Performance Improvement vs Change
There is an obvious and massive connection between on the one hand performance improvement and learning and on other hand, change. They are two sides of the same coin.
Yet we see huge differences in the attitudes towards each of these and the way they are often talked about. Learning and performance improvement is almost universally embraced and seen as a great idea. Learning is one of the five activities identified by a 2008 government report as being great for mental capital and well-being and if you ask people “who has a desire to improve?” the vast majority will instinctively say yes (we often ask people this question).
Yet mention the subject change and it brings a mixture of responses from the very positive to the very reluctant. In many teams and businesses there are one or more people who say they are ok with change (but only when they know where they’re going, they can see a path to get there and they are pretty sure the change will work and will be a better place than where they are now – and even then some of these folks will only change when the status quo is no longer viable – the so called burning platform from which jumping is the only option left).
We hear people talking about change management like change is a nasty smell or a dangerous animal. People get described as change averse (but not learning averse) and we hear “there’s a lot of change going on” (but not that “there’s a lot of learning being applied’). Sir Alex Ferguson said in an HBR case study that “I believe you control change by accepting it.” which is quite a helpful mindset but still implies it’s a beast that needs controlling!
Often these change averse types are good at learning though. They like to study, to read and to improve themselves. Presenting these people with a definition of learning that says “learning only takes place when there’s a change in behaviour – otherwise all you have done is acquired some knowledge” can be really helpful.
How would it be if you, and the people you lead or work with, applied your attitude to learning (frustration at not having enough time, we wish we could do more, we would like to be better at, we want to prioritise it higher) to change? What difference would that make? Might you actually embrace change as the way of putting learning into practice?
Maybe you’d redefine a thirst for knowledge as a hunger to try things, to be curious and to innovate. Perhaps you’d voluntarily be giving new things a go, trialing things, piloting things, selectively lighting fires in your own business rather than simply putting them out. You’d probably feel more motivated because you’re feeling more, not less, in control.
Check your attitude to learning and your attitude to change and see if there are any anomalies you want to iron out that will help you perform better. If there are, we suggest you take this learning and apply it!