Those engaged in daily corporate education activities understand the complexity of planning any employee education effort and are sensitive to people and their needs in receiving quality education. The key question is “why” are we training them. In the past, we answered that question by saying that we wanted the individual to improve his or her skill set or that we were training simply for self-improvement. That was correct in the past and, in part, is still correct today. Employees chose to take courses that a company offered to help them improve themselves. This was done, more or less, at the employees’ discretion. Perhaps one or two courses a year would be required and tied into an appraisal equation.
In today’s world, mandatory training is based on project implementations initiated by companies wanting to acquire an edge on their competition. Information technology advances have produced enterprise systems and processes and given us names like SAP, PeopleSoft and Oracle. We see terms like “customer relationship management” (CRM) or “quote to cash” (QTC) and “old legacy systems” as part of the daily vocabulary of a company.
All of this adds up to a company’s number-one resource, its people, requiring more than a name on a list with a check mark when it comes to education. They are the front line to process change and drive company profitability and, in some cases, have no choice in the matter. These resources need an level of education equivalent to the processes and technology they are expected to use. In short, corporate strategy is dictating that employees change.
Many of you no doubt have heard the term “change management.” In our world today, change management is misunderstood. To some, change management means making people feel soft and cuddly with team building. To others, it means holding hands and teams singing songs together or a day in the outdoors climbing ropes and doing exercises. Let us forgo these independent impressions, as well as any complicated technical definitions, and define change management for what it truly is. We can begin by understanding that over the past few years, the topic of change management has taken on an almost evangelical aura with an explosion of information, literature and experts. Why? It has become increasingly apparent that any business initiative, development project or software implementation impacts an organization and its people in three key areas:
- Organization (roles and responsibilities)
These areas contain people who are challenged by the impact of doing something different that changes the status quo. Change management is a methodology, a process and a discipline for facilitating and accelerating business initiatives by aligning resources in a timely manner to efficiently execute a chosen strategy and accelerate return on investment (ROI). It is identification of the gap between the “as is” and the “to be.”
Change management goes well beyond identifying the gap. It is a process of establishing a change, communicating that change and creating action plans with management and end-users to mitigate the impact of the change. This effort involves the end-users, their managers and the executive sponsors working in unison to achieve a corporate goal. At the heart of this effort is education (training).
Old Habits Are Hard to Break
The logistical positioning of education in the corporate work environment is understood, but let us review how people have experienced the education system over the course of their lives and how this affects the workplace today. One example is formal education. In elementary school, students are given assigned desks and sets of books, are told to sit still and listen and raise their hands to ask questions. Although this scenario has probably adjusted itself over the years, the overall approach is still dominating. This action is really a “conditioning” effect that is both strong and powerful. When combined with the repetition of years of education, this action begins to ingrain in an individual an attitude of “follow” rather than “lead” and can eventually become a deterrent to change and new ideas.
As students proceed to high school, this base method of educating is relaxed a bit, as freedom of movement from classroom to classroom and independent study allows for choices to be made by the individual. In college, this growth of independence expands to its greatest degree. But the truth remains that many people feel that this progression to independence is uncomfortable because of their early conditioning to be led rather than to take on the personal responsibility of self-direction. They develop physical habits (study habits) and attitudes concerning methods of accomplishing tasks. When we look at our workforce today, we must keep in mind that somewhere around 30 percent of our population has experienced the challenge and success of a college education. To the other 70 percent, the freedom of college to forge learning experiences is foreign if not unknown.
From birth, good intentions from parents, friends, relatives and others combine to mold our ideas and our reactions to situations. It is natural to want stability in our lives, and change is an intrusion. But stability can also bring complacency, a blockage to progress.
All the education we’ve received over the years, both formal and informal, helped create our ideas or conditioning. Our ideas drive how we think about things, which drives the way we act. Finally our actions get us our results—bad actions normally lead to bad results, and good actions normally lead to good results.
What we can begin to piece together is a strong conditioning effect fueled by repetition that creates our habits and attitudes. These habits and attitudes are now coming into contact with an aggressive business environment requiring individuals to seek new skills, adjust to past conditioning and be part of strategy to ensure the organization’s profitability and existence in the future. Companies are demanding that their employees change old habits and attitudes and accept new methods—now.
