If interpersonal behavior on-the-job does not change as a result of training, the money spent on it is wasted. Most of the money spent on organizations on Interpersonal or soft skill training is therefore wasted.

Very little interpersonal behavior training leads to behavior changes on-the job, despite the millions of dollars spent on managerial, supervisory and interpersonal skills training. Everyone ‘kind of’ knows this. That is why there is so few systematic follow-up programs to measure actual “on-the-job” behavior after such training programs. As long as we don’t have to face the facts, we can continue to believe.

The reasons for the waste

There are two reasons why behavior change back on-the-job after participating in interpersonal skill type of training program is so hard.

1. Personal Motivation

Unless individuals are personally motivated, they are not going to change their behavior back at work (or in their personal lives), even it they learn the underlying ideas and concepts.

Self selection and self initiation of participation in such training is a good indicator of the needed motivation. Personally enrolling oneself in this type of course is a good predictor that the individual might indeed have the needed motivation needed to actually change behavior back on-the-job. Expending personal resources to pay for the training is an even better one.

Being ‘sent’ on such program by your organization has very little to do with having the level of personal motivation needed to actually change behavior on the job. Yet many organizations ask people to attend such training programs because

  • the “boss” thinks it is a good thing,
  • or because it is the norm for all people who first enter a certain job level,
  • or because some executive has come to believe that this type of training has payback.

2. The New Behavior Extinction Effect

Individuals behave in interlocked patterns at work. If one person changes his or her interpersonal behavior, the others that the person interacts with have to change theirs as well. These other people are often not motivated to do so.

Instead, they put group peer pressure on the person who changes his or her behavior after attending a training program to revert to the old behaviors the person had before they went on the training program – the social extinction effect. Most individuals who try to implement new behaviors do revert to the old behaviors in the face of this implicit social pressure. The training investment is lost.

The individuals who persist in wanting to change their behaviour after such training often respond to the peer pressure by finding new people to work with. Usually, this means moving to a new job. Often, that new job is with another employer. The training investment is lost.

Upgrading Interpersonal Skills at Work Means Changing the Culture of the Organization

Organizations who want to really change interpersonal behavior patterns need to engage in systematic culture change programs. As well as training, such programs involve visible recognition and compensation programs that reward the “new behaviour”. These programs also involve specific activities that counter “resistance” to change on the part of current members of the culture.

Such programs are difficult to plan and to execute. They must work from the top down and the bottom up in a coordinated way. They are intensely resource demanding. They require persistence over extended periods of time.

Few organizations succeed at such culture change programs at the level of “walk”. Most organizations though engage in “talk” as if they are doing such things, even if they don’t really do them.

When You Decide to Invest in Interpersonal Skill Training for a Person

As an organizational leader, there are a couple of simple things to consider when you decide to invest in interpersonal or soft skill training for an individual.

  • When you invest in an individual’s interpersonal behavior change, you also need to consider moving that person to a new job to have a reasonable chance of recouping on your investment.
  • When individuals are motivated to spend personal resources on changing their interpersonal behavior at work, they are at high risk for leaving your organization in order to find another job where they can practice those new skills. That hurts, since these individuals are usually the ones most self-motivated to improve their personal performance at work.



The background to this set of 4 blog posts

I learned something important about myself on the weekend. I am less patient with myself now and much less accepting of some of the things others in my society believe about life in organizations.

I don’t expect to be seen as being any more “right” in my views now than in my earlier years. I don’t expect folks in general to agree with me any more than they did in the past – that is up to them.

But I do find that I am not prepared to engage in as much dialogue about these beliefs with those who see things differently, unless that dialogue leads to real constructive action that benefits both of us.

I have worked for a long time, and am still actively involved with clients, and my own business. Over the course of my career, I have kept up a constant involvement in academic life – as a night student, graduate student, part time lecturer and distance education participant. I have, and still do, read widely in management and workplace psychology. I have thought hard about what I was doing at work and how I was leading the folks who worked for me.

I have come to these four conclusions by reflecting on both the reading and the experience. I have quietly held them for years. They underlie all my consulting work and business writing.

The 4 conclusions

  1. Performance appraisal is a waste of time if you are looking for business results. ( https://the-right-talent.ca/performance-appraisal-is-a-waste-of-time/ )
  2.    Organizations waste the dollars they spend on interpersonal skill training (e.g. programs on leading others, resolving conflict …). (This post)
  3. Interview-based recruiting is all about “good enough” hiring, not future performance excellence on-the-job.
  4.    Many human abilities are as much instinctive as thoughtful. Excellence at work requires thought rather than just responding instinctively.

I will expand on each of these in separate blog post.

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