Tuesday, 6 August 2013

How Do You Know What You Know?

Recently, we've been working with a company that is a long established and widely respected supplier in a specific industry. We've been helping them to develop a new staff and management development program which is planned to roll out in the New Year.

Writing the program is an ongoing challenge, because the way that they have trained staff in the past is what the majority of companies do - let them pick it up as they go along. Even something as simple as operating a till is a complex task, but nothing is written down in a form that would enable a new member of staff to work autonomously. Therefore, new staff need a lot of supervision, which takes up management time.

A formal induction and training program seems complex and it seems time consuming, yet in reality it will save time and simplify staff training by making it highly focused and - most importantly - consistent.

As we've worked through the program design, we've been asking how certain things are done. It turns out that there are broadly two ways; firstly, the way that's in the procedures manual and secondly, the way that most managers do it because they can't be bothered to follow the procedures manual, and no-one makes them.

So we actually have two issues here. The first is designing and delivering a new staff training program. That's the easy part. The second issue is the change in management culture required to support a program. The worst thing that can happen is that a newly trained assistant goes back to a store, to be told by the manager, "yeah, yeah, that's all good in theory but the way we really do it round here is..."

That would make the training program an absolute waste of time and money.

But to return to the title of this post, just writing something as simple as a procedure for processing a till transaction is a challenge. You just press this, and go into this, and click this. Oh, and don't forget to do that. Oh, and if you forget to do that you can press F2. Or you can do it at the beginning. But if you press Enter you have to press F1 and go back. Or something. And don't forget the promotional codes. And don't forget to look first if the customer has good credit.

The point is that experienced staff and managers don't remember learning how to use the till, they just picked it up as they needed to. They know how to use it, they just don't know how they learned to use it. So because they don't know how they learned it, they can only explain what they do now, not what someone without their knowledge needs to know.

The result is that the learner needs spoon feeding, which is very time consuming for the manager.

Imagine teaching someone to drive who has never been in a car before. "OK, change gear"

"How do I do that?"

As an experienced driver, you collapse all of your years of learning into the command 'Change gear', which involves using the clutch, gearstick, knowing when to change, knowing which gear you're in, knowing which gear to change into, and so on.

What has been lost in your years of experience are the details of how, and the why. Without knowing why they're changing gear, the learner will never be able to drive autonomously.

So central to every program that we design is a simple rule of thumb.

We aren't trying to find out how someone does something.

We're finding out how they learned to do it.

The subtle difference makes the process easier, faster and better, because it creates a program designed for people who are still on that learning journey that the experienced staff take for granted.

Finally, using the Genius at Work methodology, we build in the why, so the learners don't just learn how to do something, they learn how to do it for themselves.