PDM and Change Management


The Learning Process

Learning is important because at the beginning of the change process, people don't know anything about the 'to-be' state, or how they are going to work in it - so they need to learn. They may have done a good job in the past, but that job is going to change in the future, and without learning - will they be able to do their new job? Will they know how to do their new job? Probably not, so they have to be given the opportunity to learn new skills, new tools, new behavior and new roles.

Let's look at six questions - why is learning important? what needs to be learnt? when does learning take place? who needs to learn? who enables the learning? how do you get people to learn?

Companies have to change if they want to survive in a changing competitive environment. When a company decides to change, the people who make up the company also have to change. People have to learn about the way the company wants to work and how they are expected to work, and they have to learn the skills, behavior, culture and tools that will enable them to work in the expected way. Many companies have now understood the importance of learning as a foundation stone for building change, and there is even a new breed of buzzwords like 'the learning organization' and 'continuous learning'.

The content of the learning depends to a certain extent on individual job functions. There are things that project engineers need to learn about that will be of no use to, for example, top managers. Similarly, there are things that project managers need to learn about that are not needed by project engineers.

One part of learning can be considered as education or theory, and the other part as training or practice. Everybody needs to get a common overview of the changes. This overview is educational and is usually provided in the form of a seminar or presentation. It may be possible to customize the seminar to particular groups of people so it addresses some of the specific issues they will be faced with, but usually it's not possible in a general seminar to get down to the level of the individual. That has to be addressed in small groups or in one-to-one training.

It's often difficult to decide exactly when learning should take place. There's usually a tendency for it to occur too early - simply because if it's left too late, people won't be able to do their jobs effectively. However, it's just as dangerous for learning to take place too early as it is for it to take place too late. Educational overviews that are given too early can be forgotten before their content becomes relevant. Training is ineffective if it can't be put into practice. And when training takes place too early, people often get trained in the wrong order - it's always best to train people after their supervisors have been trained and, if possible, get them trained by their supervisor.

One of the first tasks in putting together the learning program is to work out who will follow this program and what kinds of grouping can be established. In a big company, the change program may affect thousands of people so there'll be lots of ways to group. Probably there'll be a top management group - and then groups built on a departmental, functional, product line, project or geographical basis. At the next level down from top management, for example in Engineering, there may again be a top-level group, then a group of project managers, then groups of engineers. The choice of grouping should reflect the structure of the future organization - this will help people to see how the new structure is going to work.

It's best to get some outside help with the preparation of the education and training. There's a real danger that if people who lived in the old environment prepare the program they won't be able to shake off all there old habits and culture. And the trainees will look at the same old people and the same old messages coming through and think 'Oh no, not this again. These guys aren't serious about wanting change if this is how they're doing it.'

It may seem that everyone in the organization will want to learn as quickly as possible about the new environment and their new role, but human nature isn't like that. Many people will have the attitude - 'why should I make an effort to learn something new?' or 'this is a lousy presentation, if these guys can't come up with something better, I guess it means that it's not important'.

To avoid this kind of negative response, address the learning activity as an important project in itself. Put together a plan for the whole learning activity outlining what needs to be done. Find out what people know, and what they need to know. Work out what they need to learn. Make sure the components of the plan fit together properly. Make sure that as individuals go through the learning program they are building on previous learning. And don't forget to include feedback sessions in the plan to make sure that learning is really occurring.

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Page last modified on March 16, 2000
Copyright 1999, 2000 by John Stark