Did you ever cram when you were in college? If you’re like me, you did, and probably on more than one occasion. There was that big test looming, and well frankly, you just waited a little too late to get started preparing for it. The night before the exam, you’d spend most of the light stuffing concept after concept, and fact after fact, into your brain, grab a few hours of sleep, maybe a cup of coffee, and then head to your class where you’d regurgitate all that you could remember for the exam. And, you might have even aced it, at least that day anyway. Take that test again in a week and what would happen? You’d likely fail it. Why? Because you memorized and didn’t learn.
When we memorize, we keep whatever content we’re dealing with in our short term memory. While I’m not a psychology or biology expert, I do know that information in our short term memory only stays there for so long. We have a capacity issue. Soon, something else will need to be stuffed in there, and when that happens, something else will be pushed out. We can only hold so many things in short-term memory for so long. For us to retain knowledge, we must truly learn it. Then, we can recall it a day, a week, a month, or a year – whenever we need it.
Organizational Change Management works much the same way. Our goal is to help our clients engage and adopt new ways of working. To do this, they must truly learn. A lot of times, people think of Change Management as “communication and training.” While those activities tend to cover the “what” and the “how,” respectively, and do make up a large part of Change activities, they are like our short-term memory. “What” and “how” don’t help us understand why something is important, why we should care, etc. They are the facts that we’re putting into our brains. We can grasp “what” and “how,” but we won’t retain the knowledge without understanding the answers to those “why” questions, and more importantly, buying into them. Understanding the “why” is true learning.
When we talk about effective Change Management, we focus on the “why.” The “why” provides the reason for the initiative and the corresponding investment. The “why” is summarized in the “Case for Change.” It’s through the “why” that we start to get buy-in from our target audiences as they start to understand what’s in it for me (WIIFM), or said another way, “why should I care?”
If we can get people to care, or even better, be interested in the new product or service, we’re a long way down the path towards retention and getting the desired levels of adoption. This engagement effort, like any true learning, takes time. It’s not accomplished in a single communication or training class (that’s memorization). If we send someone to an out of context training class, while he or she may understand the concepts (the facts), retention will be light and failure high when we implement the new solution and have to work in different ways. However, if we bring our target audiences along with us over time, via a series of communications, training events, and other tactics, focusing on the “why,” helping them see what’s in it for them, inviting them into the fold, we’re moving towards true learning, and we’ll ultimately have them ready, willing, and able to perform when we go live.
Nothing in life comes easy. Cramming doesn’t get it done. If we want to get the return on our investment, we have to do the work, but in the end, our projects will be much more successful because of it.