“Burning platform.” You’ve likely heard the phrase or even used it. Training departments everywhere have leveraged this change management approach in the development, implementation and marketing of their initiatives. The idea is to generate a sense of urgency and a dramatic need to abandon existing practices, approaches or skills, creating conditions that don’t allow for their return.
However, today many are rethinking whether the anxiety, panic and personal invalidation inherent in this method make it the best way to help people adopt new skills and behaviors. Here are four factors to consider.
According to Dr. Bruce Perry, an American psychiatrist, “When people are frightened, intelligent parts of the brain cease to dominate.” Stress affects the brain in ways that don’t promote learning. It changes our hormones and chemistry. And it fundamentally changes the way we’re able to process information.
Learning experts like Amy Edmonson, a Harvard professor and author of Teaming to Innovate, as well as Peter Senge, a leadership and learning visionary and author of the classic, The Fifth Discipline, have identified psychological safety as an essential component of a learning organization.
But psychological safety isn’t leaving employees unnerved by pulling the rug out from under them. Doing this only leaves them unable to think clearly and long-term enough to demonstrate the teamwork, creativity, and innovation that is frequently at the core of the request to change.
Impact on confidence
Abandoning past practices entirely – even for good reasons – creates unnecessary tension points. It leaves employees feeling stupid, as if they’ve been doing it wrong. It makes them feel less competent in their work. And it undermines their confidence at the very point when it’s needed most to take risks, experiment with novel approaches or practice new skills.
One of the often forgotten and unintended consequences of pursuing a burning platform learning strategy is the effect it can have on the L&D function and management itself. After all, people didn’t spontaneously begin performing in a particular fashion. Employees are likely behaving at least in part due to the training, instructions and coaching they’ve received. Invalidating those approaches invalidates your credibility. It can also discourage the urgency that’s needed, leaving people with a ‘this too will pass’ mindset that cultivates inattention and inaction.
Value of migration
Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “The only person who likes change is a wet baby.” Humans tend to value and frequently cling to what’s familiar. The burning platform is designed specifically to interrupt this natural tendency, but it also eliminates the sense of comfort that could be a stepping stone toward new behaviors. Helping people see how they can move from A to B, using what’s known and understood as a building block, creates a learning pathway. This is less threatening and more respectful. It’s also more comprehensible, which helps people make sense of the required change.
Together, these factors offer a compelling argument for considering how L&D professionals position the changes at the core of learning initiatives. Rather than burning down the past, there’s value in considering a friendlier and less fiery option that:
- Connects the dots between how employees have been behaving and what’s required now.
- Engages others in determining what to keep and what to leave behind in terms of skills, tools, and orientations.
- Allows people to gently say goodbye to how they used to do things.
- Builds on what’s familiar, even if it’s just a small element, rather than invalidating and abandoning what’s comfortable in its entirety.
Evolving from a burning platform to a natural-next-steps approach to positioning learning may be just the spark required to set your organization on fire.
A change you might want to make
One reason this topic is particularly relevant at the moment is the increasing adoption of modern learning techniques such as microlearning, gamification and the tracking of informal learning efforts. If you want to get an idea of whether or not your organization is ready to adopt informal learning, why not join Chief Learning Officer for their upcoming free webinar?