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The Commitment Quadrant

Over three decades of working in training and development has taught me, among other things, that many managers are skeptical about the return on investment from most training programs. So-called “soft skills” training on topics like customer service and conflict resolution are likely near the top of that list.

Some training classes are easier to quantify than others. For instance, if you provide training to restaurant staff on upselling bottled water to guests as opposed to providing tap water free of charge, then you can easily determine the effectiveness of training by assessing how many bottles of water are being sold per table cover before and after the training. I once encountered a playful server at a New York City steakhouse who sold me a $10 bottle of water by posing the question: “Which would you prefer with your meal: a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water or New York City tap?” I appreciated his humor – and salesmanship – and enjoyed the refreshing change from bland and ordinary tap water.

While the above illustration is simple to quantify, that’s not always the case. Consider customer service training. It’s true that many businesses evaluate customer service quality through surveys and other mechanisms, but these scores are influenced by variables other than customer service behaviors displayed by employees. For instance, overall satisfaction is influenced by customers’ perceptions of value for price paid, product quality, cleanliness, etc. Knowing this, it becomes difficult to attribute a change in customers’ perceptions of service quality solely to a customer service training class.

A friend and I were discussing this dilemma when he opened a notebook and drew a large square containing four quadrants, labeling the y-axis “Don’t Change” and “Make Change” and the x-axis “Pros” and “Cons” and numbered them in ascending order from 1-4. He titled this model “The Commitment Quadrant.” As a psychologist, he’s had extensive training in human motivation theory. He said that if supervisors would just take a few minutes and pose a simple set of follow-up questions to employees after their participation in a training class, they would almost certainly realize observable/quantifiable benefits from the class.

Supervisors are often spread thin and expecting them to embrace any form of follow up to a training class may seem daunting. Even so, almost everyone would agree that follow up is beneficial. The reason most structured follow-up measures are met with resistance – and ultimately fail – is because they are seen as too time consuming and involved, where the costs of time and energy outweigh the perceived benefits.

The Commitment Quadrant drawn by my friend requires 10-15 minutes for a supervisor to follow up with her employees and informally address each of the four questions listed below. It is vital that employees actually write their responses in the quadrants as each question is addressed. Just thinking about it or discussing it will not have the same powerful effect as writing it down. It is also imperative to follow the prescribed order (1-4). Begin with “pros of no change” because it represents current behavior, followed by “cons of no change,” followed by “pros of change,” and ending with “cons of change” because it is the most threatening to the employee.

“Based on the training class you attended:

  1. What are some potential positive consequences of NOT applying the new skills in your role? (This question may seem counterproductive but the reality is that employees are well aware of the validity of these benefits and most supervisors choose not to acknowledge them as valid.)
  2. Now, what are some potential negative consequences of choosing NOT to apply the new skills in your role? (This question serves to address negative consequences that typically are not discussed.)
  3. What are some potential positive consequences of applying the new skills in your role? (This question serves to support an employee’s desire for gain.)
  4. Finally, what are some potential negative consequences of choosing to apply the new skills in your role?” (Like the first question, this may appear counterproductive but, again, employees are keenly aware of the validity of these negative consequences while many supervisors underestimate them, dismiss them entirely, or don’t believe they apply to their work groups.)

The act of simply filling in the boxes alone in the order prescribed, with no other training or intervention, has led to significant behavioral changes in a variety of clinical studies (E.g., diet, exercise, smoking, using sunscreen, using contraceptives, etc.).

A conversation between a supervisor and her employee using this tool is structured, requires little time or preparation, and offers immediate benefits: reinforcement and retention of key training objectives; clarification of expectations; positive behavioral change; potential disclosure of fears or apprehensions; and provides the supervisor with an opportunity to discuss the employee’s professional development.

So the next time you encounter training that appears difficult to quantify and question the ROI, consider applying The Commitment Quadrant. Then use the insights from your conversations to validate, encourage, inspire, and challenge your employees’ performance.

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