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What will I do differently?

June 20, 2013

Organizations invest in training because they want to improve performance. Yesterday I was talking with IACCM’s head of Managed Learning about his observations on the effectiveness of training, in particular  the challenge of applying knowledge to working practices.

There appears to be a big difference between basic and more advanced training. Basic programs are directed at students who have limited prior knowledge. Therefore they have not developed particular methods or approaches and are receptive to learning and its application.

Those at a more advanced – or established practitioner – level are far less receptive. They have established approaches which they need to unlearn or discard before they can adopt a new approach. Making this shift seems like hard work, because it often takes more time and demands fresh thinking. Therefore, even if we accept in principle that there may be a ‘better way’, we are often resistant to its application.

This is reflected in our experience of observing students when they participate in simulations or are asked to reflect on what they have learned. Those who are relative newcomers rapidly produce an extensive list or visibly put the methods they have been taught into practice. The established practitioners struggle to say what they will do differently and instantly revert to their tried and trusted methods, even when they acknowledge that the new method would bring better results.

In a community such as contract and commercial management, this is a problem. There are relatively few newcomers to this community. Typically it does not have openings for graduate hires. Most people have learnt ‘on the job’ because, until recently, there was no underpinning body of knowledge  and even less established techniques or methods. This disparity is a source of weakness and illustrates a lack of professionalism.

So unless practitioners are open to learning – and applying that knowledge – we cannot improve our contribution and performance. And that, of course, is exactly the criticism that often comes from senior management.

  1. Tim: In contract drafting, this sort of inertia is endemic. Aside from cajoling people to change, you can address inertia in two ways. First, you can force people to change, for example by saying, “Here’s our new style guide for contract language. Comply with it or else.” And second, you can circumvent inertia with technology, for example by using document assembly, so that people in your organization create contracts by answering an online questionnaire rather than cobbling together language from templates or precedent contracts. But both steps require leadership at the top. Ken

    • Ken
      Excellent examples – thanks for these. You are right that technology will increasingly force compliance – and that is an approach that is still relatively unexplored for our community, but where IACCM is researching possibilities.


  2. Hi Tim
    In bringing about new ways of working with our software service, pam (the platform for achieving more) we encounter this regularly with those people that find change a little harder. Like any personal change, whether embedding a new skill or losing, weight, it has to become a habit. And of course with old ways of working, like that golf swing I’ve had for twenty years, it is hard to break old habits. The comment by Ken is correct in one way is leadership mandate and another is technology. But both are not enough. The new way has to be better than the old way (for them personally as well as the org), and people need to believe in it.
    I developed an approach for our new pam customers which is simple but very effective. It seeks to identify and agree the “keep, stop, start” practices and works at the individual, team, org and ecosystem level.
    I also recently came across a great book on the subject of habit, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. The personal part of change was really good and it reinforced my approach but also offered more insight about habit triggers, routines and rewards and how to deal with them. The approach to organisation change was less interesting given my experiences, but would no doubt be good learning for newcomers to the field, assuming they have the learning habit:-)
    Cheers Mark

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