Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We're Breeding a Culture of Novices

The gotta have it now, need it in a week, “speed of (insert company name here)” mindset that expects execution followed by delivery moments after the request coupled with a propensity not to measure or assess the value of either the request or the result causes us to continually live in the world of the novice. We keep ourselves from progressing to the ranks of journeyman or expert.

In the internal corporate training world I’ve experienced, the process plays out like this: the business has a problem, like failing sales numbers, so they come to the training person and place an order for training. The training person takes the order and starts developing the material based on the delivery date. It’s the pizza take-out model. The training person never asks the business what the problem or goal is, let alone delves further into why the problem exists in the first place and can training actually provide a different or better outcome.

We function on automatic pilot. We have instilled a psychomotor behavior that kicks into gear without thinking or processing like the instinctive slap you give your arm when you feel a mosquito’s bite. However, we need to change our ways. We need to slow down, be more aware and act more mindfully. We actually want people to stop and think as they perform the activities of their jobs. We want people to stop and think about the results of what they do, the relevance, the effectiveness, the bigger picture impacts of what they do as it relates to other teams, divisions, functions, etc.

Without thinking and reflecting, or assessing and validating, we cultivate a culture of continual novices. According to the research of Ruth Colvin Clark, the problem-solving process steps of a novice are: read, and explore. Basically, once you have an idea in your head, go out and “do” regardless of what obstacles come your way. Also according to the research of Ruth Colvin Clark, the problem-solving steps of an expert are something like: read, analyze, plan, implement, verify, analyze, explore, plan, implement, verify. Basically, take the idea, analyze it, plan, then “do,” and analyze the results of doing to determine appropriate next steps. The graphs look like the image on the left.

When we create a culture of people programmed to receive commands and instantly implement, we create a culture of novices. People who are too busy to learn from mistakes, people who are not skilled at learning how to learn and therefore don’t contribute a high degree of value. This is not a profitable situation for either the business or the employee. The business continues to check boxes and receive output, but executives can no longer accept activity as a measure of success. They need real outcomes that demonstrate measurable impacts. By the same token, people who continually do the same things, and do not see progress or feel like what they do has an impact or a higher purpose become frustrated at best and stressed or depressed at worst. If this trend continues, we’ll see a surge of stress related ailments. The counseling professions will be the next growth industry.

Based on the activities you see in your organization, are learning organizations on the rise or are they on the decline? Do we function in work places, cultures, and societies as conscious, thinking, mindful, aware people, or do we sub-function or auto-pilot function like robots, acting in knee-jerk ways without thinking of the impact to other people, systems, and organizations? The irony is keen – technology has provided us with the ability to connect with others in a way that has never before been possible, yet in some ways, this same technology has made us poor at really connecting. When we have hundreds of things to do, multitask continually, feel rushed constantly, we are poor at planning, thinking, and connecting, really connecting.

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