Like so many other people whose work situation has changed in sometimes quite dramatic ways as a result of COVID-19, I am finding new ways to work and interact with people.  Technology is proving a fertile ground for me to learn new skills, and I have had some successes and some failures along the way.  For example, thinking one form of technology would be easy to master only to find I completely stuffed it up on my first attempt!  Falling back onto a phone (nearly dinosaur technology these days!) was my saving grace.  Being able to laugh about what had happened with the client – who, as it turns out, was experiencing the same sorts of learning as I was – helped.  And, of course, the sky didn’t fall in either!

Reflecting on these situations has given me a chance to revisit the concept of learning styles and the journey from being unconsciously unskilled through to being unconsciously skilled: 

The truth is we all progress through these stages at our own pace.  However, considering what we are dealing with during COVID-19  – and any change situation, to be honest – we have an incredible opportunity right now to think about how we are going to progress and move forward when everything settles down.   

Already, I am hearing of situations where people rapidly had to deal with changes that they could not have foreseen before COVID-19 arrived.  For people who are unconsciously very skilled and competent with what they do, being confronted with suddenly needing to learn new skills as well as professionally managing the fallout of imposed change often feels clunky and unsettling.  All of a sudden, personal control feels like it has gone out of the window! Having to adjust to new ways of looking at a situation often takes time: to not only learn the skills required to address what has happened but also to adjust our internal beliefs and values about the situation. Plus we have to adjust to being a learner again. 

But you know what? People are also not giving themselves credit for what they can do.  I have seen some amazingly innovative responses to dealing with the COVID-19 fallout. Some people have talked about the opportunities they are experiencing with being able to implement completely different options; sometimes in ways, they had not been able to do before.  This situation has seen organisations and individuals strip aside unnecessary blocks and barriers to find better ways to do things. People often say while the future may seem fearful in some ways, there are also many ways to take the organisation forward positively and productively.  It is about acknowledging that people are in transition between one form of operating and a new and perhaps unknown way of doing business.  Being open to new ideas is helpful. 

When I have seen this happen, I can see the many parallels with how people experience the impact of change that can arise from an audit – and people frequently survive those situations too!  When I am doing a follow-up audit, people sometimes tell me that they have courageously decided to progress on from what they had known before and to explore new options following their last audit.  In essence what they have done is to go beyond the standard four stages of learning to delve into the fifth level: the level at which there is a conscious awareness of the need to learn beyond being unconsciously competent.  This is apparent when people talk about revisiting what they have known, particularly after receiving improvement actions or observations for where their organisation could improve and strengthen its approach.  Sometimes this type of feedback is a complete shock and people may initially be very resistant towards what is recommended; at other times, people are relieved and actively want to make the changes.  The opportunity to progress beyond what is unconsciously competent about the organisation and its practices often arises from an audit process. This is where the excitement starts!

While audits and assessments are incredibly useful processes, it’s not how it is perceived.  That is common knowledge.  However, talking about learning styles and how these could be more useful in enhancing the organisation’s competence might be the beginning of an exciting conversation.  It might take the focus away from how people feel about delving into being an amateur learner again and perhaps feeling out of their comfort zone when expected to learn new skills.  I have learnt to take the time to look at the ways I do things from the perspective of ‘fresh eyes’ and to have the input of people who have no idea at all about what makes my work ‘tick’ is often incredibly insightful.  I only have to get out of my way! 

Thinking ahead:

1. Do you think about learning stages when you are faced with learning new skills, perhaps ones you don’t believe you need to know?  How have you felt about going back to being an amateur when you have been skilled at something for a very long time?
2. Where is your organisation in relation to the four learning stages?  What happens when there is a disconnect between where the organisation is operating and where its staff or directors are at?
3. What strategies do you put in place to help your teams adjust to different learning styles?