Employees Confident In addition to their ability to improve a workforce’s agility, there’s another underlying benefit to skill adjacencies: increased employee confidence. Today, some 40% of employees aren’t confident that their abilities will be relevant in the future. But by directing them to skills development and training that’s aligned with their existing capabilities and their interests, employees will more easily and rapidly transition from their current roles, to emerging positions, to new needs within their organization. To learn more about Cornerstone’s HCI Survey and how to use its findings to inform or update your skills development efforts, click here to download and read the full report.