By Dr. Bobby Hoffman
Companies often devote massive resources toward employee education under the assumption that enhancing employee skill sets is beneficial for both the individual and the organization. The corporate investment in employee development is based on the company’s expectation of enhanced skill sets, increased productivity, and a positive relationship between training hours and profitability.
However, training employees comes with a price. One intangible cost is worker negativity and lack of enthusiasm toward training participation. Post-training repercussions include complaints about time away from work and the perception that little personal gain resulted from the developmental experience.
Here are four research-supported strategies that enhance training motivation:
1. Provide a compelling reason to participate.
Participating in a training session usually means that going forward, individuals must use different methods to meet job expectations. Resistance to change often ensues, leading to decreased productivity and personal frustration. Frontline employees often perceive “improvements” as justification for staff positions or believe that the organization is conducting training just for the sake of conducting training.
Overcome this motivational hurdle by communicating the consequences of notadopting new methods or procedures. Create a psychological dilemma and convince users that current methods have limitations. Keep in mind that unless they are dissatisfied with current procedures, employees will not be motivated to change, thereby negating the purpose of new and better methods.
2. Every initiative is evaluated based on value perceptions.
All individuals have a unique set of motivational beliefs that often operate unconsciously. Exposure to new ideas, goals or suggested process improvements triggers a cost/value appraisal. We evaluate the importance placed on achieving outcomes, the extent of satisfaction or enjoyment gained from the activity, the perceived utility of mastering or implementing the new knowledge, and the costs associated with participation. Costs are the consequences associated with engagement, including the inability to perform other, more desirable, tasks; effort investments; or the social aspects of participation.
Positive evaluations result in engagement, while negative assessments almost guarantee psychological withdrawal. For employees to assess training as valuable, articulate from their perspective how they will benefit from the training. Absent clear, plausible and relevant benefits, passionate engagement is unlikely.
3. Eliminate fear of failure.
For many, learning new skills is an anxiety-provoking experience. The employee may fear that acquiring new skills means additional responsibility or greater accountability following training. The context of learning can also be intimidating, as individuals often assess their self-confidence not by reaching specific competencies but by how they appear compared to others. If an individual harbors any self-doubt, psychological withdrawal may strike, especially in high-visibility situations.
To counteract the fear of failure, help employees understand that narrowing skill gaps is a sign of strength that demonstrates a high degree of self-awareness and willingness to improve. Instead of positioning training as eliminating knowledge deficits, create a culture where skill-building signifies initiative, humility, commitment and becoming a role model for others.
4. Avoid offering incentives.
Some organizations use carrots and sticks to motivate training participation. Incentives take the form of goals in the employees’ yearly performance plan, gifts, public recognition or monetary bonuses triggered when skill thresholds are reached. While these programs seem motivating at face value, a dilemma develops, because incentives encourage a focus on ending the training. When performance is exclusively motivated by incentives, individuals perceive the value or utility of achieving the task outcome as functionally meaningless except to earn the anticipated incentive. Instead of concentrating on what needs to be mastered, attention shifts toward gaining the reward.
If your company is committed to offering incentives, consider changing the program to equate earning the incentive with demonstrating job competency, not finishing a program. Consider on-the-spot or unexpected incentives, which are motivating because they do not diminish a skill focus or reward someone who completes the training as soon as possible.
While there is no guarantee that incorporating these strategies into a corporate training agenda will instantly revitalize employees, they eliminate many of the fundamental issues associated with reluctance to participate in personal development. Infusing these ideas into a training strategy is a boon for positive publicity. Feeling competent is a basic human need that, when satisfied by the organization, encourages sharing of the positive experience with others. Arguably, the best recruiting tool in the world is a motivated and satisfied employee.
Dr. Hoffman is an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, Psychology Today blogger and author. This article is based on his forthcoming book, Hack Your Motivation, due for a May 2017 release. For daily updates on motivation, learning and performance, follow him on Twitter.
Richard Feenstra is an educational psychologist, with a focus on judgment and decision making.
Bobby Hoffman is the author of "Hack Your Motivation" and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Central Florida.