Tag Archives: learning

Not a Training Problem

“Take a look at this training program,” said Crystal. “We have been over it a hundred times, tweaked it here and there, but quite frankly, it’s not working.”

“What happens when you do the training?” I asked.

“Everyone seems upbeat, like they understand. We even do classroom exercises, but it doesn’t seem to stick. Two weeks later, they are back to doing it the old way, with all kinds of excuses.”

“How much coaching do you do after the initial training?”

“Well, anyone who seems to be having trouble, we write them up and they go back to the next training.” Crystal was visibly upset as she described what happens next. “Sooner, or later, they all get written up and so they all end up back in the training. We put this software in place eight months ago and they still write the orders on paper and put the information into the computer later. Sometimes the paper gets lost or it takes a day or two to catch up. We want real-time order entry, but we are nowhere close.”

“So, there is no real coaching except for sending people back to the beginning?”

“Yes, and every time we go round, the push-back gets stronger. They seem to hate the training,” Crystal said, shaking her head.

“I don’t think this is a training problem. And, if it’s not a training problem, what do you think the problem is?”

Stick Around

“But then, as the manager, I have to stick around to see if they actually complete the task,” moaned Shirley. “Why can’t they just do it the way I showed them?”

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “If you tell them about the new procedure, show them the new procedure. Get them to try the new procedure. Then leave. How long will they continue to perform in the new way?”

Shirley shook her head. “60 seconds! That’s it. As soon as I leave, they go back to the way they did it before.”

“Shirley, you are focused on what you do before the new behavior. What could you do differently after the behavior to get a different result?”

“You mean, stick around and watch longer?” she said. It sounded like a question, but it was more of a statement.

“And if you stuck around longer, what else could you do to get a different result?”

“I guess I could correct them if they did it wrong.”

“And if they did it right?” I prompted.

“I could tell them they did it right?” Now, it was a question.

“Yes, and what else?” I asked.

“Ask them to do it again?” The picture came into focus for Shirley.

“Yes, ask to see it again. Smile. Ask other people to watch how well it was done. Smile again. Tell her you want her to practice and that you will be back in ten minutes to watch again.

“If you want someone to acquire a new behavior, telling and demonstrating only gets it started. If you want the behavior to be repeated, you have to design rapid fire frequent positive reinforcement after the behavior. Watching, smiling, paying attention, encouraging. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”

Positive Reinforcement in the Real World

“So, how does that work around here?” Travis asked. Using the analogy of video games and expert levels made the reinforcement process understandable, but we were running a loading dock, not playing a video game.

“Travis, the guys loading the trucks, have you noticed the different colored t-shirts they wear, the ones with the company logo on the front?”

“Yeah, I noticed. We started that about three weeks ago. The new guys get a white t-shirt to start. We had a meeting about it.”

“And when does the new guy get his white t-shirt?”

“The first day,” Travis smiled.

“No, the first day he punches the timeclock reporting for work on-time,” I clarified. “What is the most important first behavior?”

“Showing up for work on time,” Travis said.

“And when does he get his second white t-shirt?”

Travis was catching on. “The second day he punches in for work on time.”

“And when does he get a yellow shirt?” I continued.

“Five days on time, consecutive days on time.”

“And when does he get a green shirt?”

“When he passes forklift training.” Travis stopped. “I think I get it.”

Things I Don’t Know

“The biggest change for me,” said Renee, “is that I have to spend time learning. I thought I finished learning when I finished school. I was wrong. Things I learned today weren’t invented when I was in school.”

Renee paused and looked around the table. “I have to keep an open mind that there are things I don’t know. There are things we do that can be done better. There are new ways to reach our customers. There are new ways for our customers to reach us.

“There are new products in our market that are better than our products. We have to see where we need improvement. We have to keep an open mind that we can always get better.

“The main thing is, I can’t keep coming to work every day, thinking, all there is to do, is the work. If I want to be more effective, I have to keep learning.”

Or You Can Be Curious

If you are in situation with another person, who disagrees with you, you can respond in one of two ways. You can be frustrated that they disagree. You can attempt to persuade them to your way of thinking. You can impugn their intelligence.

Or you can be curious. What led them to their position of disagreement? What evidence do they see in the world that you don’t see? What other people did they listen to, that influenced their thinking? What consequences might occur if their position turns out to be a better description of reality?

Making Mistakes

Do people learn more from success or failure?

For me, it is always failure. I learn the most from my mistakes.

Success, for me often breeds arrogance. How does the saying go – the worst thing that can happen to a golfer is to have a great day on the greens.

