Most Adults Don’t Learn Until They Have To
Do you know when most adults learn new things? Not until they absolutely have to.
Do you know when most adults learn new things?
Not until they absolutely have to.
Do you have a bunch of adults working for you in your print business?
Do you know what this means for implementing any kind of new process, program, workflow, or software? It means that if you as the leader want learning to happen, you must inject the “have to” part of the equation.
Who in your company has the authority to enforce “have to”?
We all have hierarchies in our businesses, but there is also a lot of informal authority as well. There are also a lot of people at the top of hierarchies who have lost their ability to enforce “have to.” Many print businesses are run with labor that carries so much of the intellectual property in their heads—the business owners/leaders believe they cannot operate without them. If you have employees like this, you may have lost your ability to enforce “have to.” What happens in this scenario when new systems are brought in and there is nobody to enforce the “have to” part of learning? If you’ve been in this business for more than a few years, you can immediately think of many examples of this.
I have seen prepress automation systems operate as “black boxes” that nobody in the print business understands for years. There was never a “have to” learn this new system required so the system was implemented and is a mystery to the entire organization. When asked about how files end up in certain places, the responses can include:
“I have no idea, that’s just how it works.”
“Tom set this up five years ago and he left the company two years ago. Nobody knows how it works.”
“We call the vendor when things go wrong; we don’t know what they do to fix it.”
“It doesn’t really work, but I’ve been working around it for years.”
The learning never happened. You can do lots of research, spend lots of time in the sales process, then spend your valuable investment dollars on a promising new print software solution. Everything up until that point is considered strategic leadership. Then the rubber hits the road (as they like to say), because this solution needs to be operated, driven, and configured to work inside your company by your employees. This is actually the most strategic part of the equation. It is what actually delivers the ROI. The sales process delivers ROI to the vendor. The learning process (your team adopting the new system as their own, learning it, tweaking it to optimize your business) is when the system returns ROI to you.
It is not fun. It does not involve people taking you out for nice dinners and buying expensive bottles of wine. It is tedious refinement of your data, your processes, your workflows. It takes your team’s persistence to keep chipping away at how to best utilize the system in your business. You don’t have to do any of this and a lot of printers don’t. When print businesses don’t learn software systems, their people can muck their way through but nobody feels comfortable or confident in how it all works or what it could possibly do for you.
As the owner, you are ballistically frustrated because this system was supposed to deliver efficiencies. It feels like it made the whole problem you were trying to solve worse. You want to kick someone—or maybe some inanimate object. Your people are complaining and blaming the vendor. The vendor is trying to explain what needs to be done to get closer to the ROI you were expecting. This feels paralyzing.
Remember: most adults don’t learn until they have to—and if they never have to, they don’t.
You can’t attain the ROI on your investment until real learning happens by your adult employees. Don’t confuse learning with training. When adults ask for more training, be skeptical because this can be a method of resistance to actual learning. Adults learn by doing. Adults learn when they have to. Don’t buy any more training until all the adults are perfectly clear that they are in the “have to” learn phase (like their job depends upon it).
How to assure learning is happening? I think the best thing to do is to require adult learners to demonstrate how they do their job to leadership and explain what they have learned and what they are still working on. Do not allow them to fill the time complaining. Their “have to” is to become an expert at the solution and then to constantly be refining that expertise to optimize the solution within your business.
Adults learn when they have to. Leadership has to deliver the “have to” and has to hold the adults accountable to keep learning. The rate of change driven by technology is only increasing. This requires everyone in your organization to be in the “have to” learn phase just about all the time. This can be a real bummer, especially for adults who hate change.
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