When my daughter Martha was little, like most pre-school kids, she was terrible at sharing. The tantrums at play dates were becoming a problem and I knew it was serious when we weren’t getting invited out as much as we used to. I needed my Mum mates. So for my sanity at least, things had to change.
My husband Ben and I started by raising Martha’s awareness. We explained that if she wanted other kids to want to play with her, she had to be kind and share her toys. She realised that she wouldn’t have many friends to play with if she continued behaving this way, so she had a desire to change. Then we taught her how to share. When anyone played with one of her ‘precious toys’, we timed them and made it fair. Everyone got an equal amount of time with the toy. Great! All boxes ticked. Maximum Mum points to me. However, it wasn’t working. The tantrums continued, and all her toys became her ‘precious’ toys! I had done everything right! Hadn’t I?
It was only when, a week or so later after witnessing yet another argument between Ben and Charlie (my son) over the iPad, that I realised what was wrong. We weren’t being good role models for Martha at home. We were telling a 3 year old that she must be kind and share, even showing her how to do it, yet her family was being unkind and not sharing with each other. Oh the hypocrisy! There was absolutely no consistency between what she was being taught and what she was witnessing every day at home. Mum points well and truly forfeited.
This is what happens in business all the time. Lets look at an example.
What if, in my organisation, I want to shift the culture to be more open, honest and transparent? I might run a big learning intervention on giving and receiving feedback. Feedback is crucial and it paves the way for open and honest conversations. So I invest a lot of money in the programme. I have a great communications plan. I have one to one conversations with people, so they’re aware of what we’re trying to achieve. They buy into it and have a desire to do it.
Then we deliver the training. We show them how to behave to get results. We talk through tone of voice, intonation and timing. We teach them a feedback process as well as top tips and techniques. In short, we give them the whole shebang on how to deliver and receive feedback. However, not everyone in the company is involved. All too often the learning is just for those people ‘at the coalface’ and senior management don’t participate.
When the core team finishes the programme they come out buzzing and ready to action the learning. They have their first feedback conversation with a member of senior management. It lands badly. The senior manager gets defensive. Aggressive. It doesn’t go well.
How likely do you think it is, that this person will try and give feedback again? Highly unlikely. Why? Because it isn’t being reinforced and role modelled, back in the workplace. The learning doesn’t stick, change doesn’t happen and all that money invested in the programme is lost.
Role modelling for us is about making sure that everyone is involved in the change that needs to happen. Holding people to account is key. In the last example when the feedback landed badly with the senior manager, instead of being allowed to retreat and give up, the person giving the feedback should have had someone to talk to and the senior manager should have been held to account on his behaviour. The irony is, had the senior manager been involved in the learning in the first place, it is highly unlikely that they would have reacted in this way.
There is so much evidence out there to support the fact that informal learning is much more effective than formal learning. Lets take the previous example and plonk a couple of people like Jo and I into the equation. Being open and honest is our thing. If you had champions like us in the workplace to get things going – people within the organisation that were briefed and given power to role model ‘giving feedback’, then the outcome would have been very different. The workforce would live and breathe feedback. We’d tour the building and sit in meetings giving feedback, receiving feedback, encouraging others to give feedback, sharing the impact the feedback had on us, challenging people when they didn’t give feedback…
Do you see the difference? This role modelling is much more powerful than a workshop that delivers some key messages, teaches a few skills and then sends people back into an environment where the rest of the workforce are clueless about what those involved are trying to achieve.
Learning is a catalyst for change, but the environment has to be right. If we want something to be different, we instigate learning around it, which must involve everyone. So even if senior management doesn’t participate, they must support the change application back in the workplace. Champions are a great way to kick things off, but learning must be role modelled throughout the organisation, so that the whole workforce is surrounded by it every day. And everyone is held to account when they get it wrong, without blame.
Only then can change occur and we make learning stick.
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