You Learn Best When You Learn Less

By Harvard Business Review
October 11, 2019

Last year, U.S. companies spent roughly $90 billion on learning and development efforts. But a survey of roughly 1,500 executives across industries, regions and companies of various sizes shows that 1 in 5 organizations do nothing to measure the impact of employee trainings. Of those that do, only 13 percent calculate quantifiable returns. It’s no wonder that two-thirds of employees think their training programs fail to improve business performance.

What most companies miss is that learning at work isn’t about how many hours you put in; it’s about getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

Simply put: You learn best when you learn less. At Humu, we help people accomplish that using a machine-learning technology we call the Nudge Engine. Our nudges are small, unintrusive suggestions and reminders delivered to employees through email or other messaging platforms. Our algorithms diagnose high-impact behaviors for each individual based on their role and experience, then nudge them with custom content that encourages those behaviors.

The science of nudges can be employed to help people take positive action to master new skills — without interrupting the normal flow of their work. Rather than spending a large sum of money on expensive learning modules, organizations can use relatively simple means to turn intention into action. Here are some tips to get started:

KEEP IT SMALL: In trainings, break lessons down into small, digestible pieces, and encourage employees to practice them over and over again in the real world. For example, if a leader wants to communicate better with her team, start by giving her three simple questions to ask in every one-on-one meeting: “What’s going well? What are some challenges you’re facing? How can I help?”

MAKE FEEDBACK A HABIT: Most people want to get better. When I worked at Google, we provided our managers with a semiannual report that highlighted their strengths and their areas of improvement. Even if they didn’t attend a single training, we consistently found that by the next assessment period, many managers had improved in areas they previously struggled with. You can apply this practice in your own organization by creating an environment in which employees and managers feel safe giving one another regular feedback — both positive and constructive.

PROVIDE REGULAR REMINDERS: Keeping sight of long-term development goals can be a huge challenge. An email reminder or an in-person check-in can keep people on track. Managers can make reminders a regular practice by first setting learning goals with their direct reports, and then meeting with them regularly to check in on progress. This will also allow them to give feedback and will help them handle any challenges they’re facing.

INVEST ONLY IN WHAT WORKS: Organizations that regularly measure the effectiveness of their training programs tend to have more effective training programs. If you continue to invest in learning and development, make sure you define measures of success beforehand. Regularly check whether these programs have a measurable impact. If they don’t, scrap them. Instead, shift your focus to investing in new technologies or strategies that have a track record of success.

Any workplace can benefit from adopting the mindset that you learn best when you learn less. These simple-seeming recommendations can unlock your teams’ full potential — and just might save you millions of dollars along the way.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Education

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