Does your training schedule fit the “window of opportunity”? That’s the time period when people are most ready for change.
An MIT study suggests that this window can close awfully fast.
The study involved operations, not just training, but the lesson still applies.
A company wanted to collaborate with its employees to develop new operational and safety procedures. The purchase of a metal-shaping machine seemed to offer the perfect opportunity.
The project got off to a good start. The company communicated this “collaboration opportunity” to workers and conducted training on the new equipment. Workers learned quickly and production quickly got back up to speed.
Which, you’d think, would free up enough time to work on the next phase: drafting those new procedures.
It never happened.
Once the immediate pain subsided, the window for change slammed shut.
The new procedures could have increased productivity dramatically. But the need was now less urgent. The production rate on the new machine was deemed “good enough.” End of project.
The opportunity to increase efficiency wasn’t the only thing the company lost. The workers were upset that their requested input was no longer welcome and that the promised changes never happened. It eroded trust in management and caused further conflict.
What it means for training
So what does this cautionary tale mean for training managers?
1. Know prior to planning that the window will start to shut as urgency diminishes. When planning your training, consider at what point the urgency will begin to diminish.
Usually that’s when the pain stops (like antibiotics making a patient feel better well before they’re healed). Try to get the most critical elements of your training completed – or at least started – while it still hurts.
Some follow-up will likely be needed past the point of urgency, but that’s when you’ll start to see delays and excuses like “no time for training.”
The company in the study, for example, should have started developing those new procedures at the same time that it was training its people.
That wouldn’t be an easy sell – everyone wants the most urgent needs to be addressed first. But once the project fell outside the “urgency window,” it never got done.
2. Narrow your goals to something that fits within that window of opportunity. Your other option is to scale back your plans. In the example, the company’s plans were too ambitious.
By trying to do too much, the company accomplished nothing. Meanwhile, it created expectations it didn’t meet. That demoralized workers and generated ongoing conflict.
Better: Pick one or two things that you can deliver on within that window. For example, managers could have selected one procedure and focused on that.
Source: Tyre, MJ, Orlikowski, WJ. (1992). Windows of Opportunity: Temporal Patterns of Technological Adaptation in Organizations. Center for Information Systems Research, MIT.
photo credit: tripleigrek
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