Wednesday, September 15, 2010

eLearning as Part of a Change Management Effort

By Shelley A. Gable

Have you ever thought, “well, that was a waste of time; it’s not like I’m gonna do anything differently now;” as you completed a training course?

I’ll admit it: I have.

A less-than-compelling training design might be to blame. But maybe not.

A lot of smart people in the field often remind us that a training event alone rarely accomplishes an organization’s goals. In order for training to succeed, it must be supported by other efforts in the organization. Change management models offer a framework for thinking about this.

Many change management models exist, and I’m opting to focus on Jeffrey M. Hiatt’s ADKAR model for this post – it’s simple and captures most of the components included in other models.

Let’s look at the ADKAR change management model against the backdrop of a project I worked on a while back, which involved teaching customer service representatives a conversation flow for resolving customer complaints. Prior to the training, the organization had no formalized model or flow – just a list of tips for talking with angry customers. The purpose of the flow was to ensure that customer complaints were resolved effectively and consistently (ultimately increasing the likelihood that customers with a dissatisfying experience would receive a satisfactory resolution and remain loyal to the company).

A = Awareness of the need to change
In this model, awareness is more than an email announcement. Building awareness requires a communication process that attempts to shape perceptions by building a case for the need to change. At this point, it isn’t necessarily critical to actually announce what the forthcoming solution is. Rather, the focus is on explaining why a change is necessary to solve a problem, seize an opportunity, etc.

In our example, supervisors built awareness by talking to employees individually and in team meetings about the inconsistent handling of customer complaints. They shared data on the rate of repeat business from customers who have complained and explained the benefits of improving that rate. They engaged employees by asking them what they thought was most challenging about handling complaints (many responded that they often didn’t know what to say to upset customers).

D = Desire to change
As creatures of habit, we often feel burdened when change is imposed on us. While it may be easy to assume that people will change if their job requires it, the truth is that people tend to do what they want to do, regardless of whether it aligns with what the organization wants. So it makes sense that inspiring a desire to change would help things move along more smoothly.

In our example, supervisors participated in brainstorming sessions to identify likely sources of resistance and support for the change, so that communication and training would address both by mitigating resistance and leveraging supporting factors. Since employees were evaluated on their handling of customer complaints, supervisors also explained how having a consistent flow would improve those metrics (tapping into the “What’s In It For Me” factor) and make these conversations feel easier.

K = Knowledge to change
This is the training component of the change model. Teaching employees the knowledge and skill needed to change their behaviors so that the organization can meet its goals. This includes not only the training event, but also job aids and any other needed forms of performance support.

A = Ability to change
Have you ever attended training or a conference and become excited about an idea, only to find yourself unable to apply it when you got back to work? I’ve been there. I think most of us in training understand the importance of allowing people to apply newly learned knowledge and skills on the job as soon as possible in order to ensure that it sticks.

R = Reinforcing the change
This involves continuing to reinforce the change after training by celebrating and recognizing successes, rewarding employees for their success, and adapting the change into existing monitoring processes and performance measures for ongoing accountability.

In our example, supervisors offered small incentives during the two weeks that followed training. They shared employees’ success stories during team meetings and as model examples for individual coaching. And they slightly modified their existing performance measures related to customer complaints to more clearly align them with the new flow.

So what?
The moral of the story is that training should be part of a larger change management effort in order for it to stick and accomplish an organization’s goals. Are your eLearning projects typically part of a change management effort? And if so, what successes and challenges have you encountered?


  1. Just what I needed to know - thanks so much!

  2. Hi Shelly, really love your insights - thanks you so much! I can only repay you by learning from you and applying it to help others change their worklives.


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