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Getting rolling with online training: creating habits

Mark Murrell

For this, the third in my series about best practices for rolling out online training, I'm going to talk about how to build habits. In the first part, I looked at getting ready for the rollout - figuring out who's getting access, how, and where they're doing it from - and in the second part I talked about crafting the right message to communicate what's happening and why. All of that is really important, and a training rollout can be DOA if those parts aren't considered sufficiently, but even when you've nailed those pieces there's still work to do. That's the part we'll look at here.

Once you've finished the communication piece outlined in the previous articles, drivers (along with fellow managers and execs) should know what you're doing, why you're doing it, and be on board with it. Drivers may not be super excited about it - it is safety training, after all, so it's hard to get too excited about that! - but they'll at least know what's going on and be ready to support it. The novelty of the thing should allow for some early success without too much difficulty.

However, turning those early wins into long term success requires that it become part of the company's DNA and standard operating practice. In order to do that, you need to build habits around it before the novelty fades. That typically provides a window of 3-6 months, depending on company size, which is more than enough time if you take advantage of it. Let's look at some ways to do that.

There are two main things to do to help build habits around this - create positive reinforcement cycles, and build it into existing routines.

Positive reinforcement cycles are places where people see a benefit from something, which leads to them doing it more, which leads to further benefit, and on and on. It's a 'carrot' rather than a 'stick', which tends to work a lot better for training programs.

While psychologists have shown that the 'stick' approach can be a more powerful motivator for behavior - people tend to fear loss much more than they desire a particular benefit - there are negative connotations with that related to training. Threatening to take something away because people don't do training might make them do the training more quickly, but it also leads to them resenting it, which causes more problems than it solves over the long term.

So, with that in mind, let's look at some positive reinforcement 'carrots' that can help build habits around the training:

Pay for performance - many (maybe most) fleets pay drivers for completing training, and that can certainly incent people to get in there and do things. The going rate seems to be $25-$50 per course, which isn't going to break the bank but it's a nice extra for doing something that's beneficial anyway. If you want to get creative, you can have a sliding scale that pays people more for completing courses early then declines over time.

Incorporate into bonuses - a variation on the direct pay model, building training activities into existing bonus programs can work nicely as well. This can work a couple of different ways, depending on how the bonus program is structured. If it's a scorecard with points, different point levels can be assigned to training assignments, allowing drivers to improve their overall scores by completing courses. If the bonus is based on activities (e.g. violations, late deliveries) then staying up to date with training can be a distinct item that's tracked. Either way, it quickly becomes part of the normal program for drivers.

Contests - a nice way to kickstart the rollout or add a push for specific activities, contests are a fun way to get people involved. They can be as simple as giving gift cards to the first 10 people who complete courses, or more elaborate events where people completing assignments on time are entered into a draw for something more significant. In addition to providing a direct incentive for people to participate (i.e. the prize), contests also provide a great opportunity to promote the program, the associated prizes, upcoming deadlines, status of participation, and a variety of other things through email blasts, Facebook posts or other messaging.

Public praise - this is always an effective tool. Giving people public commendations for completing things, completing them quickly, or doing a particularly great job, always works well to get others interested in following suit. In the training world, a message congratulating someone for being first to finish a course, or the first five people to finish or course, can be a great way to spread the word.

Bad Ideas

On the flip side, there are a couple of things that do not work. Sometimes these can be somewhat effective when combined with the positive items above, but on their own they're always problematic.

Parking drivers - threatening to park drivers who don't complete training is a classic example of the 'fear of loss' I mentioned above. There's a direct pain associated with that, and drivers will work to avoid it. While that may sound positive, the result is almost always the opposite. Drivers will complete the course because they're required to, but they won't be approaching it as a positive learning opportunity, they'll be viewing it as a chore that needs to be completed and they'll do whatever they can to get it finished asap. That's not what you want from a training program. You want people to approach it with a positive attitude and open mind, so they can learn something, then think about applying it on the road. On top of that, if they're focused only on completing it, they're less likely to take time reviewing things they don't understand, or asking questions, and that's no good. Remember, the point of this is not to check a "course completed" box, but rather to improve the overall safety profile of the fleet by improving the overall quality of the drivers. Completing a course is a means to an end, not the end in itself.

Bonus exclusion - I noted above that incorporating training into bonus programs can be a great way to start building the habit, but don't go crazy with it. If drivers lose their entire bonus because they don't complete the training, they're going to start hating that training pretty fast. This ends up being very similar to the point above about parking drivers - people will focus too much on finishing the course and not enough on learning.

Public shaming - this goes without saying, but public shaming is a terrible idea. While it may be all the rage to publicly shame people on the Internet, it's no way to build an effective workplace culture. Praise in public, criticize in private, if you want people to stick around and contribute value to the business.


Putting those things together, and remembering that regular reinforcement is key to building habits, here are some examples of programs that have worked well.

Those are just a couple of examples of things that have been done in the past, but there are lots of other possibilities as well. The key thing is to figure out a few elements that work within the existing culture of the business, then keep repeating and reinforcing them until they're ingrained in the normal procedures.