Cheif Learning Officer Solutions for Enterprise Productivity

Learning to Unlearn

“Senior management often makes the mistake of trying to teach learners without first asking, ‘What are those habits? Where is the cynicism when it comes to change programs?’ The designers of the learning initiative have to understand where the student is at any given time,” Shaner said.

From a biological standpoint, Shaner said nobody can entirely unlearn something. “What you can do,” he said, “is give a concerted effort to provide new training and new learning that trumps the old way of doing things.” In essence, there is no unlearning without the provision for a new idea to replace the old.

Kerry Patterson, co-founder of VitalSmarts, a consulting company for corporate training and organizational change, said humans are open to change, but the need to unlearn makes the change process more difficult.

“You’re an open vessel if you’re learning something anew, and that’s very easy,” Patterson said. But in cases when employees have previous information that acts as a barrier to change, learning leaders need to respectfully assess the situation before trying to rashly implement changes.

“People don’t resist change — they resist things that they think will end up badly for them,” he said. “They’ve got years of cognitive mass that are counter to what you’re telling them. They won’t do what you ask, and rightfully so. You need to first demonstrate why they need to change.”

Out With the Old
For some businesses, the “why” question is answered easily. For example, employees might need to change because their company was acquired by another. In these situations, if the company’s integration strategy is communicated well to employees, it can be relatively simple to ask them to unlearn old ways and start anew.

Mike Cuffe, vice president of claims training and development at Farmers Insurance, was mindful of this when his company acquired 21st Century Insurance Group. An influx of new employees from a different company meant that many would have to unlearn the ways of their previous positions in order to become part of the Farmers family. From a technical perspective, they needed to learn a new operating platform. They also needed to pass technical competency certification tests and go through Farmers Insurance’s robust learning track.


Unlearning Bad Communication Habits

Many learning professionals today are either driving or supporting initiatives related to changes in business strategy. This makes it important to unlearn the frequently ineffective communication habits we all fall into under stress.

Article Keywords:   unlearn   Zappos   Farmers Insurance   J.C. Penney  


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