The Key to Making Communication Training Stick

By Heather Campbell

“I used to think of going to comms workshops as a real waste of time. Just something that got in the way.”

The manager wasn’t joking.

I’d just finished running one such workshop. According to this manager, he had been ‘sent’ on all sorts of workshops and courses, learning any number of different tools and techniques to improve the way he communicated with his team. He’d even half-heartedly put some of them into practice – for a while.

But there was never any long-term change in his behaviour. He knew he didn’t communicate well, but he’d decided it was just the way he was.

I used to be an HR manager, and this all felt very familiar. Leaders would attend workshops so they could learn to give better feedback and to handle difficult conversations.

But three months down the line, all the same problems would still be there. The concepts they’d learned remained theory, and that chunk of our budget spent on the workshops felt like money down the drain. (In fact, it was one of the biggest frustrations with all training, not just comms.)

But it doesn’t have to be like that – as this manager’s story shows. Over the course of my workshop, I’d noticed he was one of the most engaged participants, asking questions and volunteering views.

He’d obviously turned over a new leaf. Could it all have been down to me and my team?

Well, much as I’d like to claim the credit, the turning point had come the month before (although he did tell me that CommsMasters had delivered the most practical training he’d ever attended).

He’d been up for a promotion, and was sure he was going get it because he had just the right experience and qualifications. But it went to someone else.

When he asked why, he was told it was because of the poor way he communicated with his team.

Suddenly it was serious, and personal. He had a truly compelling reason for change, and had come to this workshop with new motivation.

Ultimately, that is critical to make the communication habits learned during workshops stick.

Asking people to change their behaviour is a big thing. We’re often talking about deeply ingrained habits that have been with them since childhood. No matter how great the techniques introduced, they are unlikely to take them on board unless they have a really meaningful reason to do so.

Individuals, like this manager, might work this out for themselves. But when organisations are looking to change communication across a whole leadership team, it takes more.

HR (because instigating this type of change usually falls within HR’s remit) needs to truly understand what will motivate leaders to change. It won’t always be obvious, but it will always be something personal and emotional. And one thing’s for sure – big, generic company visions don’t cut the mustard.

When it comes to getting traction with new communication habits across a whole organisation – maybe that’s getting leaders to tackle underperformance that’s been left to fester for too long; maybe it’s encouraging more authentic interactions – the reality is, organisations don’t change, people do. And if this is ultimately about personal change, the reasons that encourage change will be personal too.

What will really capture attention and ignite passion? What will engage pride and motivate? How will improving communication help achieve this? Is the link between the goals and the changes needed clear and believable?

There are two other key ways to make new comms habits stick. I’m going to share them with you over the next few weeks.

But in the meantime, if you’d like help creating programmes that have a long-term effect, contact CommsMasters and let’s talk. As well as delivering really effective development, we can help you figure out what messages to send your leaders, so that they are truly motivated to change.

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