Don’t Trust Training and Education to Change Your Culture

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There’s a secret that your training department and the thousands of professional speakers and trainers aren’t telling you: You won’t change your culture by simply sending your people to training or bringing in an outside speaker.

Let’s be clear. Continuous training and education are important for your business. Over the years various studies have suggested that consistent support of employee training is an important tool for retaining employees and leads to higher profit margins. Millennials rate training and development as one of their most valued work benefits. Likewise, it is good to challenge your team with new ideas and inspire them to achieve more.

Culture change, however, requires more than inspiration or learning a new skill. Your culture is rooted in your core values and defined by the habits displayed over time. If people don’t share your values, sending them to a training class on how to live them is a waste of time.

Lessons from the Field

Compulsory diversity training has been a way of life in corporate America for years. There is an obvious legal requirement, but many companies believe, as Coca-Cola puts it, that diversity is a crucial part of who they are, how they operate, and how they see the future. That’s why companies such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Marriott, and Zappos value diversity and inclusion as crucial part of their culture.

Unfortunately, a study by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev suggests that sending people to compulsory training classes has little impact on reducing bias and prejudice in the workplace. In fact, it can make them worse.

Similarly, a Harvard Business Review article from October 2016 reported that companies launching major transformations by sending employees through a training program actually lagged in performance from the sample company that didn’t use that approach.

The truth is that many of the education and training sessions used to promote culture change focus on raising awareness, and knowledge of the need to change doesn’t result in people actually doing so.

Dr. Victor Strecher, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, says, “We’ve known for over 50 years that providing information alone to people does not change their behavior…There are a lot of reasons why people do what they do, but a lack of awareness of their actions’ potential repercussions ranks pretty far down the list.”

What Changes Your Culture

There is a place for awareness education and training. It is, however, only one small piece of the transformation puzzle. A more effective approach involves these three pieces:

  1. Process, structure, and system change. It is easy to fall into the trap that behavior and performance will change once the culture changes. That’s not the way it works. Culture change follows behavior and performance change. Altering your organization’s processes, structure, and operating systems forces the repetition that creates new habits.
  2. Metrics that tie change to business and personal results. People buy into a change if it makes sense. They sustain that change when it produces results. Most important, tying change to specific and measured expectations let’s people know that you are serious about follow-through. It is easy to feign support and then continue to do what you have always done when there are no measures of success. Metrics shine a light on who is and isn’t changing.
  3. The commitment to make the change important. The goal is for everyone to take ownership for the culture you want to create. That happens when there are consequences for both positive progress and a failure to support the desired change. Remember: results occur when you hold accountable for what you expect, and what gets rewarded gets repeated.

Don’t abandon your training and education efforts. People need to know how to do their jobs, and educating voluntary learners is an important tool for growing and retaining your next generation of stars. Likewise, hiring a speaker to rev up the troops or showing an inspirational video can be useful to create initial awareness and energy as you are launching a transformation. Just don’t expect that education and training alone will change your culture.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit , email, or call 972.980.9857.

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