Behavior Modeling for Managers and Supervisors

Since behavior modeling began as an experiment with a few supervisors at General Electric in 1970, it has grown into a learning technology that will be utilized in the training of more than 500,000 supervisors, managers and employees this year. Certainly, the numbers are impressive. But the pragmatist should ask, “How do we know that behavior modeling is the most effective learning experience for every one of those 500,000 learners?” The answer is, “We don’t know and probably never will know.”

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Nevertheless, we must ask that question each time a decision is made to use behavior-modeling programs in our organizations. We all have a responsibility to our organizations to use behavior modeling (or any other learning technology) only when it is the most effective and cost-beneficial approach to a given problem. Only through careful deliberation can we determine when and under what circumstances behavior modeling should be used.

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After several years of experimenting, we have developed a seven-step decision-making process that will enable organizations to ex¬amine any training situation to de¬termine whether behavior modeling is appropriate. To illustrate how each step leads toward the ultimate decision, we will use a hypothetical organization, the Homespun Insurance Company. Homespun has 3,400 employees, with the majority located in a major city. There are 200 first-level supervisors in the organization.

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Given: Possible training need exists
The decision-making process starts when a possible training need is identified. This training need can per¬tain to employees, supervisors, man¬agers, top management or any seg¬ment of the organization. It usually refers to a current performance deficiency (for example, not achieving a current job expectation) or some fu¬ture problem (for example, learning to market a new product).

In the Homespun Insurance Company, the possible training need in¬volved the ability of first-line super¬visors to put an employee on probation without causing the employee to leave the organization. In the previous year, supervisors justifiably had put employees on probation 48 times; 20 of these employees eventually left the organization. Because rehiring and retraining for the 20 open positions had een costly to Homespun, the company hoped that a training program might reduce the expense.

The decision is to determine whether the performance deficiency is a result of a lack of skill and knowledge or due to other factors. When the performance deficiency is a result of something other than skill or knowledge, management should seek non-training solution which often involve changing the conditions in which the person is expected to perform rather than training that person to do something he or she already knows how to do.

According to Mager and Pipe, if a person has a genuine skill or knowledge deficiency, then the primary remedy must be either to change the skill level (teach the individual how to do it) or to change the job responsibilities. If, on the other hand, the person is able to perform the job, the solution lies in something other than enhancing skills and knowledge.

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“Teaching” someone to do what he or she already knows how to do isn’t going to change that person’s skill level. Instead, the remedy is to change the conditions in which the person is expected to perform.

Supervisors at Homespun obviously were struggling to conduct effective probationary conversations with em¬ployees. In almost every instance, it was in the company’s best interest to have a poorly performing employee correct performance deficiencies. Supervisors, however, felt so pressured by these disciplinary conversations that their primary objective was to “get it over with.”

Consequently, the supervisors did not clearly delineate the performance standards expected of the employee. In addition, the discussions often provoked defensive reactions from the employees. To further complicate the matter, the supervisors were not consistently fol¬lowing corporate policies when placing employees on probation. But the crux of the problem was that many supervisors lacked the skill to conduct such conversations effectively.

The second step in the decision-making process is to determine whether the deficiency is one of skill or one of knowledge. Behavior modeling is a feasible method of teaching skills; some other process, however, would be more appropriate for cognitive learning. Since the performance deficiency often involves a combination of skill and knowledge, behavior modeling frequently is used in con¬junction with another type of learning experience.

For example, if we were to design a program to teach student pilots to fly aircraft, we would confront a situa¬tion in which the students would have to learn several things. First, they must learn the theory of flying so they would know why an aircraft leaves the ground at given speeds.

They also would have to develop the skills of applying power during takeoff; of con¬trolling the aircraft’s rudders, aile¬rons and elevators; and of reading the instruments during takeoff. We would utilize a non-behavior modeling process for the theory of flight, while we might consider behavior modeling to teach the new pilots how to control the aircraft.

At Homespun, the training need did require skill and knowledge train¬ing. Supervisors needed knowledge about corporate policies and docu¬mentation requirements regarding probation. They needed skill training in how to conduct an interview that would maintain employee self-esteem and minimize defensive reactions. Supervisors also needed help in learn¬ing how to participate with employees as they attempted to solve per¬formance problems jointly. These are skills that could be acquired in a classroom.

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

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