Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Outliers: The Story of Success,” said that, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
The opportunity to practice new complex skills in today’s workplace is essential to employee growth. But many learning and development programs stop short of offering practice opportunities in sufficient quantity and quality to create lasting change.
Research from across the behavioral sciences—including psychology, behavioral economics, and organizational behavior—shows that lasting individual transformation entails three essential stages: Learning, Doing, and Being (LDB).
In part two of this blog series, we’ll look at the second stage of individual transformation—Doing—and why it is critical to driving people and organizational change in the workplace today.
Stage Two: Doing
For employees to successfully develop new complex skills—the so-called “soft skills” of enduringly leadership behaviors—they must actively work on practicing those behaviors in the workplace. This phase of transformation often requires a great deal of effort and energy from the individual, so it’s important to understand how to help them succeed. Several principles are key:
Motivation. Working on new behaviors can be energetically taxing. Individuals must be motivated to make changes, which will give them the fuel to work on new skills and behaviors.
Self-efficacy. Anyone who wants to change must believe that they can do so. This helps someone to persist in the face of obstacles, which is critical for repeating behaviors often enough and consistently enough to create significant neural change.
Mental Energy. Even with sufficient motivation and confidence, it’s impossible to start or sustain change if one is struggling with stress, burnout, or other energetic deficits. Self-care and stress relief are important to open up greater psychological reserves for more challenging work.
In the Doing phase, repetition and constant trial and error are also important. People need the opportunity to repeat new behaviors and learn from their successes and failures, refining their practices and turning these new skills into habits. Receiving accurate and timely feedback is a critical component of this trial and error, because we need to know how close our efforts are coming to achieving our goals.
How Coaching Supports Behavior Change
Organizations today don’t often provide employees with sufficient time and support necessary to move successfully through the Doing phase. Employees may gain knowledge or learn more about themselves and how they need to grow, but without the opportunity to repeatedly and longitudinally practice and integrate new behaviors, there will be no lasting impact.
The introduction of individualized and personalized coaching for employees at all levels is about making lasting behavior change possible in the workplace. Our coaching model at BetterUp provides the necessary ingredients to help employees grow and change.
Here are a few ways that coaching helps individuals as they work on new skills and behaviors:
Setting goals. Coaching helps individuals identify outcomes they are motivated to achieve and develop strategies for overcoming obstacles that arise. This is core to helping them move from Learning to Doing.
Providing accountability, reinforcement, and feedback. As employees work toward their goals, they need to practice them consistently and be held accountable for their progress.
Coaching gives employees a psychologically safe and supportive relationship within which to examine failures and discover new knowledge about themselves. Mistakes must be embraced and examined as part of learning, but this can only effectively be done in the context of a trusting relationship. There are no other reliable alternatives to this type of unconditional support for employee growth.
Assessment of the whole person. A coach looks at the employee’s whole person—including measuring stress, burnout, self-efficacy, and motivation—and can help identify areas that need shoring up to support behavior change.
The right amount of challenge. Individuals need to be pushed to grow, but it’s a delicate balance. On one hand, too little challenge can lead to boredom. On the other, too much challenge can lead to feeling overwhelmed. Coaches can identify the right level of challenge for each coachee, stretching them enough to enable growth at the optimal pace.
In part three of this blog series, we will look at the “Being” phase and why this stage is critical to driving both people and organizational transformation. I’ll also discuss how coaching can help individuals turn newly acquired skills and behaviors into integrated, lasting changes to their whole selves.
For a more in-depth look at this process, read Learning to Doing to Being, which also includes a case study of an employee moving through these three stages of transformation in the workplace.