On more than one occasion, I have endured training classes that failed to meet my basic needs. I had thoughts such as, “When will this be over?” and “This would have been so much better if…” and “I hope I don’t have to do this again.” No one wants to sit through – or provide – this type of training.

It is critical that the students’ needs are the primary consideration during the development phase of an organization’s training program. Integrating something called ERG theory into the development phase of your training program will go a long way in accomplishing this goal.

What is ERG Theory?

ERG theory stands for existence, relatedness and growth – the most fundamental requirements of a learning environment. The theory addresses meeting an individual’s basic needs; if the basic needs of a student are not addressed, the learning and professional environment will not yield the desired results.

Let’s look at the three components of ERG theory:

Existence needs are the immediate needs required to sustain life (e.g., food and shelter). It might seem obvious that students distracted by hunger or physical exposure to elements will not focus on the training curriculum, but other basic needs such as hearing and sight must be considered and accommodated. If students cannot adequately hear or see what is being taught, they will find it very challenging to effectively learn. Other existence needs such as hydration and adequate rest should be considered and addressed through appropriate access to water, refreshment and breaks.

Relatedness needs reflect a person’s need to be accepted and valued by others. Ideally, the training environment and delivery method should be familiar to the student; at minimum, it must be relatable. Students who find themselves in an awkward or disagreeable environment that does not lend itself to feelings of acceptance and comfort will not respond well to the training program. Self-esteem also is an important factor in learning. Students who do not feel accepted, valued or comfortable will not maintain the necessary level of self-esteem (within the training environment) to meet the challenges of learning.

Growth needs consist of feelings of self-worth and competency in achieving one’s potential. People need to be challenged and to grow. Training programs that do not challenge participants to evolve as professionals and as individuals will not yield the level of results of programs that push students to stretch. Knowing and preparing for the training audience will go a long way in creating a training program that is challenging and conducive to growth. Students who experience growth as a result of a training program will feel proficient and be stimulated to continue the training process.

The learning environment is significantly compromised (if not completely disabled) when the basic needs of the ERG theory are not met. Understanding and making provisions for these basic needs not only allows for the optimal work environment to be designed and implemented, but also accommodates the design and implementation of appropriate, effective training programs.

While human beings are very complex, most will not move past these basic needs into areas of complexity until their fundamental needs are comprehensively met. Thus considering and addressing ERG needs should be a part of every training program.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of Townsell’s related series, “Developing an Effective Training and Development Program.”

Source: Blanchard, N.P., & Thacker, J. (2010). Effective training, systems, strategies and practices.(Custom 4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

The postings on this site represent the author’s personal opinions and do not represent or reflect the opinions, positions or strategies of AECOM Technology Corp. or its subsidiaries or affiliated entities.

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