My husband and I recently enjoyed lunch at one of my favorite local restaurants in the city. While I took a moment to freshen up in the restroom, a familiar sign grabbed my attention. You know, the one - the sign that's been a fixture in restrooms for as long as I can remember. It's the sign that reminds employees to wash their hands, complete with a guide on proper handwashing techniques. Typically, I never paid attention since I have an established habit of good hygiene and never giving the instructions a second thought. But this time, the familiar reminder stood out.

This simple sign became the unexpected topic of our lunch conversation. My husband and I both expressed gratitude that the signs are present if someone forgets how to wash their hands. But my inquisitive mind continued, “Why would anyone need to be reminded to wash their hands? Did people genuinely require step-by-step instructions for such a basic and fundamental task?” (Yes, these are the simple matters I ponder at times).

Then, the learning professional in me sprang into action, and it dawned on me:  reinforcement.   We all need reinforcement, even for the most basic of things at times. Even handwashing. Yet, it is so easy to become desensitized to the countless reminders, memos, emails, and pop-ups strategically placed on our workplace portals. When these conventional methods don’t work, what can we rely on?

"In a world where we are all flooded with information, reinforcement is vital for effective learning retention and behavior change."

Consider the last learning session you attended, whether it was a multi-day conference or a mandatory workshop. Can you easily recall the topics covered? What did you put into action because of the learning experience? Have you integrated the language with your team to establish common practices or a new standard? Or, like many of us, did the materials end up saved on your computer or buried somewhere on your desk in the hopes you would find time to revisit them later?

Throughout my life, I have attended multiple learning events. There are countless times when I left a session or conference overwhelmed. My free swag bag was full of printouts and notes I planned to revisit once I was back in the office and all caught up with emails and anything else that cropped up in my absence. Learning itself was not the issue. The problem? Reinforcement was lacking, and I doubt I am alone in this experience.

So, what are leaders to do? Is it as simple as hanging a sign? Well, it depends on the complexity of what learning needs to take place and what behaviors need to change.

How can leaders sustain learning and drive behavioral changes so learning does not turn into a one-time event? Signs like the one in the restaurants serve as one mechanism, but here are three additional suggestions to consider:

1. Teach someone Else- Share your newfound knowledge and insights with a colleague or your team. Reviewing what you learned and teaching someone else helps learning stick, and it creates a sense of accountability.

2. Practice- Most people cringe when you suggest role-playing, but how about implementing a learning lab or a lunch & learn? Provide materials as pre-work and encourage attendees to come prepared for an interactive discussion. A facilitator can use the materials to initiate the conversation so the team can share best practices, challenges, and key takeaways. End with a commitment and preschedule follow-up ‘practice’ sessions.

3. Set Goals- Start small and check in with yourself. The first goal might be to review the materials you brought back with you in your swag bag- schedule time on your calendar for this. The next goal might be to implement a single aspect of these resources. Keep progressing and setting goals, one by one.

In a world where we are all flooded with information, reinforcement is vital for effective learning retention and behavior change. Think about those simple restaurant signs urging employees to wash their hands. They serve as a reminder that we all need gentle pushes to turn knowledge into habits. Leaders must implement strategies beyond the initial learning event to ensure lasting impact. By sharing, practicing, and setting goals, we can bridge the gap between learning and tangible application, creating a culture of reinforcement, continuous growth, and improvement.