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Managing the Learning Curve: Part 2

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

The patterns of social interaction in your organization are too deeply imbedded to simply tell people to get on board with "change." You're in for a rude awakening if you think people will behave differently because some wonderful vision has been articulated, some hot new technology has been invested in, or it's now their job to change to a new way of doing business. Organizational change just isn't that neat, clean, or linear.

Leaders and managers want change to be fast?to stay competitive, to build brands, to capture market share, to stay solvent. Oftentimes that means changing people's attitudes about the customer, about how the work should get done, about how to use technology, about how to work with their boss, etc. Being able to change attitudes in business and organizational life is critical to being flexible and fast. Just don't go there first with your change initiative! Focus instead on managing the learning curve.

Change in the Fast Lane
The fastest way to change people's attitudes is to share knowledge. Why? Because introducing new ideas to people often stimulates new thinking-which can lead to being more open to trying out new behaviors and building new skills. Lasting action and a shift in attitude is most likely when people experience the positive results of their new knowledge and skill. This success allows people to experience new feelings. So just having new knowledge doesn't mean you can act or do. To embrace a new attitude requires having both the knowledge and skill to experience new feelings.

Point of Least Resistance
But you can't skip steps in managing the learning curve. It is 5 times more difficult to change attitudes than it is to change knowledge. It is 3 times more difficult to translate knowledge into skills or new behavior. For example, if you want a group of professionals to "embrace teamwork," they first have to understand what that looks and feels like, and have a "win" behaving like a team.

Knowledge -- 1
Skill -- 3
Attitude -- 5
Values -- 7

An attitude is an elusive, non-behavioral term; when used the wrong way, it often causes folks to shut-down or have a defensive reaction. A reaction you can't afford when you need people to learn new knowledge and skills to change. So start at the point of least resistance knowledge building?and go from there. Eventually, attitudes change when people adopt new feelings by experiencing success with new ways of thinking and acting.

Invest a Little, Speed Things Up
If employees are resisting, look to increase their knowledge about why this whole initiative is happening. Explain how the change will impact their job. Clarify what new skills they?re expected to have and how they?ll acquire them. Articulate explicitly what metrics will be used to gauge new behavior and what business results are expected. In other words, make it real obvious what?s in it for them (the "WIIFM" factor). Invest a bit of time first on managing their learning curve. That will ultimately get you to the business results you're looking for faster.

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.

Click here to read part 1.

First published on 1/28/02

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 01/28/2002

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