Important pre-requisites for substantial learning

It is difficult to imagine that an organization can achieve and sustain higher levels of performance without learning something new. If no new capability is added to what the organization can do, then it is very likely that the same results will be achieved.

It is because of this that companies spend many millions of dollars every year to develop new capabilities. However, this investment often under-delivers because organizations fail to understand thoroughly enough the processes through which people learn.

Key guidelines

Important pre-requisites for substantial learning

Connect learning to results

People learn through necessity and adversity connected to stretching challenges, not through rational thought and desire alone.

Understand the emotions of learning

Help people recognize and deal with resistance and loss. Recognize the stages of the learning cycle eg. conversation, practice, reflection and assimilation.

Learning takes time

Learning new skills takes help and encouragement. Without sufficient time, confidence is lost. Leaders need to see a process through for a number of years.

Learn about better conversations

Learn about the patterns that good conversations take and practice challenging conversations, giving feedback and disclosing.

Tolerance of errors and failure

Help the organization deal with mistakes in a consistent and positive way.

Intolerance of inconsistent behavior

Help people to understand and reinforce that leaders can choose how they behave.

Reduce the fear to “Fail Faster”

Encourage people to try new things and learn from any mistakes without penalty.

Most significantly, the approaches that businesses take miss the vital link between capability and results. Just as it is hard to achieve better results without new capability, so it is very difficult to develop new skills without the challenge of achieving a new target or goal.

This is because humans only really learn new things that are useful in helping them achieve things that they were previously unable to accomplish. Take all those things you learnt at school that you have long since forgotten. Clearly, the reason for this is that you have not had any use for them. Those that you have used regularly remain as if you learnt them yesterday.

For this reason, capability development and formal training must always be in the context of the actual challenges that people face. But what often happens is that people receive leadership and management training that is removed from their day-to-day reality, built around hypothetical examples and based on topic areas that aren’t related to any current and urgent need.

This ‘Phantom Route’ approach means that those being trained don’t get to apply the new knowledge in order to solve a real problem. The result is that, after a few weeks, the knowledge is forgotten, the investment is wasted and, most importantly, the business defaults to the use of its ‘old’ knowledge – with predictable consequences.

The Phantom Route effect means that change initiatives that have no hard deliverables usually achieve little by way of any lasting benefits. But there are also some other important aspects to consider even if the right challenges are in place.

There is a need to recognize that learning takes time, that it is a process that is different for different people, and most importantly, as people become older and wiser it becomes emotionally more difficult to accept that what worked in the past may not be the best way to go forward now. People need support in all of these aspects for any ‘transformation’ to succeed.