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Help employees remember your pearls of wisdom

4 min read


What you teach employees during mentoring, coaching or skills training will be out of mind as soon as you’re out of sight unless you reinforce the learning. For that you can thank the “forgetting curve.” This psychological principle, first identified in the 19th century, posits that much of what we learn is quickly forgotten, most of it within hours.

Here are five tactics you can use to help employees remember. You’ll get the best results if you begin the reinforcement right away, before the forgetting curve begins its swift effect.

Create memory aids

Remember the names of the Great Lakes? Some of us do because we were taught a mnemonic for their initials: HOMES. What are the colors of the spectrum? ROY G. BIV will help you recall them. Create your own acronyms for processes you want employees to remember. Think also of creating rhymes like the old standby “30 days have September, April, June, and November.”

Less memorable but also useful are checklists. They’re helping employees improve their performance in fields as diverse as software engineering, surgery, investing and aviation.

Use multimedia

All of us remember better when we take in information with the eyes and the ears. Support what you say with a diagram or flow chart — the more color the better — or, to really command attention, a demonstration. Confucius said it well: “”I hear and I forget. I see and I remember.”

Create a positive environment

Be certain the employees don’t see coaching or training as a corrective for a shortcoming or an arbitrary attempt to make everyone work the same way. They’ll absorb the information better if they understand they’ll get a personal payoff. The payoff might take the form of less stress or of career advancement. All of us remember better if it’s in our best interest to remember.

Make the employees active participants in the reinforcement process. Research shows that learners who repeat what’s said and who make notes remember better. Debrief the employees to be sure they understood. Avoid sight and sound distractions that can make them lose focus. Keep recapping as you move along; link new information to what you covered earlier. Keep the session short to maintain a high energy level.

Model the expected behavior; if you’re teaching friendlier customer interactions, for example, you won’t get your information across well unless you yourself are friendly.

Practice, practice, practice

Encourage the employees to practice the new skills with colleagues who can provide feedback. New skills should be put to use right away. This is especially important for employees who’ve been getting by with their existing skills. They may revert to them over time because unlearning is harder than learning. If you’re teaching something complex, like a new way to sell, ask the employees to begin using one of the new skills and gradually adopt the others.

Provide ongoing access to information

Be sure the employees understand the organization’s expertise directories. Provide an easy way to ask questions. Keep on reinforcing with social media, individual development plans, paired coaching and group exercises.   Some online training platforms include video tutorials. newsletters and virtual labs.

The more reinforcement you provide and the more the new skills are applied, the more they’ll become the default way to work. The full Confucius quote reads “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Bill Rosenthal has headed employee education businesses since 1986 and is CEO of two sister companies: Communispond provides virtual and traditional training for improved communications and sales. Logical Operations offers 4,600 titles in its training curriculum library.

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