Speed of Change

“Two zoo keepers were told that a lion was loose and that they should make their escape as soon as possible. One began to run for the nearest exit, the other sat down and began to change his shoes. The first keeper stopped in amazement and said ‘Why don’t you run away?’ The second replied ‘I will, as soon as I’ve put on my running shoes’. Incredulously, the first keeper said ‘I can’t believe you think you can out run a lion’. To which the second keeper, now equipped for the job, replied ‘I don’t have to. I only have to out run you.’ “ This short extract of commercial life illustrates the point I wish to explore in this article. Faced with the need for change over a short time scale, what are the limitations of knee-jerk reactions and is it possible to think our way to a more effective strategy? Given the pressure on modern businesses to change products, processes, systems and/or employee work patterns for ‘the new’, it is surprising that the implementation methods vary very little. Whatever the newness entails and however innovative its conception, it’s a fair bet that execution techniques will be evidence of an implementation ‘blind spot’. In short, the heavy effort (and finance!) will always go towards installation of hard or software with the people element some way behind. The argument goes something like “We've put in the latest technology in record time (for us), so the workforce will have to adapt quickly to make use of it. We could even provide some ‘how-to’ training for them. Then we’ll see the benefits of our efforts”. Only they don’t. The new quite often produces a whole range of problems itself, not least the fact that the workforce doesn't seem to be learning or adapting to the new as well as it was assumed they would. 
What goes wrong?
A few rudimentary assumptions get made:
1) The ‘how-to’ training will be adequate for people’s needs. 
2) The people will want to learn.
3) The people managing these people will appreciate the need to adapt their own methods. 

Let’s take the first point. How good was the training? Was it designed with that workforce in mind? Was it designed to take people from where they had been to where they need to be? Was it designed to solely address physical or technical skills? Was it designed at all? Did it consider how those people learn? Getting these factors right will greatly reduce the time necessary for people to be reliably using the new skills in the workplace. Now the last point. Senior management accepts the need for change. The shop floor accepts the need for change. The change is state-of-the-art, shiny, new and exciting. We may have considered the need to train and even tried to make it suitable to the people rather than the product. And then the group with the most influence on the people coping with the change don’t appreciate that influence, don’t understand what changes in their own way of managing are necessary and maybe don’t recognise that they ever had a role to play other than as a control mechanism. It’s the second point that provides the real stumbling block. Management can’t seem understand why, given the obvious (economic) need for change, people should make such poor use of the training provided. The main questions to be asked here are: what was their emotional environment like when they were required to learn and did anyone seriously consider how they would react to having to learn? I know of organisations that are carving orders of magnitude from accepted IT implementation schedules. The pace of their research into lowering programme tailoring times is staggering. They are putting vast amounts into their bid to revolutionise their client’s view of how quickly they can be provided with a system that exactly meets their needs. It’s truly fantastic and only what the client deserves. It must be soul destroying therefore that the real-life outcome is likely to be that the right system will sit either unused or misused for longer because it was received quicker. The effective limit here is how long will it be before people are happy to accept the benefits inherent in the new? So, by changing the focal point of implementation from the what to the why, we can radically decrease the time elapsed before we have sustainable results. These sustainable results will only come about if the people concerned effect real behaviour changes. These real behavioural changes will only come about if the people believe in the personal gains to be had in effecting the changes. From this viewpoint, we can appreciate that the desire to learn becomes vital. We can argue that, over time, people will learn the new system. Indeed they will. But how long will it take? How much of the possible benefits will actually be realised over the important “bedding in” period? How efficient will each person be at using the new system after three months? Six months? A year? 

The crucial factor has therefore become:
What can we do to accelerate their learning?
The parameters that affect accelerated learning are straightforward enough to state. 
·     Establish a relaxed and confident state of mind in the subject
·     Help the subject define the benefits that are personal to them
·     Tailor the delivery of the information to be learned directly to each subject’s preferred learning style
·     Make connections within the subject between information and implication to create personal meaning
·     Allow the subject to produce their own memory triggers which will enable them to describe the learning to others
·     Encourage the subject to continue to examine their own way of learning effectively 

There are providers who can be as effective with the design of training as a hard or software supplier can, and should be, with their products. If you approach them to ask for a people-orientated design they may respond a little warily – they will be more used to requests from employers to “stick to the facts” and “concentrate on the system” rather than those willing to invest in the optimum possible for their people. There are (admittedly fewer) providers whose entire ethos is based on designing new systems that concentrate on the people who must use them. Who can accurately establish the receptiveness of your workforce? Who can help them into a belief state such that they want to learn, believe they can learn and are happy to have the opportunity to learn. They will still design excellent systems. They will however, have the question of how your people will find dealing with the changes very much in their minds from design to implementation.   When you find one, treat them like gold dust – their effect is money in the bank. But as they say, most people are too busy making money to make real money. When you've sat down and thought about all that, you should have your running shoes on and the laces good and tight. Now you’re ready to out run the opposition. At least as far as implementing change is concerned. Let’s hope it’s a one-man-a-day lion.