How do you light a fire?
I’m talking about training and culture change here.
Well, first you have to decide what kind of fire you would like to start. Is it a roaring bonfire that challenges the sun with its light and heat, or is it a slow-burning fire that keeps you warm through a cold winter’s night?
Often I see organisations decide that what they need to solve their challenge is a roaring bonfire. This involves a “kick-off” that will make people cheer, chant and be motivated, and a lot of effort is spent finding the right trainers that can create a classroom ‘WOW!’ experience.
People leave those sessions with a sensation of energy. They feel that their company cares about them, and they rate those sessions highly. It is training as a motivational tool, one that takes you away from your everyday life, and gives you a feeling of purpose and shared undertaking.
Then there is the other sort of fire, the slow-burning fire that can last throughout the night, fed with just a couple of logs. It is harder to get going, because you can’t push for the WOW effect, you have to work with people´s everyday life, and their everyday workplace challenges.
We can’t teach everything a person will need to do their job, that’s impossible. But we can train them in such a way that they feel confident in their ability to overcome challenges and lack of knowledge.
The skills involved are different. It’s a more personal connection and more detailed attention to how training is delivered, that is required from the trainer.
If a workplace task is non-linear - situations pop up in a random order and you have to to respond - it’s important not to train it in a linear way.
We use skill checks that distinguish between recalling information by rote, and applying what they have learned to solve problems.
We reward the effort they put in and praise hard work, not “talent” or “smartness” – because working persistently at something is the key to learning. Research shows that praising people for being ‘smart’ reduces their commitment to work hard at things they find challenging.
We train people in seeking out information and using tools and strategies, not to rely on memorising the ways of doing something. This makes them more willing to grapple with problems that arise. It also means that they are not stuck if they forget how to do an infrequent task - they know they worked it out in training, so they’ll try again.
We make people train each other, and explain how to do a task. This embeds the learning and gives them confidence in their knowledge.
And not least, we ask people “What challenges do you have in your workplace today? How can you use what you have learned to solve them?”
I don´t think you can light a fire in anyone, without first taking the time to understand their situation. Without showing that you have a genuine interest in understanding what is troubling them.
I´ll keep on wondering how to best light a fire in somebody when delivering training. But I know that it wasn’t the roaring bonfire that let mankind survive its infancy. The slow burning fire is what kept caves warm and predators away.