Training and Long-Term Behavior Change in Enterprises

Training and Long-Term Behavior Change in Enterprises

Sunil Maulik, Ph.D., Mylo Solutions


The study of learning and behavior change has a long and broad history, which recently has included a specific sub-field termed “persuasive technology”. One key insight from these studies is that behavior change often follows a pattern of stages and that different kinds of behavior-change challenges exist at each stage. (This has traditionally been referred to as the behavior-change lifecycle.) The key to using training and education to make significant and sustained behavior change is to understand these challenges, and to develop specific techniques to address the challenges at each stage.

Studies of Behavior Change

A brief summary of psychological and neuroscience research into behavior change and habit-formation has shown the following general principles that are essential for organizations to understand before they can successfully implement a change-management system or process.

  1. Behavior change proceeds through phases: According to the transtheoretical model of behavioral change(1), we move from a pre-contemplative stage (not thinking about it), to a contemplative stage (thinking about it), to preparation (getting ready to do it), to the action (doing it), and finally to maintenance (still doing it.) Unfortunately, with most types of behavior change the final possible phase is relapse and we can fall back to any of the previous phases. (In fact, at any point we can technically revert back to an earlier stage in the process.)  Fogg (2) has extended the transtheoretical model to an understanding of the triggers (internal and external) that either initiate or inhibit a new habit, as well as the barriers to motivation. Fogg has broken down the precise variables involved in precipitating a behavioral action, namely motivation, ability, and trigger. In the Fogg behavioral model, a behavior B is a combination of all of these, or B=mat:


Figure 1 – The Fogg Model (2) : A behavior occurs when triggers, motivation and ability are sufficient to produce action

  1. Stages of change are not personality traits: It’s important to realize that stages of change are not traits of people in general. While they might seem to be stuck in the preparation stage this doesn’t mean that they will never progress to the next stage. More importantly, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to change. Stages vary in length, but they are not unchangeable.
  2. People can be in different stages for different behaviors at the same time: For example, it’s entirely possible for someone to be in the action stage with regards to exercise, but in the precontemplative stage with regard to nutrition. Also, a major change in work or family life can push someone back to the precontemplative stage for a behavior they were previously implementing. When people decide to move back into the action phase again, motivations and triggers must be first on their mind.
  3.  Moving through stages is not just about education: In the Fogg model, the role of triggers is critical, since typically the change-agent has little or no control over the motivation or ability of the user. Triggers may be extrinsic (external cues or factors), or intrinsic (subconscious beliefs or desires), and Fogg has pointed out that unless the triggers are strong enough to overcome barriers to motivation or ability, the desired behavior change is destined to fail.
  4.  Belief is a major driver of change: Self-efficacy is defined as the belief that one is capable of performing in a certain manner to attain a certain set of goals. If someone is not confident that they’ll be able to stick to a plan for change they are often unable to commit to action. This is where ongoing training for competency and mastery is critical. Pink (3) has shown that the major drivers of motivation in work are mastery, purpose and autonomy. Trying to change a major behavior can lead to low self-efficacy and a failure to adopt any changes at all. By setting up small successes and delivering the action one small change at a time (and providing immediate positive feedback) employees can achieve success while they feel a growing sense of mastery and purpose.

Behavior Change in the Enterprise

To compete in today’s business environment, companies must be constantly scanning the environment for threats and opportunities and taking action to drive business results. However, organizations often struggle with implementing specific, strategic change initiatives that improve business. Often the key challenge is in successfully executing strategies that require people to change their behavior. For example, a new strategy may require salespeople to call at higher levels in their client organizations and to take a more consultative approach. Alternatively, teams may need to collaborate across geographic and functional lines in developing and marketing a new capability. Often, managers must increase the innovation and productivity of their teams by creating an engaging environment. Creating and sustaining behavior change is thus a critical strategic issue for most companies. In a survey of 223 companies, Forum group (4) has found the following results:

  • Strategy execution requires behavior change.
  • Companies have difficulty sustaining behavior change.
  • Lack of management commitment and measurement are one of the main reasons change initiatives fail.
  • Respondents rated the sustaining phase (the time after the initiation of a change-management event) as the most important phase in creating lasting impact.

Despite the acknowledgement that the sustaining phase is the most impactful, organizations invest relatively little time and resources to it. The true value of training and education is realized in the ongoing process (beyond just one-time events) that allows for sustained behavior change.

