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Are you in the loop?

It’s no secret that going through change will always turn into some sort of learning experience. From a house move teaching you to hoard less stuff, to a freak bout of arctic weather reminding you that it can never hurt to bring an extra layer, we are all constantly unlearning old behaviours and learning new ones to adapt to our ever-changing environments.

Of course, none of us are androids… well, not yet… and while we all have the capacity to learn, we do it in quite different ways. So, needless to say, it’s useful to understand the different ways in which people learn, so that when you’re managing a team of people undergoing a change in the workplace, you’re better equipped to deal with it.

Kolb’s learning loop (found in The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook) is a cyclical process which describes the typical phases by which people generally tend to learn. It is broken down into four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and practical experimentation.

Kolb Learning loop diagram

To look at this in context, imagine you’re driving to work in the morning and you arrive half an hour late because of bad traffic (concrete experience). In order for you to avoid making the same mistake again, you must think over what you did that caused you to be late (reflective observation). From this, you deduce that maybe leaving 15 minutes earlier would cause you to avoid the worst of the traffic and get into work on time, or even a little earlier (abstract conceptualisation). So, the next day you test this theory (practical experimentation) and find that it does, indeed, work. Therefore, because you’ve changed your behaviour to achieve a better outcome, you have learned from this experience.

The cycle doesn’t necessarily have to begin with the same stage each time; for instance, you could have changed your behaviour based on your own observation of a colleague arriving late into work and missed out the concrete experience stage for yourself entirely.

Gathering lessons from a project is a familiar best-practice principle and in a project, there should be no shortage of concrete experiences to learn from. Of course, just being impacted by these experiences in a change project will only get you to step one in the cycle. Kolb’s model instructs us to gather information and reflect on that experience as part of the next step.

So, whether you are evaluating the performance of a supplier, or the effectiveness of your requirements, it helps to have a structured approach to the evaluation of events, as a way to drive reflection. After all, when you’re in delivery mode, it’s not always natural to switch to a reflective frame of mind!

As an example, let’s say your experience suggests that a supplier has under-performed. To “learn” from this experience we need to reflect on the likely causes (root cause analysis can be a useful tool here – a simple approach like the five “whys” can help us to locate the potential causes of most situations).

With potential causes captured – the brief was poorly communicated, the resource requirement was unclear, they showed optimism bias in their estimating etc. – you can move into the abstract conceptualisation stage of the cycle by asking which deliberate action would address each of the causes you have identified. For example, early tests of understanding, more rigorous resource analysis, forensic review of estimates etc.

Armed with some possible treatments, you can then prioritise the most appealing – what Kolb refers to as practical experimentation – and monitor the results. If we get an improved result, then there’s a good chance that we have improved our project outcomes by learning better ways to collaborate with this supplier.

So, how can you apply this to your day-to-day projects? Our Change Management™ courses show you how to use this knowledge to your advantage, so that you can better understand and anticipate how your team might process and learn from change. That way, you can then act accordingly to ensure the best outcome for you, your team and your projects. You’ll also enjoy all the benefits that come with being a qualified change manager, what’s not to love?

Check out our Change Management course options here.