Tag Archives: learning

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.”