Last weekend, $96.2 million-worth of moviegoers (including me) piled into their local cineplex to see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” The film is the first of several superhero blockbusters flying, swinging and rocketing into theaters in the next few months as part of a trend that serves as the lifeblood of the summer box office.
But as much fun as it is to watch Cap, Falcon and Black Widow duke it out with bad guys for two hours, like a lot of movies there’s a deeper message. I’m referring to the ways the film and its predecessors can instruct executives on better learning and development techniques.
1. Ease into new initiatives gently but quickly, especially when they require a major culture shift. By the end of “Winter Soldier’s” prequel, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Capt. Steve Rogers has been found in his arctic grave and defrosted. Thanks to science — and science fiction — his body hasn’t aged a day since crashing his plane while saving the world during World War II. That doesn’t mean his mind isn’t going to implode when he wakes up in 2011 to a Manhattan consumed by decades of technological, cultural and societal change. That’s why SHIELD director Nick Fury puts him in a room decorated like a 1940s hospital ward to avoid the shock of a new world.
The same goes for learning and development programs. In general, people don’t like change, be it in the way they work, the way they’re trained or the way they live. Taking that in consideration can increase support for programs instead of turning people entirely off before they even start.
2. Encourage employees to ask questions and look for answers. In “The Avengers” and even “Winter Soldier,” Captain continues having to adapt to his new surroundings, a daunting task made even tougher when he’s forced to battle powers that are unheard of even to those like Tony Stark/Iron Man who are accustomed to ultra-modern developments. In “Winter Soldier,” he has a small notebook filled with items that he wants to check into, including Thai food and Marvin Gaye’s soundtrack to “Trouble Man.”
Promote list-making or provide lists of relevant and useful information or instructions. This method can be used to stimulate an employee’s learning investment. It’s easy to let a question fall by the wayside when there’s more important work to be done, but it’s even easier to forget you had the question altogether. Even if it’s on a simple Post-It instead of a full notebook, a list can act as a reminder and a brainstorm tool. It also gives employers the chance to see how their employees’ minds work and how they can help them get the answers they need.
3. Communication is key to building trust and achieving goals. Black Widow and Captain America’s first mission in the film becomes disjointed because neither one of them knows what the other is doing — Cap thinks Natasha is helping him secure hostages on a hijacked ship, but she’s actually there to steal computer files off the vessel’s hard drive. America’s first avenger is clearly miffed when he finds her in the control room instead of taking down bad guys, and she explains to him that it’s “compartmentalization.” If no one knows everything, no one can leak everything.
That’s a great way to go about things if you’re part of a team taking down terrorists and saving the world, but the typical workplace is a little less reliant on confidentiality. Making sure everyone is on the same page for learning and development goals and initiatives is paramount in a program’s success. It also builds trust and ease, two things that accelerate teamwork — just ask the Avengers.
4. Look for outside help; don’t wait until you absolutely need it. As the conflict intensifies, it becomes clear that Cap might need some help. He turns to Sam Wilson, a military veteran friend who has experience with some pretty cool technology. Renamed as “Falcon” after the winged apparatus that lets him fly, Sam joins Black Widow and Captain America in fighting Hydra a second time, and is instrumental in taking down its devious plot.
See? Even jacked-up superheroes need help. Falcon’s inclusion in the plan shows that not only do the heroes need another person, they need someone with different skills. Cap and Widow are great at hand-to-hand combat, but they need someone who can fly to take down the enemy. Bringing in an external specialist, coach or trainer can fill gaps in a learning and development program.