Behavior Modeling and Practicing the New Skills

In a behavior modeling program, each learner must have an opportunity to practice the new skill. In most cases, it is possible to provide practice opportunities. In certain situations, however, it might not be cost-beneficial to do so. Imagine, for example, that someone advocated that all airline passengers boarding transoceanic flights practice using flotation equipment in water before flying.

The purpose would be to ensure that everyone could float with the flotation device when fully clothed. Those who couldn’t do this would be provided with feedback and coaching on how to use the flotation equipment.

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Obviously, this would be a costly skill practice. Although it’s possible to provide every passenger with an opportunity to skill practice in this manner, it’s not probable that it would be done. After all, passengers would have to arrive at the airport early, and flotation equipment and water tanks would have to be available, with lifeguards present. Some provision would have to be made for drying the passengers’ clothes or , providing them with an extra set. The decision to be made here is whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

For the Homespun supervisors, the opportunity to skill practice could be provided in a classroom situation, where groups of six to eight trainees could try out their new skills in realistic situations based on their office environment. Even better, they could be asked to describe a situation they had to deal with on the job. While two supervisors skill practiced, the remainder of the group could observe and take notes. Following skill practice, they could provide feedback supervisors’ proficiency in handling the situation.

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The learner should be reinforced for using the new skills, both in and out of the classroom. Classroom reinforcement is quite easy to achieve; properly trained instructors can manage the group dynamics so that there is social reinforcement. But on-the-job reinforcement is often more difficult.

First, you must do an analysis to determine whether sufficient reinforcement exists to assure sustained use of the new skills on the job. Because sufficient reinforcement is not present in most cases, you must discover the barriers to reinforcement. Only then can you decide whether these barriers can be overcome.

There are several possible barriers to reinforcement:

• Peers— If the peers of a newly trained supervisor are not using the skills, that supervisor is unlikely to continue to use them. Conversely, if a supervisor sees many of his or her peers using the skills, the tendency will be to give them a try. The best way to provide peer reinforcement is to train all peer supervisors in the same skills.

• Workers— If workers don’t respond favorably to the supervisor’s use of the new skills, the supervisor will quickly stop using those skills. To ensure favorable worker response and, therefore, work reinforcement, supervisors must be trained to handle various types of employee reactions.

• Managers— The manager of the supervisor frequently does not reinforce the supervisor. Actually, managers can reinforce supervisors’ use of the newly learned skills in three ways. As a coach, the manager can offer supervisors suggestions on how to handle specific on-the-job situations.

As a reinforce, the manager can recognize and praise the supervisor when the latter uses the newly learned skills on the job. As a positive model, the manager can show the supervisor that the skills are worth using on the job.

• The Organization— Many times, the organization doesn’t reinforce the use of the skills. In that case, you must examine the rewards and punishments within the organization. Unfortunately, some organizations not only don’t reward the use of newly learned skills, they actually punish those who practice them. For example, it may be punishing for a salesperson to handle a customer complaint effectively, because the time lost could be used to make other sales leading to commissions.

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In Homespun, it was felt that the newly learned supervisory skill of effectively conducting a probationary interview could be reinforced in several ways:

1. All supervisors were to participate in the training.
2. During the actual discussion with the employee, the supervisors probably would find employees much less defensive than previously. While riot guaranteed, it seemed probable that having supervisors approach probationary conversations in such a manner would produce positive problem-solving results.
3. All managers were shown how to reinforce the newly learned skill and how to coach the supervisor whenever a situation warranted probationary action.
4. Finally, the personnel department would reinforce the skill. Since all documentation of probations passed through this department, employment personnel would be coached to give positive feedback to supervisors as the quality of this documentation improved.

Source : TRAINING MAGAZINE. Written by James C. Robinson and Dana L. Gaines

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