Dumping the water back in the pond


An analogy I often use when working with clients goes something like this:

“If you scoop a cup of water out of a pond and train it to babble, tell it to babble, convince it what a good idea it is to babble, and then dump the water back in the pond…don’t be surprised that it doesn’t babble.”

The underlying message is, if the underlying system or support means are not set up to facilitate a change in behavior, then chances are you spent a lot of time and energy training or coaching someone to do something that may never or very rarely ever happen.  It is not a question of chicken or egg in this case, it is more a case of make the batter? or put it in the oven? – If you want cake – you gotta do both.

Whether you are working to fix a problem behavior or develop new skills, the solution is the same.  Yes, coach and train IF they do not have the requisite skills AND look at your system and see if it supports new behavior (or old behavior).  The greatest way to inhibit change is to not support it. Not only do people do what is rewarded, they also do what they have the opportunity to do.  If they do not have opportunity to exercise new skills/abilities or are being rewarded to do it the old way, then chances are, no change will happen.

I see this most often in developmental training efforts.  People are sent, invited, voluntold, or in the rare case, seek out, training on a new or developmental skill deficiency.  They attend a potentially career changing training and are super excited to try some new stuff. They then return energized and with new skills/tools/awareness/or ideas and either no follow up happens from the manager or there is no support to do anything different. Imagine going to a photography class and then never being given the opportunity to use a camera when you got back. According to a University of Minnesota study, this is the number one reason training is seldom effective as a change method – no support from the direct supervisor to exercise new skills.

If you want change or you want training to be effective, you have to intentionally alter the bedrock upon which people are working, change the environment, give them support, and create opportunity (not just look for it, CREATE it) for them to do something different.  In BlessingWhite’s recent engagement survey, “opportunity to do more of what I am good at” is cited as a top driver for employee engagement.  Moreover, the same report cited that the number one reason people worldwide indicated they were looking to leave their current organization was “My career: I do not have opportunities to grow or advance here.”  People want to be good at what they do and increasing research is showing that not only do we want to be good at what we do, getting better is actually a motivational driver (Dan Pink, “Drive”).

If you want high performance, change, and people to do innovative things, you have to make sure your foundation supports it.  Are you building a pond that stagnates, or are you building a river to keep your organization current.

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2 thoughts on “Dumping the water back in the pond

  1. I am so glad that you talk about engagement in relation to the system. As you suggest, this often doesn’t happen. We send people off to train or set individual expectations with no regard to the environment they work in.

    I find Kurt Lewin’s equation to be a helpful guide. B(f) P+E Behavior is a function of the person and his/her environment. When my clients and I keep individual and environment in mind, we do better work.

  2. Pingback: Training, Development, and Learning « Peak Alignment

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