It is our mistakes, our failures where we learn the most. For a manager and a team member, learning cannot be an exercise of micro-management, but one of failure and mistakes.

So, if we learn more from mistakes, how do we teach people to fly a plane? Mistakes cost life and limb. Mistakes can be fatal.

As a manager, you have to manage the risk in project work. We teach people to fly in simulators, where they can make mistakes, learn, make more mistakes and learn. We learn more from one mistake than we do from a dozen successes.

If We Lie Down with Dogs

If we lie down with dogs, the saying goes, we get up with fleas.

We become like those people we hang out with. We are programmed with mirror neurons to imitate those around us. Human learning is based on imitation. We connect with those around us because we imitate them, their mannerisms, their language, their behavior. One person yawns, contagious. Our mirror neurons cannot resist.

In paleolithic times, this was survival. Walking down the path, confronted with our friend, we can see the terror in his face. Our mirror neurons kick in and contort our face identical. That contortion stimulates hormones in our body so we feel the same fear, the same panic to turn around and run. We do not have to see the dinosaur to feel the fear, we only have to see our friend’s face. The good news is that we do not have to outrun the dinosaur, we only have to outrun our friend.

We are programmed to be like those around us. Beware who you hang out with. You will become like them.

Be intentional about who you hang out with. You will become like them.

No Drill Sergeants in the Jungle

Drill sergeants yell and scream and get results. Why can’t a manager?

Most of us have either worked underneath or know a manager who behaves like a drill sergeant. The descriptions come easy. He runs a tight ship. He manages like his haircut.

But, it occurred to me, there are no drill sergeants in the jungle. Let’s say a squad is on patrol in hostile territory and one team member falls behind, cannot keep the pace. There is no drill sergeant around to demand 50 pushups. There is no yelling in the jungle. Communication may be whispered or signaled, but there is no “I can’t hear yooouuu!”

Drill sergeants work in an artificial environment called training. Their purpose is to instill discipline to exact trained behaviors. Managers work in the jungle. It’s real in the jungle. Production is real. Quality is real. Customer satisfaction is real.

As a manager, the next time you have the urge to yell like a drill sergeant, you might find a whisper more effective.

The Attractiveness of Work

“What is it that this game has, that is so attractive to your son, that he will go without food, water and sleep, in spite of discouragement from his mom (manager)?” I asked. “Your son has achieved a high level of competence in this video game without the traditional trappings of learning, without the traditional trappings of inducement. Yet he continues to play hard.”

“Well, for one thing, it must be fun, it’s play, not work,” Jamie explained.

“And, as a manager, what can we take from that, when we think about our teams and their behavior?”

“Yes, but work isn’t all that much fun,” Jamie protested. “People don’t like work. They like play, but they don’t like work.”

“Jamie, I have looked at your son playing a video game and it doesn’t look all that different than what some of your people do at work. They both sit at a keyboard, staring at a computer screen. As they touch the keys, things move on the screen.”

“I don’t see your comparison, they are two different things.”

“But if you could see the comparison, what would you see?”

Jamie had to think, but she finally spoke. “In the mind of my son, he is part of something bigger than himself, trying to achieve certain levels in the game. As he makes progress, he gets real-time feedback (automatically), so he can adjust his play. When he makes the level, there is a small electronic celebration on the screen.”
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Leaving Shanghai today, bound for San Francisco. Quick trip around the world in five days.

Didn’t Do It For the Money

The conversation was now personal. We talked about Jamie’s son and his behavior related to a video game. We had established that he never attended a training program, never read a training manual, was discouraged from learning the game by his manager (Jamie, his mom). Furthermore, in spite of all these front-end adverse conditions, he achieved a high level of mastery, in playing the game.

“So, Jamie, you also told me that you did not pay your son a bonus when he achieved certain levels within the game?”

Jamie started with a chuckle, but it quickly turned to an outright laugh. “You clearly don’t know my son. Paying him to play a video game is not part of our family culture. That would be a bit over the top. As his mom (manager), I would have to be crazy. He doesn’t play the game for money.”

“What? Teenagers don’t have expenses?” I asked.

“That’s not the point,” Jamie explained. “He doesn’t play for money.”

“So, what does he play for? What does he get from the game that has caused him to spend hours achieving a high level of competence, without external inducements for his performance?”

“Well, he must be getting some internal reward for it.” Jamie guessed.

“And how would describe that internal reward? What is it?”

“Motivation?”

I nodded. “Yes, motivation, and here is where the conversation gets interesting.”
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First day in Shanghai. This place is very Chinese.