Performing through the learning dip

When you’re faced with change and having to do things in a new way, have you noticed that it takes longer to get things done?

When you change your mobile phone or your television, this can be really frustrating. Suddenly the buttons are in slightly different places and simple actions take longer, things that you would normally do without even thinking. Or perhaps you’ve upgraded your computer to a new version of your word processing program – now it takes longer to find your way around, and do things that used to be ‘second nature’.

The smallest changes in a process can be disruptive – a different way of filling in your expenses form, where to get the new form, understanding any new fields, what is expected, who should it go to etc.

Before a change took place, you didn’t have to think about these things. You had reached ‘unconscious competence’ with these activities and could achieve them competently entirely ‘on autopilot’. But suddenly, something new is thrown into the mix and now you need to think quite hard to figure out precisely what the process is. You’re back to an earlier stage of the learning process, and you feel as if you need to deal with it, and fast, as it’s slowing you down! More frustration!

In a business management environment, it’s easy to assume that we can maintain normal levels of performance when faced with change, at any level. This usually doesn’t work, and performance drops in spite of our best efforts. This is called the ‘learning dip’ – you can’t avoid it, but you can be aware of it and take action to minimise its impact:

  • Don’t expect to sustain normal performance levels during change – allow for the dip
  • Support your teams to help them through. This could be as straightforward as acknowledging that things may take a little longer
  • Remember that a drop in performance at this time is not a sign of failure or incompetence
  • Where frustration sets in, judgement may become clouded and mistakes can be made – set realistic expectations
  • Acknowledge when performance begins to climb back and celebrate the improvement that results
  • The steps outlined here are really simple, but can make an enormous difference to your change programme and the results you get!
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