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The path to individual transformation in the workplace: part one

September 2, 2019 - 5 min read

The Path to Individual Transformation in the Workplace, Part One

by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, MD, Chief Innovation Officer, BetterUp

American corporations today spend an estimated $160B annually on learning and development initiatives aimed at transforming their organizations. Yet research shows that employees forget up to 75% of the material taught and revert back to old practices, wasting the bulk of that investment, with little progress made.

Learning and development initiatives will continue to grow in their importance to organizational success as the pace of change accelerates across industries. BetterUp Advisor John Seely Brown describes this reality as a “white water world,” one in which each employee must learn to skillfully read the currents of our surrounding context and adaptly immediately. In order to succeed in this environment, employees must become expert learners, able to adapt quickly and make necessary changes as conditions shift.

While many organizations recognize the burning need to foster greater agility in their workforces, current learning and development programs are not producing lasting change. Most such initiatives fail to harness evidence-based practices in their favor. Research from across the behavioral sciences—from psychology to behavioral economics to organizational behavior—demonstrates that lasting individual transformation entails three essential stages: Learning, Doing, and Being (LDB).

In this three-part blog series, I will break down each of the three stages of LDB, and explore how organizations can leverage evidence-based transformation practices to drive lasting change for their workforces.

Stage One: Learning

Behavior change begins with learning, but not all learning leads to behavior change. For individuals to grow, learning must be designed in a way that changes the brain, specifically by bridging diverse cognitive functions. Many learning and development programs today fail in the learning phase for the following reasons:

Employees aren’t retaining information

Most learning interventions fail because there is not enough reinforcement to help employees retain information. We forget 90% of what we learn in a single session within one month, and 60% within just one day. If employees can’t remember what they have learned,there is no way for them to translate it into action.

Programs are delivering surface learning as opposed to deep learning

Even when knowledge “sticks,” it may not penetrate cognition deeply enough to have broad impact, so that learning in one area leads the person to apply it elsewhere. This is the difference between surface learning—memorizing facts for recall—and deep learning—which is highly integrated across cognitive domains.

Programs aren’t addressing individual readiness

When it comes to learning, individual readiness plays a significant role in determining individual outcomes. Not all employees, when presented with the same materials, will be equally successful. Employees must have self-awareness and clarity around areas where they need to grow, as well as sufficient cognitive complexity to embrace change.

What’s needed

One of the latest advances in the learning and development industry is bringing individual and personalized coaching to employees in the workplace. Traditionally, coaching in the workplace has been reserved for executives, but technology innovations have created the opportunity and affordability to bring coaching to organizations at scale.

At BetterUp, our coaching model addresses the barriers to learning that I’ve highlighted in several ways:

Learning is repetitive and happens in small doses. Working with a coach, employees are learning knowledge in consumable amounts and over a long period of time, so that it becomes integrated and creates lasting cognitive change.

Learning is hyperpersonalized. Employees work with coaches on personal assessments to understand their challenges and opportunities for growth. This approach meets individuals where they are in terms of their readiness for change.

Learning is in context. Employees can work with coaches on specific challenges in the active, ongoing context of their work, which helps them learn faster.

In part two of this blog series, I will describe the “Doing” phase and the limitations of current learning and development programs in driving behavior change. I’ll also explain how coaching—through the lens of this model—can help employees move from learning to acquiring new skills and behaviors..

For a more in-depth look at Learning to Doing to Being, you can read our eBook, which also includes a case study of an employee moving through these three stages of transformation in the workplace.



Published September 2, 2019

Dr. Gabriella Rosen Kellerman

Chief Product Officer

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