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Showing color: From training to changing behavior

The goal of training is always to change employee behavior. Whether it's about selling a product more effectively, becoming better at interacting with customers or using new technological tools correctly: ultimately, any training is about learning new knowledge, insight and skills that must be applied in practice. 

For this to be successful, participants must be willing to change their behavior. And that is often the problem. People are creatures of habit and generally do not like change, especially when it comes to their own behavior. Understanding something and actually applying something in practice are 2 totally different things unfortunately. 

Caluwe and Koeleman's color theory is a model that helps in understanding change management (source). The model divides the change processes but also the employees involved into five color types: yellow, blue, red, green and white. Each type represents a particular way of thinking and acting in change processes. 

Organizations can use the color model to formulate an appropriate change strategy. Individuals can use the model to put their own way of thinking into perspective and appreciate other perspectives more.  

Also as a trainer you can benefit from the color model. Recognizing and understanding the different color types influences the way we look at and design training. By designing a training that meets the different needs of the participants you will get everyone more quickly on board with the intended change in behavior. Below are different learning interventions you can use as a trainer by color type. 

YELLOW:For the so called ‘yellow-print thinkers’, it is important that the intended change has come about by bringing interests together. Therefore, it can be very useful at the beginning of the training to highlight the decision-making process and support structures behind the change. Which key players are involved? What benefits does the new solution offer the organization, employees and the end user or customer? Which win-win scenarios does it provide?The trainer’s task is to bring interests together, show the benefits of the chosen route and provide direction. together, show the benefits of the chosen route and provide direction. 

BLUE: ‘Blue-print thinkers’ will embrace change only if the goal and the process towards it are clear and the choices made are well-informed and rational. For blue thinkers also follow the adage 'think first, then act'. Therefore, as a trainer, make sure that at the beginning of the training you are clear about the objectives of the training and the change. Make sure you introduce new topics and skills well, explain their importance and added value, and back this up with concrete facts and figures. You can lend credibility and authority to your message by for example quoting research or experts. By providing well-structured training, you can ensure that blue thinkers are receptive to change and ready to take action, knowing they are well-informed and equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills. 

RED: The ‘red-print thinker’ is all about motivation. Their motivation stems from their people orientation and need for good interpersonal relationships. Therefore for red-print thinkers it is important so experience that the people are at the center of the change process. You can manage this by offering an attractive perspective (‘what's in it for you’), looking for connection and giving personal attention to the ideas and expectations of the participants. It is also important that you have an eye for the atmosphere in the group. Activating prior knowledge, generating ideas together through a brainstorm, working together on an assignment or a fun interactive exercise on the whiteboard are work forms that fit well with the red-print thinker. Red-print thinkers further respond to compliments, rewarding good behavior and naming or 'punishing' undesirable behavior.  

GREEN: For ‘green-print thinkers’, change and learning go hand in hand. They actively seek new experiences and knowledge to apply and make a meaningful difference at work. ‘Conscious incompetence’ is an essential stage of the learning process for green-print thinkers, where they become aware of what they don't know and recognize the need for improvement. For trainers it is important that you For trainers it is important that you show examples of the intended behavior. Jointly discovering and discussing what works are very fruitful interventions that you can use. For example, consider role-playing or experimenting with the desired behavior in subgroups.Discussing and providing feedback on performance can further enhance the learning experience. In addition, coaching conversations and giving space to learn in the workplace are key for green-print thinkers. Be sure to include this - if possible - in the learning journey. 

WHITE: To succeed in today's competitive marketplace, companies need creative and innovative employees who can think outside the box. These are ‘white-print thinkers’ par excellence. These self-directed individuals are often opinionated and difficult to influence, but they perform well when given the freedom to organize themselves and pursue meaningful work. An experienced trainer knows how to give space to their own energy instead of trying to impose planning, direction or predictability. By debating, letting them investigate for themselves and explore new possibilities, you can actively engage white-print thinkers and let them experience the value of the new behavior.  

Now go and have a look at your own training program with the help the color scheme developed by Caluwe and Koeleman. Many trainers will see that they tend to choose activities and methods that match their own way of thinking and color. Do you want to ensure that your training actually elicits the desired behavior in practice? Provide more variety in your training so that all participants with different color styles are challenged and inspired to make the desired change.  

Curious which color is preferable to you? Take the test here: