Let Them Play with the New Technology and Figure It Out Fails
I've been asked the question, more than once, “Why don't we just give employees the new tools and let them play with them. If we use agile, and have champions of change on the ground, they will “sell” the idea of the new technologies to their peers and no virtual worlds, or accelerated learning techniques, will be required.” I explain why not. They go ahead anyway. Twelve months later they admit to some disappointment with progress and the outcome.
My answer to this question typically consists of four points as follows:
You don’t “sell” high velocity change with champions. Slow change management has one common root: the failure to adequately change people’s default thinking and behaviour i.e. their habits and automated behaviours or "culture of practice." This form of “sell” change management focuses upon conscious mind logical reasons for change. It fails to address resistance. It misses the emotive and "learned the hard way" drivers for change. It is ineffective at changing unconscious mind-sets, mental maps, and default behaviours so they can support change. It’s a little like telling a cigarette smoker, "Quit because we know smoking is bad for your health.” We know how poorly that works.
The real world evidence for the length of time for this approach i.e. “give them the tools and let them play with them”, was demonstrated in the Chelopech Mine digitisation story (often cited as a shining example for success). Chelopech was a great success in terms of huge (200%) productivity increases. And when you read the case study carefully, and see it more or less took the "let them play with it" approach, and hear it took two years to get the changes “ironed out and working." The rule of thumb is 30% success rate and 18 months for the sort of technical change that requires "new culture of practice" to bed in and pay off using this approach. The failure rate is high. When you use virtual worlds the success rate is high and the "bedding in" is measured in a few months, not years. Most organisations don't have the luxury to "let the employees play with it and figure it our over time" because business imperatives are pushing for high velocity change. The high cost of delay, in the difference between realising a significant positive delta in business performance in 8 weeks instead of 78 weeks, is unacceptable. It makes the return on the investment in a virtual world technology deployment rehearsal project significant.
The cost of mistakes, in the real world, with the "let them play with it" approach is likely to be unacceptable. As a consequence employees will be risk averse in their "play." So, they will wisely avoid the career destroying risks of trying new ideas to exploit new technology with the "test and play in the real world." As a consequence you'll miss real opportunities for productivity or safety improvement. Moreover, if they do take risks and experiment with new ideas and they go wrong, then they and their organisation can face the unacceptably high costs of the consequences. The real world is usually "fail slow, fail expensively, and fail as rarely as possible." The virtual world is "fail fast, fail cheap, fail often, learn fast and fail forward.” The virtual world is the opposite of the real world - the costs and consequences are virtual and the learning is real.
One of the critical components of rewiring cultures of practice is the element of stress in the virtual world that comes from "accelerating time" and chasing a "non-negotiable goal." This "stress" element is not present in a “play with the tools” approach. And it's imperative for quick shifts to stuck mind sets that are blocking the perception of new possibilities. A little stress and fear is useful. The normal approach in learning and change is to try and get rid of it. We find it is more effective to use it – to leverage it – to put people in an aroused and heightened emotional state – like they are at work – so they learn to change in an environment just like work and the learning and new information is coded and ready for use in a state like work. In the concept of "play with it" is implicit the presupposition that failure to get a meaningful outcome, an improvement, is OK. Implicit in the non-negotiable goal concept is that iterative failure, at virtual cost, in the virtual world, for learning, is OK and still the quantum performance improvement non-negotiable goal will be achieved. To quote Yoda from star wars on non-negotiable goals, "Do or do not; there is no try." Much like you will arrive at the airport with enough time to check-in your bags, clear security and board the plane, if you want to catch your flight.
Any one of the points, on its own, is a significant and compelling reason to rehearse new technology and change to cultures of practice in virtual world. Put together, the four arguments are an overwhelming case to avoid "just give employees the new tools and let them play with them.”