Tag Archives: learning

Why Do We Do That?

“Why do you assemble the pieces of the installation on-site?” I asked.

“Because that’s what we are paid to do,” Roger replied. “The customer purchased this assembly and needs it installed in this location. That’s what we do.”

“But, I am watching this installation and it seems very awkward. That technician is standing on a ladder, in a dark corner of the room, securing two pieces that he cannot see, reaching around another piece that is in the way.”

“I know,” Roger agreed. “But that’s what we do.”

“Roger, you are part of a trade profession. How long has your profession been doing this awkward work in this way?”

Roger chuckled and nodded. “I guess forever. That’s the way it has been done for centuries.”

“Then let me ask again. Why do you assemble the pieces on-site?”

“I will answer you the same way. That’s what we do,” Roger pushed back.

“And that’s what you have always done. Why don’t you assemble the pieces before you get on-site, in a room that is well lit. Instead of climbing on a ladder, you could assemble the pieces on a table where the technician could see the material, and work directly on a connection instead of around something that was in the way?”

Roger looked at me like I was from Mars.

“All I am suggesting,” I continued, “is that you ask a question. Sometimes we do things out of habit. We do something because we know the way to do it. Is it better to know something and describe the way it’s done or ask a question? Why?”

Why Train When There is No Time

“Look, we have a certain amount of work that has to be done around here and I can’t just sit by and watch these guys go so slow. They just don’t get it. I have been working with them for eight months.” Charlie stopped. He shook his head. He had been trying to get his telephone operators to go paperless. It wasn’t working.

“Did you know that you are a really good phone operator?” I asked.

“I know. I did it for six years before I came over to work here. I am the best. I just wish there was ten of me. This is a busy place.” Charlie seemed off the defensive, now.

“Why do you think the coaching is failing?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s not the coaching,” said Charlie. “It’s the training. We just have so much work to do that we don’t have time to train. It’s fast paced. These guys just can’t keep up. And the turnover on my team is killing me.”

“Charlie, what happens when a race car driver takes a curve too fast?”

“What?” said Charlie, off guard. He wanted to talk about operator through-put, and I was talking about race cars.

“Let’s say there is a straight-away coming up, where we can really blow it out, but we have to negotiate a turn first. What happens if the driver takes the turn too fast?”

“Well, he’s going to hit the wall.” Charlie responded.

“Charlie, sometimes, you have to slow down to go fast.” I waited to let that sink in. “Charlie, tomorrow I want you to schedule one operator per hour to be off the phones and back into coaching. See you at 8:00 sharp.”

Reinforcement and Mastery

“Sustained, discretionary effort. Especially when I am not around, that’s what I’m after,” Travis said. “The training period requires more of my attention and focus, but as time passes and new behavior becomes a competent skill, I have to change my focus.” Travis and I were exploring the role of the manager in all this, specifically looking at the role of positive reinforcement.

“In the beginning, as the manager, I have to overcome push-back and fear,” Travis continued. “But, as the new behavior turns into a competent skill, the issues change.”

“So, what does the manager do differently?” I asked.

“Lots of things, but let’s start with the easy stuff. In the beginning, I may reinforce good old-fashioned effort. But as time goes by and the effort becomes accomplished, I start to reinforce a specific sequence. As the specific sequence becomes accomplished, I may reinforce speed or efficiency.

“Look at my kid’s video game,” Travis smiled. “Game designers structure training sequences into the lower levels of the game. Leveling up requires certain fundamental skills. Once accomplished, the player is introduced to more complex scenarios where mastery of the fundamentals must already exist. Each level becomes increasingly complex. The schedules of reinforcement change, but the principle remains the same. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”