In fact all human beings are born with a set of biases and mental shortcuts that help us survive and deal with the world around us.
In the past such biases were vital to survival.
We didn’t need to worry about being fair and inclusive when we were living in caves; we were more concerned with finding the next woolly mammoth and avoiding being eaten by lions.
Issues such as creating a diverse community were way down our priority list.
Back then, if we automatically feared the unknown person from the outsider tribe down the road, at worst we’d lose out on what could have been a beautiful friendship. If we got it wrong the other way around, including someone dangerous in our group, then we’d have likely lost our heads – literally – and evolution favours people with heads … ergo survivors are more likely to be suspicious of strangers.
The issue of bias goes beyond how we jump to conclusions about other people.
It includes how we approach all kinds of incoming information, especially that which contradicts what we think is true – again, evolving on the savanna didn’t equip us to distinguish the good data wheat from the misleading chaff; instead it left us transfixed by shiny objects and distracted by movement.
This was important functionality back in the day when it was vital to spot unexpected movement in the bushes – but times have changed, and being distracted by a TV screen when someone’s trying to talk to you is now more a bug than a feature, reducing our ability to perform, not enhancing it.
Now that we live and work in a multicultural global environment we need to broaden our vision beyond our own narrow bias-filled perspectives if we want to make good decisions.
This isn’t easy.
In fact a lot of biases will persist even if you are aware of them and intellectually believe they are wrong … but we can only manage what we’re aware of, and whilst we cannot rid ourselves of these hardwired shortcuts, we can change our behaviour to move beyond them.
This means that of the total potential value (TPV) that could be added to the organisation if all the skills and knowledge of the training course were implemented consistently and to a high standard, only 1% is realised.
In other words: rV (realised value) is equal to 1% of TPV (total possible value).
OK, I just made that up.
Not just the numbers, I also made up the concept of rV and TPV.
None of it came from any form of evaluation or research, I just pulled it out the air – but they sound true, and that’s good enough for me to construct the following argument.
There are three internal factors that get in the way of learning leading to improved performance. For the first two, I borrow from Blanchard and Hersey model of “Situational Leadership”, the other is from observation and from Peter Senge’s rubber-band analogy about habitual behaviour.
Motivation (do they want to do it)
Confidence (do they feel they are able to do it)
Habit (do they default to other behaviours – do they remember to do it)
There are also three external factors, but I’m not including those here for fear of this post turning into a tome – but for completeness they are culture, management, and opportunity.
Training is concerned primarily with closing knowledge gaps, and to an extent addressing skills gaps – at least giving the learner a start on closing the skills gap.
Training can influence the motivation gap, and by encouraging action planning, coaching and practice, it can begin to tackle the confidence and even habit gap, but it’s that pesky habit gap that’s the big stumbling block.
A habit is the default response, it’s the six-lane neurological pathway that cuts through our brain, it’s the road you travel on autopilot because you don’t notice the poorly-maintained rabbit paths snaking off to the side, paths that could lead anywhere.
I am not the World’s Biggest Fan of teambuilding days.
I have had good experiences, and I’ve had mediocre experiences, and I’ve also had drunken experiences that are best forgotten, so it’s not that teambuilding events are always a bad thing; it’s just that they’re not usually my thing.
I’m not entirely comfortable facilitating them either.
I feel nervous that I’m adding enough value to justify the time and cost commitment – is it really a good use of the organisation’s coin – I ask myself – as I watch people rolling around in treacle trying to build a bridge with a box of paperclips and a stack of A4 paper?
It was a relief to chat to Paul Tizzard about this topic for the Trainer Tools podcast (see here: Practical approach to fun and effective teambuilding events) because it helped me think through different structures and approaches to teambuilding events, and I find structure is a great way to help plug a confidence gap.
During the discussion we stumbled on a silly thing called Belbin’s Biscuits – a light-hearted variation on the famous team roles model by Dr Meredith Belbin.
Everyone seems to be down on training courses these days.
I think a training course can be a fantastic way to learn, as long as it’s part of a bigger effort and not just a formulaic one-off isolated event with no connection to the real world.
As Learning and Development types, how we facilitate training courses is a huge part of our job, and an important way we establish credibility.
As any trainer knows, it’s not a lot different from any other type of performance art. If you go on stage and flop, your credibility is destroyed. If you kill (in the cool sense of the word), you can be seen as a credible professional, allowing you to be influential across a whole lot more than just training course provision.
But how do we do that when the average human attention span has slipped to less than that of a goldfish (now down to 8 seconds)?
What is the most important thing about the training courses you deliver?
Is it that you get good feedback? You get top marks on the happy sheet? The organisation is willing to invite you back for more work?
Probably all of the above, because this is largely how we measure our success.
But it’s not how we succeed.
We succeed when people learn, and more so when they implement that learning and improve their performance, improve the organisation, improve their lives!
People learn stuff when their ideas and assumptions are challenged, when they think differently, when they change something about themselves and the way they deliver within the organisation.
Most of us working in Learning and Development are passionate about this.
We want to change people’s professional lives and improve organisational performance, it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. We care about the impact we can have and we strive to get better, even to the point of reading a blog post like this one, just in case there’s something we can learn from it.
Yet the way we measure our performance undermines our ability to have that positive impact.