Friday, 18 April 2014

Making Learning Stick

As performance consultants, one of the biggest complaints we hear from our clients is something along the lines of: "The learning does not stick" or "It doesn't translate into their work-life". We couldn't agree more. Though many organizations realize this as a growing need for them, very few organizations actually see the change they wish to see. What is it that those organizations are doing right which the many others are not doing?

In our interactions with several organizations with varied learning strategies, we learned that the answer is simpler than we’d think. Most organizations (where learning penetrates into becoming habits) apply the simple concept of prioritization. Stephen Covey in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People calls this concept First Things First. He simply states that in order to get things done, you must have an idea of what priorities mean to you. That’s at a personal level. When looked at from an organizational level the answer is embedded in a question. What is the most important priority for this organization/department/team with respect to learning?

The challenge arises when we consider all training needs as top priority. As a result we don’t end up achieving any kind of noteworthy success from the array of training programs we design based on the gathered needs. The father of business management, PeterDrucker, had a simple process of sequential tasking in his learning curriculum. He would take one subject and study it thoroughly for 3 years before moving on to the next. There were times when he would delve into a subject and realize its vastness and conclude that he would need to break the subject down into sub-subjects and go into each one for 3 years at a time. He would allow himself enough time and reflection to be able to understand the broadness of his topic and its application in his life. That kind of growth is known as organic growth. It comes from within. It’s a form of growth which results from an intrinsic pull for one to want to learn rather than an extrinsic push towards learning.

The process of such organic growth is observed by organizations that apply the concept of Regressive Progression. Regressive Progression focuses on developing new skills without losing what has been taught in the past. In order to effectively apply it, it's important to prioritize the competencies first. The process starts at the beginning of the year with a training needs analysis which will lead us to several gaps in competency that lead to performance issues at work. This is where we must be vigilant about venturing to find a common thread among all the gaps in competency with respect to a certain department/team. Each department/team within an organization will have their own sets of competency challenges. They may also be at different levels in their skill with respect to their maturity, thus each department/team must be looked at individually and training interventions be tailored to address specific needs. Finding that common thread between the seemingly unrelated competencies requires us to put our Sherlock Holmes hat on and think about the underlying reasons for certain competencies to come up in the training needs analysis. By doing so, we will have gained clarity and a sense of priority of the training needs.

After identifying the common thread, we can move towards accomplishing the one goal in mind. Rather than trying to achieve all competencies we now focus on just one or two throughout the training year for that specific department/team. This does not mean we ignore other competencies, it means we draw a tangent from each of the related competencies and work on the skill which is core to them all. When the foundation is strong, other structural problems will, in effect, not arise. After all, we would all agree that after a year of learning one or two skills from several different angles one can’t help but be proficient at it.