Crucial Conversations QA

Six Sources to Keep Your Skills Alive

Dear Crucial Skills,

How do you recommend keeping Crucial Conversations alive in an organization once training is complete?

Best Regards,

Dear Trainer,

One of the perks of my job is talking to people years, even decades, after they have participated in our training. The good news is that the skills we teach are largely self-sustaining. The concepts are well organized, so they are easily remembered; and the skills get used at work and at home, so they stay fresh.

But that wasn’t exactly your question. You asked about keeping the skills alive in an organization and that requires a bit more work. I’ll use some Influencer principles, specifically the Six Sources of Influence™, to share some ideas that work.

Personal Motivation—Create personal wins and share them. Make sure participants are using their new skills to solve the problems that cause them the most pain.

We often ask participants to help us identify the problems they’d most like the skills to solve. For example, here are the answers we received from a group of healthcare professionals: team members who don’t take initiative or fail to do their share of the work; team members who gossip, start rumors, are rude, or otherwise undercut team spirit; and physicians who are not responsive—who either fail to come when needed or fail to answer team members’ questions and concerns.

Once you know what participants want to do with the skills, make sure they experience wins in these areas within the first few weeks. Then get them to share their successes with others. This will build personal motivation to continue using the skills.

Personal Ability—Use refresher drills and applications. People always benefit from deliberate practice. Here is a simple exercise many of our trainers use:

Go to our Crucial Skills Newsletter archive and select four or five questions that are relevant to your participants. Have participants work in pairs to apply their skills to one of the questions. Hint: you might want to tell them which skills the author used. Have participants read the author’s response to the question and discuss how their own use of the skills compared.

Social Motivation—Tie the skills to an important initiative. Make the skills a means to further an important end.

• Work with managers a level or two above your participants to identify a key initiative that the skills can support.

• Have these managers determine crucial moments in the initiative when the new skills should make the greatest difference.

• Make sure participants know they will be held accountable for using the skills in these crucial moments to further the initiative.

Social Ability—Identify champions. Make sure there are people who will help participants whenever their new skills aren’t enough.

Ask specific formal and informal leaders to take on this champion role—people participants can go to whenever they run into a situation that is too tough for them. Make sure these champions have the skills, respect, and clout required to play backup whenever participants get in over their heads. When participants know there are people who will back them up, they will take on tougher challenges and get more out of the skills.

Structural Motivation—Link to carrots and sticks. The organization’s reward systems should be aligned with the use of the skills.

• Make sure participants know about existing rewards that support the use of the skills.

• Identify existing carrots and sticks that may discourage use of the skills and try to modify or remove them.

• Create some short-term incentives to reward people who test out the skills during the first few weeks.

• Work to integrate the skills into long-term incentive systems—i.e., the “P”s: performance reviews, pay, promotions, perks, and punishments.

Structural Ability—Create opportunities. The TV detective, Perry Mason, identified the suspect who had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime. Create means, motives, and opportunities for your participants to use their skills.

• Use project-review meetings, interdepartmental meetings, etc., as opportunities to identify communication breakdowns and have crucial conversations.

• Create forums with customers, other regions, other functions, etc., to discuss and resolve disconnects.

• Ask leaders to use staff meetings, one-on-ones, and round tables to initiate crucial conversations.

As you can see, there are many ways to keep skills alive after the training is over. The key is to use a combination of these strategies so that you involve multiple sources of influence. Our research suggests that when you combine all six of these sources of influence, you are ten times more likely to succeed.