<p>Done right, investing in sustainable learning enables workers to close the knowing vs. doing gap. For sustainment to work, however, a real shift in thinking is required. <br /><br />For years, “main event” components of learning — such as virtual or face-to-face programs or workshops that introduce new concepts, skills, tools and behaviors — have dominated learning interventions. This approach has neglected the importance of ongoing sustainment and reinforcement of the new knowledge and behaviors. We call the neglectful approach “spray and pray.” <br /><br />Our experience shows that for sustainment plans to be successful, they need to fit with the learning environment, the nature of the work, and the work styles and capabilities of the target audience. A successful approach includes the following three actions.<br /><br /><strong>1. Assess the learning environment. </strong>Leaders should think about the environment for learning whenever they embark on an initiative that requires changing behaviors in the workforce. A significant range of conditions exist in organizations that can impact choices about how to support and improve adoption and mastery of new knowledge, skills and tools. A comprehensive assessment will identify what learning practices, processes and tools currently exist in the workplace and then evaluate them at three levels: organizational, work group and individual. <br /><br /><strong>2. Identify ownership levels. </strong>In the spray-and-pray world of performance improvement initiatives, organizations fail to define who is expected to drive the behavior change and application of new skills and tools. Rather, it’s assumed that everybody has a role, with the manager population implicitly central in supporting individual learners back on the job. But in the case of everybody owning it, nobody owns it. <br /><br />In the “sustain to attain” approach, the learning environment assessment defines the primary- and secondary-level ownership of sustainment activities. They fall into three categories: <br /><br />• <strong>Organization drives: </strong>The learning and development organization invests in centrally driven reinforcement activities and events. <br /><br />• <strong>Leaders lead: </strong>The ownership and responsibility for sustainment and reinforcement work lies primarily in the hands of managers. <br /><br />• <strong>Learners seek: </strong>Sustainment efforts are in the hands of the individual learners. They select what they will do and how to sustain what they are learning. <br /><br />Once the primary and secondary owners have been identified, the appropriate sustainment activities can be chosen to fit with the ownership, and the owners of these activities can gain a clear definition of the specific expectations of their roles.<br /><br /><strong>3. Choose sustainment activities. </strong>There are four categories of sustainment activities:<br /><br />• <strong>Examples (“I see it.”): </strong>Activities in this group help learners see and know what they should be applying back on the job. These activities allow learners to experience what it feels like to successfully master the new behaviors and tools. <br /><br />• <strong>Assessments (“I need it.”): </strong>Assessment activities uncover gaps in performance and opportunities for improvement. These activities allow the learner, line manager, coach and organization as a whole to rate current performance and then use the feedback to establish or update improvement goals. <br /><br />• <strong>Opportunities (“I do it.”): </strong>Deliberate practice is at the heart of behavior change. Opportunities for application of new skills and tools don’t have to amount to 10,000 hours, but they do need to be more significant than a couple of notes in an action plan at the end of a formal workshop or e-learning event. The nature of the work determines to what extent deliberate practice needs to be in a safe or simulated environment or whether practice drills can be done on the job.<br /><br />• <strong>Supports (“I live it.”): </strong>Activities in this group include significant catalysts for change. Affirmation and encouragement are often underrated but have been shown to be highly effective in helping people change a behavior and move through any short-term performance dip on the way to lasting improvement. <br /><br />Sustainment might not be as immediately obvious an undertaking as the initial introduction of new behaviors, but without it, the impact of learning is blunted. Lack of support and reinforcement can cause learners to lapse into old behaviors, defeating the purpose of the behavior-change initiative. Given the strategic importance of behavior change and the resources organizations dedicate to achieving it, learning organizations should abandon ineffective spray-and-pray approaches in favor of those that sustain to attain. By doing so, they’ll help learners develop and master new behaviors that stick for the long term and lead to the desired performance and impact. </p>
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