I recently taught my granddaughter to drive my 2003 lime green VW Beetle with a manual transmission. Many of you may be having your own flashbacks right now. Like most of the things we learn, successfully driving a car with a manual transmission takes repetition and practice. It also requires failing, a lot.
We can go as far back as Aristotle to understand that “frequent repetition produces a natural tendency.” We also know that learning does not happen in a vacuum, it requires context and previous associations to be meaningful. “It does not happen all at once, but builds upon and is shaped by what we already know. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge.” Finally, we learn best when we hear or discover the information in multiple formats. The idea that a learner needs to revisit content six times in different formats is something many trainers learned in Bob Pike’s “Creative Training Techniques” workshop or book of the same name.
We understand and have patience with a new driver learning to drive a manual transmission car. Quite often, however, we do not show understanding or patience when a new employee is learning a skill, concept, or “the way we do things here”. Instead, we give them a tour of the office, introduce them to some co-workers, perhaps have someone show them how to do a few technical activities and then leave them on their own. Quite often we do not allow time for context building, for the “process” of learning.
At the pace of business these days, employers need new employees to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Here are some steps that can help to balance the business need with repetition, context building and the learning process.
1. Hire well. This is not to say that the candidate needs to have had the same job with the same experiences. What it does mean is that the candidate should have the baseline competencies and more importantly, the proven ability to learn in a variety of situations.
2. Train and On-board. Provide learning and knowledge application opportunities in multiple formats. For instance, the new hire may start by reading a manual on the particular responsibility. Then (s)he may observe a seasoned employee doing the task. A related report could be reviewed. At this point, the new hire may demonstrate the task with their mentor/trainer. There also could be a chance for the new hire to train somebody else on what they have just learned. The bottom line? Start in a safe environment with individual support and gradually broaden the scope of their activities with responsibility for real results.
3. Provide context. Be clear about how the organization does things. What is the mission statement and how does it show up in the company and its people? How is communication handled up and down the hierarchy? What is the real company culture, not just the one that is described in the employee handbook?
4. Make the learning process safe. Ensure there is a coach or mentor who can be a sounding board and guide for the new hire. Make it clear that the team has a role in helping the individual get up to speed. Maintain an open door for questions and guidance.
After some nail biting moments while stalling at red lights and what seemed like hundreds of stops so she could practice starting again, my granddaughter is maneuvering the little green bug skillfully enough to get where she needs to go. With similar repetition, context building and process, your new hires will successfully master their new roles.