Another Odd Couple—Weight Loss and Corporate Learning
August 2, 2011
I’d run on the elliptical about half an hour. My monitor said I’d burned 350 calories. I was in the zone where my thoughts wander as I kept trudging away trying to lose weight. Our clients were asking this tough question: “We do training—classroom and online—but after that, how do we keep it alive? Do we need periodic webcasts, briefings, short classes, more refresher modules?” At around 40 minutes on the elliptical, the thought hit me: learning is like losing weight—it’s what the learner does outside of all the training and refreshers that’s the key to success. We can and should supply tools, but for learning to last, the student, like the dieter, must do the heaviest lifting. At around 45 minutes, more insight: We’ve been putting too much responsibility on content delivery and knowledge reinforcement. If a key goal of organizational learning is to lead to behavioral change, we need to give leaders, managers and other team members, more daily responsibility, not just episodic learning. Coaching and tools help, but dieters and students must apply what they’ve learned to get results. I’ve wanted to lose weight for a while. I know all the health reasons, and I’ve gotten tired of having to increasingly loosen my belt. In mid-March, I heard a dynamic speaker, Jim Karas, discussing diet and weight-loss tips. He gave me, and a group of 15 other executives, advice on what to eat, how to exercise properly, and build weights into our regimen along with cardio workouts. He had an inspirational delivery, and he offered specific tips. I realized if I could follow them, I’d lose weight, feel better and have more energy. I’ve lost 17 pounds so far and my goal is to lose more; how much, though, I’m keeping to myself. Losing weight involves diet and exercise. If you don’t maintain both practices, back comes the weight. For most, it usually does. I know what I’m supposed to do, but will I keep doing it is the question. The key is ultimately not more knowledge but better habits driven by ongoing commitment and action. There are several tools that those managing their weight use and the principles are similar to those dieters use to keep the pounds off, which, by the way, requires long-term “culture” change. • The right learning and message start the process. Karas’ presentation made me think about why I should change my habits and gave me a simple road map to follow. While he delivered a great presentation, if I didn’t take steps to follow it, there’d have been no results. Another lecture would start the process all over again but unless I actually took and maintained action myself between lectures, there’d be no continuity and no lasting results. • Behavioral change is a daily process. I’ve made specific, clear changes in my daily routines. These include: a. Keeping track of exercise and calories in a small journal I carry everywhere. b. Recording what I eat and approximate calories in that same book. c. Weighing myself daily on the same scale at the same time every day and recording the weight. d. Discussing what I’m doing with others to keep me focused and committed and in a sense accountable to others not just me. e. Realizing that this is a process, not just a single exercise or distinct short-term objective. That’s the reality if I want to keep the weight off not just have a temporary dip. To organizations trying to change behavior and keep those changes in place, my advice is to deliver strong messages backed up by simple rules supported by daily ongoing practices. Think of it as a different kind of diet with the same outcome—long term and worthwhile changes. Viewed this way, here are some tips to help learners include plans requiring them to: a. Record what they are going to do to behave differently. b. Every day, keep track of what they have done in line with what they have learned; this can and should take less than two minutes a day. c. Discuss their activities and changes informally with other leaders in structured online or small group meetings, which are brief but regularly scheduled. d. As with dieting, realize this is a process not a single exercise or distinct short-term objective. Obviously, there are other steps, but these reflect the basic idea. It’s dieters who exercise, cut back on calories, change behavior in small increments every day and hold themselves accountable for the changes, with the right support who will lose weight and keep it off. That’s how lasting learning works, too. Stephen Paskoff is president and CEO of Atlanta-based ELI Inc., a provider of ethics and compliance learning solutions. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.