Designing a behavioural skills program that actually works

Designing a behavioural skills program that actually works

At Bluesky Learning we envision a world, where all learning is impactful, engaging and fun for everyone.
But when learning has to translate into concrete actions and sustained habits, it becomes challenging to design a program that can address this – primarily because changing behaviours is hard work – our own and that of others.
So, I have put together a few questions that can help you design a behavioural skills program that actually works irrespective of whether it is virtual, digital or physical.
The 5 Questions

  • What?
  • Why?
  • Where am I?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • Now what?

Answering this set of five questions will help you design a fairly successful behavioural skill program and there’s a specific reason why I put two of them in red and we will soon see why.
So most behavioural skills programs designed today, especially the ones that are designed for large audiences, almost always answer the first two questions: the what and the why.

For example, if we want to design a communication skills program for first-time managers, your content is likely to start with saying what communication skills mean and go on to say why it is relevant for that particular person in that particular role.

But most of that content is actually fairly commonsensical. For example, the one element which is talked about a lot in communication skills is effective listening. Everyone knows that effective listening is important in communication.

So you have to go beyond that learning and actually make it relevant for the audience.
So how do we do that?

That’s answered in the next three questions.

So going further from what and why, you have to get the participants to reflect on where they stand on communication skills. Prompt them to ask questions like: Where do I stand on my communication skills? Where do I stand on listening? Am I clear when I communicate?
If we do not get them to see the gap between their knowledge and what they demonstrate every day – right in the beginning, that learning will never happen. This is so because you are only telling them what they already know!

So your design should include a scenario, a case study, a game, an activity or a reflection tool where they are able to clearly see the gap between what they know and what they actually do.

The next step is to ask them why this skill is important and how it manifests in their daily work – for their particular role in the organization.
So that’s the part that you have to get them to answer. You could use examples or real-life situations and ask them to either work individually or in groups to work on a solution to that typical situation. The idea is to get them to see how they’re able to apply that particular skill in a situation that is typical of their job role.

You have to nudge them one step further where the participant has reflected on where he/she stands on this behaviour and understands the application of that behaviour in his/her job role.

But the learning doesn’t end there!But the learning doesn’t end there!
A good behavioural skill program has to answer the last question: Now what?

  • Now, what do I do with all this knowledge?
  • How do I make this change?
  • How do I make it part of my working style going forward?

This is the part where you have to help the participants articulate a clear action plan using simple tools.
The action tool should help them identify what they are going to do going forward, where they use everything that they’ve learned and convert it into an actionable outcome.
It is important to remember and point out to the participants, that all behaviour is instinctive. So unless you change what you do, and do that consistently, your new behaviour will not take shape.
Let’s go back to the example of communication skills: So, as a first-time manager, I have realized that effective listening is the part that I need to work on. So the next step for me is to think about how I can demonstrate this and what habit I can start forming so that I become an effective listener.
And let’s say I articulate this as ‘ I will paraphrase each time I communicate with my team.’
Once that commitment is made I have to make that commitment to someone because all of us as adults are better when we make a commitment to somebody else; as opposed to a commitment that we make to ourselves.

So, the last step is to find an accountability partner – to whom you make that commitment; and that person is able to observe and give you continuous and honest feedback about your behaviour.
Answer these five questions while designing a behavioural skills program, and you can be sure it will be an effective one. Ensuring that the participants leave the session with very concrete outcomes, as opposed to just knowledge which they already have, will also ensure you see a delta change on the ground.

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Bhaskar Thyagarajan, CEO & Founder – Bluesky Learning