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Make Change About Learning

by Nancy Dailey, Ph.D. and Kelly O'Brien

From Clueless to Competent
Let's take a quick look at the dynamics of learning, the "learning curve" to be more precise, and what we know about how learning impacts change.

We've all been "clueless" at some point in our work life - it's when you don't know what you don't know. Through some change - usually big enough to catch our attention - we get jolted out of blissful ignorance into becoming conscious about our lack of knowledge or skill to navigate the change. That's when we move into the "anxious" stage, when we now know that we don't know. This is the uncomfortable zone where we have to make a decision to learn to change or resist change (and sticking your head in the sand is a form of resistance).

If we choose to use learning to deal with our anxiety about change, we can move forward to become "confident" - where we can perform, but it's not second nature yet. The final phase of the learning curve, competency - where we can perform without thinking about it, just doing it - happens once we've practiced, absorbed, and usually taught others about the change. In your change initiatives, where are you on the learning curve? Where is your team? Your organization?

Being "anxious" is actually good because it is the moment we are most open to learning. However, if that moment goes unmanaged without thoughtful reflection and preparation, you may see lots of action or activity with little results. Without guidance, people can stay stuck in the clueless or anxious stages, focusing their energy on resistance rather than on how to move forward.

Move Through it to Move Forward
People, groups, and organizations must cycle through this learning curve with any change, big or small. But not everyone moves at the same pace, with different people and groups finding themselves in different stages on different aspects of the change. For instance, your field sales force might be clueless or anxious about using your new CRM technology, while your IT staff might be clueless or anxious about how to get the organization to embrace new business tools that to them, may be perfectly straightforward to use.

If you want to move your organization quickly - to adopt a technology conversion, to integrate a merger, to execute a new strategic vision - you must calculate the people side of the equation into your strategic change. The metric for success should be to move people quickly from clueless to competence with the least amount of disruption to customer service, productivity, or profitability.

If you're moving up your learning curve at a high rate of speed, look for December's D&O Change Idea on how to manage your learning curve.

The art and science of dealing with the people side of the change equation is Change Management. As a practice, it draws from a multitude of social science disciplines to effectively bring people, technology, and ideas together at the same time.

First published on 1/21/02

Nancy Dailey, Ph.D. and Kelly O'Brienare social scientists who help companies navigate the complicated people issues involved in CRM implementation.

Copyright 2001, Dailey & O'Brien, Inc. Reprinted with permission

First published on 01/21/2002

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