My son has entered week three of potty training. As I attempt to facilitate a smooth transition away from diapers I’m struck by how similar this experience is to my day job in the world of training.
It’s Compulsory (a sort of compliance training)
Recently, my son was offered a promotion. His teachers wanted to move him from the young toddler room to the older toddler room. The promotion comes with all sorts of perks: better toys, a nice corner classroom with sweeping views of the playground and a new set of challenges (the monotony of learning about primary colors will now be replaced with new and exciting secondary colors!). With more perks, however, come more responsibilities. One such responsibility is the need to use the bathroom. And therein lies a skills gap.
Even though a need has been identified and a development plan is now in place, there’s still a lot of resistance when it comes to combatting the status quo. Basically, he wants the new perks but he’s being forced to go through potty training in order to develop the requisite skill set for this promotion. I think he resents having this change thrust upon him.
Learning by Doing can be Messy… But it’s the Only Way to Go
As much as I’d like to ease the process along, the fact is that I can’t do the work for my son. He needs to figure out how to do this on his own. And he totally gets the theory of using the bathroom when it’s time to go. We’ve read books. I’ve modeled the behavior for him. I’ve even introduced technology (I’ll let him watch this clip from Sesame Street on my iPad if he’ll just stay seated!). When he’s asked where he should go when he feels nature is calling, he’ll give me the correct answer. In the world of corporate training, this would be enough to earn a certificate of completion for the training program. But I’m not quite ready to award this little guy a certificate of completion. Until he acts on this knowledge, all of these tools and technologies and theories alone will not have guaranteed skills transfer.
Feedback and Rewards
After outlining the need for the change, after introducing the theory and modeling the desired behaviors, we have also implemented an incentive system to ensure we celebrate the small victories along the way. Simple potty success earns a small treat (such as a piece of Halloween candy from what is apparently a magical, bottomless bag of sweets that found its way into our house last October). Demonstrating success in more complex potty maneuvers earns ice cream. In order to reinforce these successes, incentives are immediately payable, even if that means ice cream for breakfast. I do wonder sometimes what will happen when these incentives – new and novel now – are no longer seen as “special”? What happens when these incentives disappear altogether and it’s simply an expectation to deliver consistently successful results on behaviors that should be part of the everyday routine?
Follow-through and Follow-up
I do want to be sure that my son’s new skill set is used regularly as he prepares for his promotion, which is why I want to be sure that I follow up with his teachers to check in on his progress. The process of change isn’t a straight line, I know there will be some days when these skills aren’t used as well as other days. I may even need to prepare a refresher training at some point in the near future. Making sure there is an open line of communication between the trainer, the learner and the day-to-day supervisor (the teachers) is important. At the end of the day, I’m looking for signs of measurable post-training transfer of skills, things such as the percent decrease in the quantity of changes of clothes that need to be laundered after school each week.
Implications for the Working World
I’m really struck at how many similarities there are between potty training and corporate training – analyzing the gaps, designing the program, evaluating the results. Yet I’m also struck by the fact that, when I look around, even though it may take a year (or more), potty training is about 100% effective. How many change initiatives in our work have similar results? What happens during a major change initiative such as potty training that does not happen when we go about facilitating change in our work lives?
The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along. If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow” at the top of the page!