Wartime Training Lessons

The science of behaviour change may seem like an esoteric consideration for organisations interested in developing training programs. But the reality is this area of research can help companies change their workplace culture toward accepting training as an integral part of any forward thinking business strategy.

Studies have shown that presenting accurate information does not necessarily change behaviour. Examples abound.

Americans didn’t stop smoking when a public awareness campaign linking smoking to cancer presented clear evidence. In South Africa, when the link between HIV and unsafe sex was brought to public attention, the risky sexual behaviour did not stop. Look at modern campaigns to stop binge drinking in teenagers and combat drug use. Have these harmful forms of behaviour stopped as a result of education and information?

These may seem like extreme examples. But they emphasise that training or education alone cannot effect behavioural change.

Meat on the Bone—or not

There is an interesting initiative that came out of the US during World War 2.  The country was exporting most of its meat products to its overseas troops while at home there was an attempt by the government to get households to turn to other, less palatable forms of protein like sweetbreads.

Americans were reluctant to eat the likes of tongue and throat because they were associated with the eating habits of very poor people and were thought to taste horrible. World renowned cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead and her colleague, organizational psychologist Kurt Lewin, were tasked with changing American minds about the value of eating sweetbreads as the goal of the Committee on Eating Habits.

What Mead and Lewin found has implications for corporations interested in enhancing their corporate learning culture and it doesn’t involve eating pig’s ears.

The Mead/Lewin  research drew some important conclusions:

You need to provide incentives to change behaviour:   Those incentives can be monetary or values driven—for example, eating sweetbreads is a patriotic duty during wartime.

You need to overcome obstacles:  In the case of sweetbreads, those obstacles resided with the gatekeeper—the female head of household who thought that feeding the family sweetbreads would not only taste bad but she had no knowledge of how to prepare them.  Any training had to address these obstacles.

Let the stakeholders discuss their options before adoption: The information could not come in the form of a lecture  but by a “choice” born from discussions. The catchphrase for this successful approach was “discussion-decision”.

Can this sweetbread study have any bearing on corporate learning culture?

Let’s take each point.  Number one: Convince the gatekeeper.  Unless the corporate decision makers buy into the effectiveness of training—there is no chance for adoption.

If the gatekeepers say “yes,” then there must follow a consultation process with the stakeholders on the content of that training.

Once the decisions are made to go with training, then an appropriate incentive program needs to be put in place.

And what constitutes a motivational incentive program?

The next article will address that point.