A wave of pent-up energy was released during a recent staff meeting. We were anticipating the rollout of a new voicemail system, and the upgrade was causing significant anxiety.
“I just learned how to work the last upgrade, and now I have to start over again!”
“I can’t believe I need a 30-page manual just to get my messages!”
We concluded the discussion by agreeing nothing strikes fear in our hearts more than an announced system update. Feeling good about our venting, we moved on to our next agenda item: a new change agent leadership training program. Asking people to learn something new can be tricky, even for those of us who advocate for learning.
Change is something we like to initiate, support and manage, but change done to us is unwanted. What’s a learning champion to do?
My Upgrade is Your Downgrade
First, remind yourself that your announced upgrade is often the learner’s perceived downgrade.
In the case of the new voicemail system, my staff members initially focused on what they were losing: control, confidence and competence. Learning a new system would take time and energy that might be better spent more productively elsewhere. So, first communicate what remains the same to reinforce that the learner still has control and competence. Also, link the intent of the new effort with established objectives. For example, I remember sitting through the launch of Six Sigma at GE’s Crotonville training center and hearing the CEO explain how this new thing would be a logical extension of our good ol’ WorkOut and productivity best practices. What a difference that context made to my acceptance of Six Sigma! Is There a Reason To Believe?
Second, tap into the right motivational message for your learner.
The old saying, “People do things for their reasons, not your reasons,” still applies. What benefits can you list on the positive side of your learners’ balance sheet that resonate with your learners? Does it solve their (not yours, not corporate’s) problem? Will it help learners achieve performance goals for the year or knock something off their to-do lists? Beyond solving known problems, will acquiring skills and knowledge add delight? Our unwanted phone system upgrade offered the ability to hear e-mail messages. Once my team members mastered the phone basics, they quickly used this new feature to tame the e-mail beast while they checked voicemail. Now, they love the new system and wouldn’t go back to the old one.
Third, find ways to make the learning journey convenient.
Working in a consumer food company, it’s clear that although everyone enjoys eating, few equally enjoy the process of cooking and cleaning up. It’s all about convenience. So, the research and development folks find ways to make great-tasting meals and take steps out of the cooking process. Our advertising professionals stress the product simplicity of “Heat and Eat” and “No Cleanup Required.” In the same way, does your training feel simple to the user? Few steps? Easy to access and complete without all the cleanup?
Reigniting the Flame of Curiosity
Finally, the best way to tip the scales in favor of your program and motivate learners is to tap into their curiosity. Natural curiosity often fades in adulthood — we turn off the curiosity instinct that enabled us to discover new learning. We instead turn our natural energy into defending the status quo, perceiving anything new as a threat rather than an opportunity to grow. You can reignite curiosity and growth any number of ways. Encourage learners to identify something they do well now and then reflect back on when they first acquired the skill. Remind them of how they’ve gotten better at something in the past. Create a spark. Use benchmarking, action learning and best-practice exercises to connect people to what’s possible and start them down the path of development.
Take an honest look at the learner’s balance sheet. Ensure the leaner can find new ways to solve problems and achieve objectives. Be sure the overall experience is more fun than frustrating and builds curiosity.
© Kevin D. Wilde