Aug 092011

Training -Trainer Talk: The Hundredth Monkey

Training: It takes sustained effort to put a change in place.

Training: Article | Mon, 07/25/2011 , By Bob Pike, via Training Magazine

What does it take for an idea to gain traction? Many years ago, Ken Keyes, Jr., wrote a book called “The Hundredth Monkey.” In it, he tells the story of Japanese scientists who provided sweet potatoes for the monkeys on Koshima Island.

The monkeys liked the potatoes, but not the dirt on them. One female monkey discovered the dirt could be removed by washing it in a nearby stream. She taught this to her mother. Over a period of time, more and more younger monkeys began washing potatoes before eating them. Many of the older adults continued to eat the dirty potatoes. Then one day, though the exact number is not certain, 99 monkeys were washing the potatoes. And then 100 monkeys. By the next day, all of the monkeys on the island—thousands of them—were washing their potatoes.

Thus, the 100th Monkey Principle. There comes a time when critical mass is achieved and growth accelerates. But it takes sustained effort to put a change in place and continued support when the surrounding environment does its best to maintain status quo. To keep things as they are. To remain inert.

Do we pay attention to that as trainers? What are we doing to prepare the environment on the job to be supportive so participants are encouraged to use what they’ve learned?

John Newstrom and Mary Broade in their book, “Transfer of Training,” demonstrated that the three people who have the greatest influence on whether or not training gets used are the sending managers, the attendees, and the trainers. The greatest influencers on whether training has impact are: first, the manager before training; second, the trainer before training; third, the manager after training; and fourth, the trainer during training. Participants don’t show up until No. 5!

I suggest the manager and trainer form a partnership to create an environment before, during, and after the training that maximizes every participant’s chance for success. Why? Because the manager prepares people to attend in a way that makes clear the importance of the training to both the participant and his or her team.

The trainer coaches the managers so they are able to have the needed conversations with each participant before they go to training. Why do they need coaching? Because very few people are ever prepared to go to training—they are simply sent. “You’re doing a great job! I’m sending you to training,” says one—ahh, training as a reward! “You’re doing a terrible job! I’m sending you to training,” says another—training as punishment.

But how often do we position training as an investment, that the person we are sending is going to gain knowledge, skills, and confidence that will enable them to make a greater contribution to the team and organization? Not that often, and then we wonder why our training doesn’t gain traction, why our training does not produce better results.

What we need to do is continue cleaning our potatoes by sustaining efforts to bring change by preparing both the environment and participants so application of new skills and knowledge are supported and celebrated when people return from training.

My friend, Michael LeBouef, wrote a book called “The Greatest Management Principle in the World.” The book can be boiled down to two sentences:



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