When we change our behaviors, develop our skills or deepen our knowledge we have gone through learning. Asking companies to become more flexible and adaptive requires them to look at their learning and training processes. By this I don’t only mean class room led training or any courses offered by the training organization, I mean any activity focused on helping managers and their employees evolve. Understanding how people learn and develop helps us better recognize how people can be supported to evolve.
One of the key aspect of adult learning principle is to understand that adults (and that is the main difference to children) bring in their own experience and will have already preconceived thoughts that will influence their behavior, but also their willingness to learn. Their accumulated foundation of knowledge is their asset but can also become a liability, when their past experience has learned them to react differently.
What’s In It For Me?
The principle of What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) is well know, but also probably the biggest barrier to effective change. Why should an adult adapt or develop a new skill set? Learning causes stress, requires an effort and will automatically trigger the question “Is it worth it?”. If the advantages (including keeping your job!) don’t outweigh the inconveniences why should anybody bother? Defining the outcomes and the objectives of a change programs are the first step when you want your people to develop, but without explaining (not selling!) the why and putting this into context employees will struggle understanding the WIIFM.
When working with leaders I have found that not only do they struggle explaining the WIIFM, but they also have difficulties to translate the strategic change into concrete required skill sets and behaviors. E.g. telling a person you need to become an entrepreneur sounds exiting, but doesn’t really show any relevance to the daily work of an employee. You want someone to change their behavior? Give them examples of colleagues already showing the required skills and of course be yourself a role model for all.
My last point relates to the first one: as adults bring in their own experience (this is usually why you hired them), they expect respect to be shown towards their past. They don’t want to be treated like children not knowing better, they want their skills and knowledge to be used and recognized by the organization. This certainly becomes even more important when asking them to develop into new roles, responsibilities and profiles.