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Behavioral Rehearsal and Telecoaching

Behavioral rehearsal is a procedure in which trainees enact or practice the behavior being learned. A program con ducted by Kenneth Wexley and Wayne Nemeroff with 27 first-level managers in an urban medical center illustrates how behavioral rehearsal can be used in training supervisory skills.

The managers (in groups of nine) attended two half-day training sessions. Training consisted of actively participating in a series of supervisory situations that simulated those the managers encountered on the job. For each situation, the trainer discussed effective and ineffective supervisory behaviors. During rehearsal, trainees took the role of supervisor and practiced the behaviors that had been pinpointed as effective in that situation.

The roles of subordinates were enacted by assistants who were trained in eliciting the behaviors being focused on. At the end of each exercise the trainer made specific positive comments about those behaviors the manager had performed well (reinforcement) and assigned a specific behavioral objective or performance goal for the next exercise. For example, the trainer might have said, did a good job specifying standards. In the next exercise praise the subordinate for things he has done well." Or "Sally, the way you stated the purpose of the evaluation was excellent. Next time work on getting all the facts and considering them carefully before making a decision regarding the subordinate."

Telecoaching (a technique in which during the rehearsal trainees receive feedback through an ear device) was used with one of the three groups. During the telecoaching, the trainer elicited some of the pinpointed behaviors by suggesting specific ways in which to handle the subordinate. For example, through the tiny ear microphone the trainee might hear, "Good, now praise the subordinate for what he has done well." The immediacy of the feedback allowed the trainer to shape the trainee's behavior by reinforcing small steps toward the pinpointed behaviors. "You've got the right idea. Now be more specific and tell the subordinate exactly what behaviors she has per formed well."

Following the formal training, self-monitoring and on-the-job coaching sessions with two of the three groups were used to generalize from the classroom to the job. Self-monitoring was accomplished with a 30-item behavioral checklist. Whenever the manager per formed one of the pinpointed behaviors, he or she marked the appropriate item on the list. For example, after making positive comments to a subordinate for quality performance, the manager would check "praised a subordinate for a job well done." After a week of self-monitoring, the trainer met on the job with each manager. During this coaching session the trainer reviewed the checklists, discussed performance problems, and assigned a specific behavioral objective or performance goal for the next two weeks. During the second coaching session, the trainer reviewed the checklists, praised any progress that had been made toward the goal, and urged managers to practice those behaviors they had not yet attempted on the job. Managers were asked to continue self-monitoring for three more weeks, after which the study was terminated.

Program evaluation revealed a difference among managers who had received on-the-job coaching (the generalization phase) and those who had participated in the classroom training only. Subordinates gave managers who had been through the coaching sessions higher ratings on two leadership dimensions. In addition, subordinates of managers who had been coached were absent less often. Contrary to expectations, telecoaching did not boost performance. The data showed that those who had on-the-job coaching received somewhat higher leadership scores than those who had telecoaching. The behavioral rehearsal provides trainees with an opportunity to practice pinpointed behaviors in all aspects.

The trainee can perfect voice, movement, and timing. The ongoing dialogue provides an opportunity for the trainee to assess information gathered from the surrogate subordinate and to make a decision about an appropriate response. The addition of feedback and goal-setting between rehearsal exercises accelerates the learning process. The feedback differentiates what behavior is on target and what behavior needs improvement. The goal-setting provides a small step in a series of approximations of the eventual skill.

In theory, the telecoaching should maximize learning: The ear device allowed the trainer to provide guidance and immediate feedback. Cueing correct performance and providing continuous immediate reinforcement when it occurs should result in rapid learning.

Comments from trainees indicated that the device was disruptive and made them nervous. A little tension is necessary for learning-it keeps one alert-but beyond an optimal level, tension is counterproductive, and this is what apparently happened with the telecoaching.

An alternative method of prompting and of giving immediate feedback is for the trainer, sitting behind and somewhat to the side of the trainee, to coach that person during the rehearsal. In order to minimize anxiety, the rehearsal should proceed slowly and the trainer should explain that he or she would tap the trainee lightly on the shoulder before speaking.

This allows a moment to focus attention onto the coach and reduces the confusion of trying to act and listen simultaneously. An additional benefit is that other trainees who observe the coaching have an opportunity to learn through modeling, Wexley and Nemeroff's program emphasized the importance of building generalization into the training. The higher ratings of the managers who were coached on the job, as well as the reduced absenteeism among their subordinates, indicates that the training must go beyond the experimental stage.

Two important processes must occur if the behavior is to become part of the trainee's daily repertoire: The behavior must be generalized to the target setting, and once it occurs at the appropriate frequency it must be maintained. One generalization strategy is to take the training into the target setting. The on-the-job coaching sessions accomplished this: The manager received reinforcement for performing on the job and was given a goal for further practice on the job. In this way the job setting was substituted for the classroom. The program at Emery Air Freight combined generalization and maintenance by making the on-the-job coaching sessions the responsibility of the sales manager. In this way, periodic coaching was established as a continuing on-the-job process.