Personality and the Brain: A New Paradigm for Training


Personality and the Brain: A New Paradigm for Training

Why the Current Paradigm Needs to Change

Offering training and development programs has been considered best practices for many years. Programs created for employees at all levels of the organization are meant to help achieve the goals of the business while helping with employee motivation and retention. Other staff development efforts are remedial; e.g., when employees and leaders don’t behave in some desired way, they are sent off to specific kinds of training or to individual or team development activities. When employees return from these targeted sessions and fail to apply what they were meant to learn, organizational leaders are frustrated by the apparent ineffectiveness of these costly training initiatives.

It was estimated by the American Society for Training and Development that U.S. organizations spent $125.9 billion on employee learning and development in 2009. Nearly two-thirds of the total ($78.6 billion) was spent on the internal learning function, and the remainder ($47.3 billion) was allocated to external services. The amount spent per year is expected to increase by 2%. Yet 62% of companies report that they lack the workforce skills they need to grow and succeed.

How the Brain Learns

It is a basic and all too common misunderstanding that training content itself is most important; therefore, training and development approaches focus on skills and behaviour instead of what drives behavior and what employees need and feel during the learning process. The underlying belief seems to be that learning is solely a cognitive activity and on its own can produce changes in behaviour. While this is a compelling and potentially time and money-saving idea, it simply does not work. Employees are emotional, social beings and learning requires that the whole person and how their brain is organized be considered for development to be effective.

We now know so much about how the brain learns. Most people who are developing programs, training and teaching have fallen behind neuroscience in terms of the approaches being used to help people develop. Recent advances in neuroscience are highlighting connections between cognitive and emotional functions that have the potential to revolutionize the way we develop training programs. In particular, we know understand the relationship between learning and emotion and what needs to happen in the brain for learning and behavioral change to take place.

Trying to create sustained behavioral change and new functional patterns of behavior without knowing the landscape or internal functioning of the brain can cause the training and development efforts to fail. With everything that we now know about the brain and how it changes (through new, repeated experiences over time), it is essential to incorporate this knowledge into developmental and change programs as well as to integrate this into the context of the organization.

Implications for Training & Development Programs

Training and development programs need to consider what happens in the brain and what the distinct personality styles of employees being trained need to be successful rather than just thinking about presentation content and delivery. They need to know about how the brain learns; how emotions enhance learning; and how new information should be presented, taught, and rehearsed in order to achieve desired results.

When people focus on developing themselves and experimenting with new behaviors and skills in a supportive environment, they develop confidence. They learn to use their whole brain, thereby becoming fully engaged in their work. In the absence of such support, employees can easily stay on automatic pilot, not daring to innovate, challenge, or venture into unfamiliar territory because they feel insecure and lack confidence. In the supportive atmosphere of understanding each person’s needs, strengths, attitudes, and behavioral tendencies, qualities like self-sufficiency, creativity, initiative, and greater responsibility—in fact all of the behaviors that organizations strive to encourage—can thrive.

Find out more about how the Striving Styles Personality System can leverage your training programs to improve their effectiveness.

This is the first blog out of a four part series on the popular current subject of Personality and the Brain: A New Paradigm for Training. Read the other parts of the series: Part 2 - Using Personality Tests to Understand How the Brain Learns; Part 3 - Engaging Emotions to Facilitate Successful Training Programs; Part 4 - A New Paradigm for Training: The Striving Styles Personality System

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