One of my favorite sayings is Hindu: Nothing changes if nothing changes. The reverse is also true: If nothing changes, nothing changes. Perfect! And so I was more than a little surprised recently when I visited a company that had made a sizeable investment in bringing continuous improvement into the organization. The surprise was not the decision to do so. My surprise was that there was so little result after more than a year. Senior leaders had brought in a first-rate training system as the core resource. Company coaches had gone through the train-the-trainer process. Everyone was geared up, psyched up, and raring to go. And they went! But a year later there was no noticeable change. Hardly a trace. The dial had not moved.
The VP of operations asked me to investigate. I reviewed the materials—splendid training content, solid logic, exciting adult learning. Excellent trainers with strong coaching, personal, and teaching skills. Plus outstanding management commitment. What had gone wrong? Then I turned my attention to the company’s implementation calendar. I wanted to check the pacing of the learn-and-do sequence. What kind of time had been provided for participants to apply what they learned in the classroom? I got my answer: none. There was no such calendar. There was a training calendar only. Huh?!
The trainers trained, trained, trained. But no one ever asked attendees to put what was taught to use—even though the training design specifically stated that people had to go out and apply after each and every classroom session. How did the company miss that? How had trainers missed: “Don’t begin your next lesson until you give participants the opportunity to test their understanding of today’s lesson through hands-on application.” Often in the form of a blitz. Instead, in-house instructors simply burned through the classroom sessions. And, lo and behold, nothing changed. Nothing grabbed.
What were you thinking? I asked as politely as I could. What prompted you to skip the “doing” part of learn-and-do? (Or more correctly: “teach-and-do” because learning comes from doing—applying—what is taught.) The response was heartfelt: “We didn’t really think it was that important. We thought it was enough to do a good job teaching in the classroom.”
Truth be told, I have encountered this scenario more than once in my career—even in reference to my own work. Each time, I am baffled by people’s notion that teaching is the same as learning. It is not. Teaching happens in the classroom. Learning happens after you leave. So I share a few short comments to anchor the point:
Yes, by the time I said good-bye to the VP, we had sorted through the debris and designed a way to re-start, re-launch, and re-ignite the learn-and-do process in his company. And as I drove away, I made note: There is no better compliment you can give a person than to expect him or her to learn, change, and grow—and no better praise than to celebrate that when it happens.