In the fast paced and rapidly changing business environment of today it is difficult to imagine an organization, which could be successful by doing exactly what it has done in the past. Change is a way of life in contemporary America. The process of change is messy and imprecise. It requires vision, knowledge, skills, a tolerance of risk, and patience. Successfully moving along the process of change requires an additional ingredient, the “right people”. The “right people” are not defined by their level of knowledge and skill, but by their willingness to acquire the right knowledge and skills. The “right people” are Learners. A Learner is an individual who is willing to challenge the assumptions and facts that have defined his (her) life and career to date. A Learner understands growth is not just absorbing new knowledge and developing new skills, but abandoning knowledge and skills that are no longer relevant.
The polar opposite of being a Learner is to be a Non-Learner. A Non-Learner is an individual who is NOT willing to challenge the assumptions and facts that have defined his (her) life and career to date. The Non-Learner is convinced, he (she) has already obtained all the knowledge and skills needed to be successful.
There is a third option other than being a Learner or a Non-Learner. A Non-Starter is an individual who has not been challenged to be more than he (she) has been in the past. The Non-Starter like the Non-Learner goes through organizational life with a constant base of knowledge and set of skills. The difference is, the Non-Starter does not know that there is a better way.
(See link below: Art A)
Non-Learners have distinctive characteristics:
¸ Tends to be a passive resistor.
¸ Has a good understanding of the past, frequently telling stories of the good old days.
¸ Frequently maintains a satisfactory or better performance level.
¸ Does not personally challenge his (her) knowledge base or skill set.
¸ Can add marginal skills and knowledge when directed, but never establishes a personal flywheel.
¸ Can be seen by many as being part of the cultural fabric of the organization.
Learners also have distinctive characteristics:
¸ Tends to support change.
¸ Understands the past, but is not consumed with how things used to be.
¸ May generate a mixture of satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance.
¸ Embraces training opportunities.
¸ Tends to not be the most popular people in the organization.
The job of the leader would be rather simple if all he (she) had to do was to identify Non-Starters, Non-Learners and Learners. Non-Learners would be removed from the organization. Non-Starters would be given a legitimate opportunity to Learn. And Learners would be recognized and rewarded. Life would be good. Success would come easy. Unfortunately, there is another variable which makes the life of the leader much more complicated. Every person in the organization routinely performs. Those individuals who have acceptable performance are Performers. Those who have performance which is not acceptable are Non-Performers. This basic fact leads to an expanded model, now with five options as indicated below;
(See link below: Art B)
So who is the most dangerous person in the organization? If your answer is the Non-Performing Non-Learner you are wrong. The most dangerous person in an organization is the Performing Non-Learner. The numbers are there. He (she) hits his (her) current targets by effectively running the business as it has been run in the past. The danger is not so much a matter of his (her) ability to sustain positive performance into the future, but rather that he (she) becomes the poster boy for resistance to change. Others see Hank, the old school guy, as proof that change is not needed in order to create positive performance. If Hank has a high profile in the organization, he becomes a hero to the passive resistors. The movement toward the new model is slowed or possibly derailed. Seldom is there a confrontation, Non-Learners know that active resistance brings conflict. Instead, there are smiles and positive head nods at meetings. But rather than an indication of agreement, both are simply statements of acknowledgement. “I hear what you are saying, but I am going to keep doing what I have been doing. This too shall pass.”
The stars of the organization are the Performing Learners. They ‘get it’ in terms of the change and generate good performance. The leader makes sure Performing Learners are recognized and rewarded. The leader spends the most amount of time with the Non-Performing Learners, helping them get over the performance problems so that they move into the star category of being a Performing Learner. The leader looks for opportunities to jump start the minds of the Non-Starters. Members of this group will move into one of the other groups when pushed. Once they have moved, the leader can have an effective plan for dealing with them. The leader spends His (her) remaining time replacing the Non-Performing Non-Learners. They are dead weight to the organization. The quicker they are removed the quicker the organization moves toward a successful future.
Leaders can spend their career perfecting execution of the Learners Model. Along the way they will build fantastic teams, teams who have incredible accomplishments. Tom Peters has a classic quote, “The bad news is that it is a job that is never done. The good news is that you can start tomorrow.” Start by changing the language. Talk about the business differently. Where possible, change the metrics you use to measure performance. Know where each of your key staff members is positioned in the model. Set a personal time frame for moving all non-stars to becoming stars. Commit to not letting another month go by before each Non-Starter is given the opportunity to challenge the assumptions and facts that have defined his (her) life and career to date. Find your stars and begin to position them as stars for the future.
Above all, to be a Leader you must be a Learner.
Learning Leads to Achieving.
Link to Art