Forming New Habits and Attitudes
First of all, those with the responsibility to educate a workforce must look to themselves and ask if they need to change. They must look at the vision and strategy of the organization they represent and make certain that they agree with the direction being proposed. If you cannot support the goals of the organization, how can you logically assist people in changing to new methods and skills? As an example, back in the 1970s, a public utility company decided to embark on an aggressive nuclear power plant building program. There were many within the organization who did not understand nuclear power or whose convictions led them to believe that nuclear power was not safe and was not an efficient means of producing electricity. This led to great personal conflicts that affected their decision-making processes, not to mention their stress levels. Some of these individuals eventually resigned and moved on to other opportunities where they were comfortable. Others chose to learn more about the nuclear industry, its strengths and weaknesses and came to the conclusion to support the initiative. They changed their attitudes and habits.
Changing old habits and attitudes is not easy, and we can better understand the effort required to change a physical habit (i.e., smoking). Changing an attitude is more difficult. But an attitude is nothing more than a habit of the mind rather than a physical habit. Key ingredients to successful habit and attitude change are education and repetition.
Repetition in an enterprise education effort begins with management. All levels of management must understand the drivers that are forcing companies to move at a more rapid and ever-evolving pace. No longer is just sending people to be trained good enough. Management must believe in and drive the need for change. Managers must believe the vision and strategy of the organization and be willing leaders as well as users of change. They must stress the importance of flexibility and teamwork to achieve company objectives to the end-users. Table 1 compares organizational learning with the corresponding change management approach needed to assist in that change effort.
Organizations and managers must begin to pay attention to change management and its connection to employee and company success. Large sums of money are being spent on technology, but the real backbone of the organization, its people, must be considered part of the equation for success. This is especially true of more mature companies that have thousands of employees and whose business processes have remained relatively constant over the years. Embedded in these organizations are many pockets of small kingdoms, with people holding onto established processes, not wanting to give up their so-called power.
Driving change in these types of organizations is long and painful, but it must be done for the sake of company success. Business units and their managers will need to adjust how they lead their processes and how they share information to increase productivity. The rule of thumb is that technology makes up 10 percent of a business, while business processes, staff and culture make up 90 percent. Does it not make sense to invest in people and help them succeed? Small businesses know this to be true. In small business there can be no silo mentality. The key to success is people involvement. Small businesses rely on the flexibility, dedication and willingness of their employees to adapt to change quickly in order to be successful. Larger businesses require that same attitude from management and employees.
There are several methods to help drive change and aid the education efforts of an organization:
- Clearly defined goals.
- Strong, timely communications.
- Creation of specific action plans.
- Tracking action plans and holding people responsible for actions.
Those responsible for organizational education have a challenge in front of them. To begin with, they have to address their own understanding and beliefs. Do they accept the values, strategy and direction of the organization?
Next, workforce training is no longer a “check the box” effort. It is a combination of identifying the educational need and its relationship to a corporate strategy and linking the two. Identifying which parts of the workforce to train demands an understanding of what is being asked of the people affected. Changes in processes as a result of corporate initiatives demands the adaptation (adoption) of new employee skills but also requires the identification of the impact on the employees (processes) and the mitigation of those impacts.
Immediate utilization by employees of any training effort is critical. Process changes and their impacts now demand immediate utilization of new skill sets. Tracking the quality of the training effort and measuring its results are imperative to ensure the success of the business initiative and a rapid return on investment.
Finally, communications between employees, those sponsoring the corporate initiatives and all levels of management is not an option but a requirement for success. To change habits and attitudes requires a repeated understanding of “why we are going in this direction” in order to be successful.
When employees are made a part of the equation of change, their support, enthusiasm, understanding and acceptance of new skills through education and training adds to the overall success of the organization.
Edward Pfahl is a senior principal for Technology Solutions Company (TSC), with more than 30 years of corporate and consulting experience in change and reengineering efforts. At TSC he has served as project leader on many ERP implementations involving process change and transformation efforts. For more information, e-mail Edward at email@example.com.
ORGANIZATION LEARNING NEED
Reason to Train
A need to create process and personal improvement.
Who to Train
A human resource requirement for employees based on tradition or a change in process.
Train to Improve
Changes in work methodologies that require new understanding and skills.
Ensure Training Understanding
Immediate utilization of training.
Train to Communicate
Shared knowledge and ideas.
Organization readiness approach to learn, be part of and drive return on investment.
Understand organizational values identify potential leaders with distinctive capabilities.
Identify impacts to processes and mitigation efforts of those impacts.
Tracking and Metrics
Ensure the accomplishment of tasks and achievement of business results.
People are continually informed dialogue is achieved and repetition of message in