Enabling the Enterprise through Continuous Training

Once leadership is able to articulate a successful change strategy, their change efforts often provoke resistance rather than engagement because many leaders think change is something they do to their people. Research shows, however, that organizations who execute better than others understand that change is done by people. In order to be successful, leaders need to equip employees with skills for self-directed change. These skills enable employees to recognize their individual role in changing their own habits in support of organizational goals.When individuals have both the motivation and ability required for change to happen, it does. Implementing the Pink model (3) of organizational change by fostering autonomy, mastery and purpose amongst employees is key to employee buy-in. Ongoing training and education, both formal and informal, can help employees recognize the personal, social, and environmental forces of influence currently working against them—and turn them in their favor. By doing so, they can take ownership for the role that they play in the change management process, and are more likely to engage in it. The right form of training, whether via classroom, online, formal or ‘over-the-shoulder’, combines to provide the needed intrinsic triggers and motivations that help make behavior change stick.


  • Sales transformation: When a company designs and implements a new strategy for their go-to-market and sales process, processes  and technologies change. Ideally, desired results and growth follow. Focusing on behavior change for the sales team, via e.g. gamification, and for the customer, e.g. via marketing training events designed to better educate the customer, are increasingly seen as critical components to a sales transformation process.
  • Plant operations: Companies periodically launch an analysis on the operations of their plant to in order to optimize and reduce waste. They also focus on safety. Typically results of such an analysis produce recommendations for leaner processes in the plant as well as implementing new applications for logging safety issues. However most plant managers have little or no experience with change management, learning and performance support. By leveraging strategies, methods and tools already in place from other projects, adoption of the new ways of working will be a lot easier, effective, sustainable and affordable.
  • Enterprise Change Management: There are structured and repeatable practices in a proven change management effort, which can be combined with specialists who facilitate the process with leadership. The combination of formal and informal methods is also reflected in the ongoing training and education. Enterprises can  leverage these resources by taking advantage of these specialists and the practices and expertise they bring to the organization. Once their expertise has been internalized, it can be rolled out broadly via a combination of formal and informal ongoing training processes.
  • Performance Support: Innovation in workforce performance support occur when the enterprise leverages all content and assets targeted for learning.  Employees often need support at point-in-time in order to master a discrete activity. Methods and tools used to streamline the development and deployment of learning can be leveraged effectively to support high-performance organizations.
  • Enterprise Collaboration: While there is currently a lot of discussion and debate about the value of social networking and informal learning in enterprises, it should be noted that employees have been sharing knowledge and expertise around the water cooler for years.  Enterprises need to enable that sharing electronically across borders. The effort and investment to be leveraged in forming communities of practice and enabling their collaboration is an essential part of an ongoing learning performance system.

In Conclusion

Companies can be more effective in sustaining behavior change and ensuring successful change management strategy execution by being aware of the following:

  • Sustaining behavior change takes investment in time and resources. It is necessary to take action after training to sustain change in order to realize lasting impact, and not just focus energy on delivery. For example, providing users with certificates, badges, points and other rewards (gamification) leads to a more sustained effort to sustain behavioral change. Having a system to manage certificates, badges and points is critical for maintaining employee motivation.
  • Sustaining behavior change requires a disciplined approach to learning and measurement. Leaders can demonstrate to management that their change initiatives are producing results based on clear outcomes from ongoing training and education. Reporting on the outcome of training initiatives in support of change-management processes via a single, integrated system is key to measurement, analytics and return on investment.
  • Sustaining behavior change requires buy-in from management. Being able to demonstrate results, and investing time and resources in follow-up, is essential for managers to motivate employees to applying training on the job in a way that generates lasting business impact.


  1. Prochaska, JO; Butterworth, S; Redding, CA; Burden, V; Perrin, N; Leo, M; Flaherty-Robb, M; Prochaska, JM. Initial efficacy of MI, TTM tailoring and HRI’s with multiple behaviors for employee health promotion. Prev Med 2008 Mar;46(3):226–31. Accessed 2009 Mar 21.
  2. Fogg, B.J.: “The Behavior Grid: 35 Ways Behavior Can Change.” In: Persuasive 2009, p. 42 (2009)
  3. Pink, D.H. “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” (2011) Riverhead Books
  4. Rowe, G. Peter Design Thinking (1987). Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-68067-7.
  5. Kelley T., and Kelley D., “Creative Confidence”, Crown Business, (2013), ISBN 978-0–385-34936-9
  6. Wendel, S. “Designing for Behavior Change: Applying Psychology and Behavioral Economics” (2013) O’Reilly Media


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