E.F.E.ctive learning: 3 ways to open the mind in uncertain times

“What is your vision on learning?” a client recently asked. Behind that question lay another one: “Would it be possible to create a type of training that is so appealing that employee request to participate to it?”


Her company, like many others, faces the need to innovate its customer experience while remaining cost-efficient. Jobs at this company will be far more demanding in terms of flexibility: learning new competences, working further from home with new colleagues, servicing new clients. Yet, this manager is (rightfully) determined that one-size-fits-all training programs are not going to motivate employees who carry backpacks full of uncertainty. So what is the solution, how do you create ‘pull-learning’?

Reculer pour mieux sauter.

Imagine the following situation. You are sitting in a room at the start of a training course. Suddenly you doubt whether you have locked your car (your laptop and your wallet are in it and the car is on a public parking lot!). As long as the uncertainty and the fear of losing your belongings are blocking your mind, you won’t learn anything.

In a changing and uncertain environment, before you can even start to accelerate learning and change behaviour, you have to ‘unfreeze’ people. Get them out of their uncertainty zone and re-create a basic openness to new information. As Suzan Jeffers concluded in ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’, the root of all fears is the perception: I can’t handle it. In order to convince people of the opposite, work on esteem, fairness and example. These are 3 preconditions that create openness to learn and self-develop.

  1. E-steem before education

Arnoud Raskin is a product developer who wanted to give street kids a proper education. Since it is difficult to get these kids in the classroom, Raskin built a Mobile School to take education to the streets. With over 300 educative tools packed in a blackboard-on-wheels, his organization really makes a difference to a lot of kids.

During one of his speeches in front of business people, he stressed a very important precondition for learning that is not only valid for street kids, but for all of us. “Before you can teach them anything, you need to restore their self esteem.”

So, don’t bombard your employees with those typical impressive burning platform stories. Too many of them are typically conceived from an organizational point of view, with a mandatory and artificial ‘what’s in it for me’ chapter. It will only alienate employees. So will stories about other organizations that people can’t relate to. Only the guys that made the slides want to ‘be like Apple’.

Instead, show them there is another way, a better way. Inspire them with stories of how certain colleagues (“someone like me”) are already offering the service we want to be known for in the future, with effects on customer loyalty. In every company there are good examples of people leading the way. The purpose of such stories is that employees walk out thinking about how they’ll do things differently with their customers.

  1. F-airness before conviction

People cling to the fear I can’t handle it or they resist certain decisions because they don’t trust the process leading to the decision, regardless of the outcome. Kim and Mauborgne, who have researched procedural fairness related to operational performance, state: “although outcomes are important, if we have not had our voice heard and our point of view considered, we are likely to feel dissatisfied by the outcome – even when this outcome is what we had hoped for.”

According to their research, In order to help employees or stakeholders trust the process, organizations need to provide answers (and proof) to a number of questions. To what degree:

  • Were the decisions based on accurate information?
  • Were decision makers unbiased?
  • Does the decision represent a widespread need?
  • Can the decision still be corrected?
  • Were social and ethical criteria considered in the decision making?
  • Are / were stakeholders involved?
  • Are we able to explain all of the above in a coherent story?

Involve colleagues from all impacted areas of the organisation in the change process. Discuss the future vision, the way to get there, the measures and the follow-up, the (fair) distribution of impacts. Last but not least: show them how their input is used.

fairness summary

As a result, the same research concludes resistance will drop and stakeholders’ sense of citizenship will grow. The more we perceive a decision as a result of a fair process, the more we are willing to go the extra mile.

  1. E-xample before engagement

The leaders play an important part in providing team members and stakeholders with the necessary information. But there is another reason why every customer experience initiative is a leadership initiative. A leader applying the desired behaviour and showing the example is the best guarantee for this desired behaviour to be adopted by his/her team members.

P.S. This article was about creating a ‘pull’ effect in training. Reality shows a push is also needed. Again, leaders can help, with a gentle Nudge (or a Whack on the side of the head in some cases).