Environment Matters

This is a really quick post, but it addresses something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I just read this article that starts out talking about how changing the environment can be key to changing behavior (How Brain Science Can Save You From The Wrong Job found via the Eide Neurolearning Blog).

In the training field, we usually focus on changing the person – having them know more, or having them acquire skills. My struggle with this is the continuing force of evidence that I keep seeing about the importance of the environment in a person succeeding or failing.

This may seem self-evident (Duh – environment matters.), but I don’t see a very sophisticated conversation about this in Learning & Development (maybe I need to go hang out with the performance improvement folks more and see what they are talking about).

For example, we have an enormous amount of attention (academics, government and industry) focused on dealing with the increasing rates of obesity, and the vast majority of them focus on changing individual behavior.  A vastly greater percent of the population is obese now compared to 40 years ago, but people are not fundamentally different now.  Their genetics, brain function and physiology are not significantly different.  What is very different is their environment — all the triggers and cues in the environment are the things that have changed — food options, physical demands of daily life, entertainment options.

The response to the obesity epidemic is almost always about getting individuals to change their own behavior, which is like pushing mud uphill. If we are serious about actual behavior change being our goal as L&D professionals, do we need to start addressing environment as part of the process?

So, what do you all think?  Why do you think we fail to address that?  Is it a political thing in organizations (i.e. Not My Job)? Is it too hard to get influence over the environment?

What would be the best way to incorporate a discussion of the environmental support of behavior change in the the conversation?

3 thoughts on “Environment Matters

  1. Perhaps it’s because that the kind of environmental changes needed in organizations require buy-in from the folks at top of the management chain. And as we know, getting the right decision makers to back new (and radical) ideas can be a difficult task.

    Following this line of thinking, it seems like that the most effective way to have discussions on environmental change is to position them in the context of management’s worldview. And then hope they’re open-minded enough to consider it. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Focus on Behavior: Change Student Environment | Epicenter Languages

  3. … and target something specific that a group of those humans whose behaviors you want to change will buy into and embrace. Today’s bike to work & school day here… if we make the environment more conducive to biking, behaviors shift.

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