Magic yellow cards

One of a trainer’s biggest challenges is to ensure trainees actually integrate the new skills into their daily practices.

If the trainer and the learner are in the same department, it’s easier, as the instructor can watch the learner perform the new skills and can check on him/her regularly, providing kudos for utilizing new skills or coaching when needed.

However, when the provider is not housed in the same organization it can be difficult to ensure the new skills are being used. It has been a decades-long challenge for me, as an external consultant, to create ways that ensure learners actually integrate new skills.

Commonly, I ask the client how they plan to reinforce the establishment of new skills. They usually sit blank faced or stammer something about performance evaluations. So I offer suggestions and structure to enable the learners’ managers to reinforce new skills. Most do nothing with these ideas, as new out-of-the-norm concepts are hard to assimilate, especially with daily priorities screaming at you.

On rare occasion, an enlightened leader embraces the notion that reinforcement is a must, or old habits will quickly replace any new behaviors, especially when there is no accountability.

I am currently blessed with working with a set of exceptional leaders at the County of Santa Clara. The hard-working and innovative-thinking Director has embraced my suggestions and we’re implementing them now.

She’s enthusiastically welcomed my training plan for her 90 employees. Instead of a traditional design of four full-day sessions, I created four 2-hour mini-seminars, spaced out every other week for two months. By breaking the 8 hours of learning into 4 sections instead of one full day, the organization gets a much bigger ROI than if they just had 4 groups each go through a full-day training.

At the end of each 2-hour session, participants are given a 4×6″ yellow card, on which they write 1-3 skills they want to focus on enhancing during the next two weeks. They share their areas for improvement with colleagues at their table. Their coworkers are told to give kudos when they catch the other trying the new skill.

Participants are asked to post the yellow card where they can see it at least 5 times a day: Around their terminal, on their cubicle wall, or near their phone. The yellow cards are clearly visible in everyone’s work space so all can see there is departmental adoption of individual continuous improvement.

Finally, at the end of each training day after the three 2-hour sessions, all 20 managers attend a brief meeting with me on how they can reinforce the integration of the new skills. The yellow cards have become critical for their reinforcing these new behaviors. I asked them to meet with each of their employees for 5 minutes after the session and share what’s on their yellow cards. The manager makes a note of what his/her employee is focusing on enhancing, and shares what s/he (the manager) is wanting to improve.

Throughout the between-session weeks, the manager watches and listens for signs that the employee is trying the new skills. If the employee uses the new skills successfully, they get accolades. If not, they get gentle encouragement, private discussion, role playing or coaching.

The Director and managers are excited about this approach to developing their people and improving their department communication. They have adopted the concept that they are integral to refining their staff’s behaviors. They have been willing and enthusiastic about admitting their own areas of improvement and allowing their staff to support them in making the changes.

The yellow cards have proven to be magical tools for increasing each participant’s awareness for improvement, and helping the managers step up to their role as on-the-job coach and supporter.

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