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Gwendolyn Galsworth


Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

Teaching isn’t the same as learning

Published: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 13:02

One of my favorite sayings is, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” The reverse is also true: If nothing changes, nothing changes. Perfect! So I was more than a little surprised recently when I visited a company that had made a sizeable investment in bringing continuous improvement into the organization. The surprise was not the decision to do so; my surprise was that there was so little result after more than a year.

Senior leaders had brought in a first-rate training system as the core resource. Company coaches had gone through the train-the-trainer process. Everyone was geared up, psyched up, and raring to go. And they went! But a year later there was no noticeable change. Hardly a trace. The dial had not moved. The vice president of operations asked me to investigate. I reviewed the materials—splendid training content, solid logic, well-presented adult learning. Excellent trainers with strong coaching, personal, and teaching skills... plus outstanding management commitment. What had gone wrong?

Then I turned my attention to the company’s implementation calendar. I wanted to check the pacing of the learn-and-do sequence. What kind of time had been provided for participants to apply what they learned in the classroom? I got my answer: none. There was no such calendar. There was a training calendar only. Huh?

Like a TV test pattern, nothing changes if nothing changes

The trainers trained, trained, trained. But no one ever asked attendees to put what was taught to use—even though the training design specifically stated that people had to go out and apply the training after each and every classroom session. How did the company miss that? How had trainers missed: “Don’t begin your next lesson until you give participants the opportunity to test their understanding of today’s lesson through hands-on application.” Often in the form of a blitz. Instead, in-house instructors simply burned through the classroom sessions. And, lo and behold, nothing changed. Nothing grabbed.

“What were you thinking?” I asked as politely as I could. “What prompted you to skip the ‘doing’ part of learn-and-do?” (Or more correctly: “teach-and-do” because learning comes from doing—applying—what is taught.)

The response was heartfelt: “We didn’t really think it was that important. We thought it was enough to do a good job teaching in the classroom.”

Truth be told, I have encountered this scenario more than once in my career—even in reference to my own work. Each time, I am baffled by people’s notion that teaching is the same as learning. It is not. Teaching happens in the classroom. Learning happens after you leave. So I share a few short comments to anchor the point:

1. One of life’s lessons is that it takes a lifetime to learn life’s lessons. Learning in life is the same as doing—only we never get it right the first time. In the process of doing—in the process of living—we always encounter some form of failure. But because we are alive, we can (and often do) learn from those failures. And we grow. We get smarter and more refined. That is the essence of the journey from childhood to young adult… and from young adult to maturity.
2. How could it be different at work? Why would it be? We are taught something new—perhaps a new improvement approach. We try it out—and we are already successful just because we tried it out.
3. Surefire failure means we never try it out. Or, in the case of the company in question, we are never given the opportunity to try it out. In this case, the failure belongs to the company, not the participant.
4. Companies that decide to put their employees through training and do not expect and require the application of the lessons taught not only don’t get a smarter workforce, they also send a loud message that they themselves do not understand how learning happens. As a result, they don’t get improvement, and they don’t get growth.
5. Trainers, when you teach, your report card is the extent to which the people you taught use what you taught them. That means part of your job is to make sure your students have an opportunity to use what you taught because you need a report card on yourself. You need feedback on the quality of your own teaching, and only they can provide it.
6. You can be sure that your students will not get it right. There’ll be drops and holes, and only partial understanding. And as a good teacher, you will celebrate that as valuable learning for them and priceless feedback for yourself.

Yes, by the time I said good-bye to the vice president, we had sorted through the debris and designed a way to restart, relaunch, and reignite the learn-and-do process in his company. And as I drove away, I made note: There is no better compliment you can give a person than to expect him or her to learn, change, and grow—and no better praise than to celebrate that when it happens.


About The Author

Gwendolyn Galsworth’s picture

Gwendolyn Galsworth

Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D., has been implementing visuality for more than 30 years. She’s focused on codifying the visual workplace concepts, principles, and technologies into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge. Galsworth founded Visual Thinking Inc. in 1991, and in 2005 she launched The Visual-Lean Institute where in-house trainers and external consultants are trained and certified in the Institute’s nine core visual workplace methods. Two of the seven books Galsworth has written received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award.



In my experience, this is more the rule than the exception. Another issue that, to me, seems to be equally pervasive, is management does not participate in the training. Aside from demonstrating "Management Buy-In", they are more likely to recognize results, or lack thereof, at a very early stage.

Nice Article!

The message people usually perceive after training:  "OK, now you have had some training.  Now get back to work."  As a result, nothing happens, as noted in your article.

Leadership has to show that they EXPECT people to utilize their new skills which the company paid for.  This might even require that the leadership themselves get the training as well!  Imagine that!!!!

I once taught a class in SPC at a paper mill where I worked.  Nothing changed until the mill manager started asking questions like:  "Is your process in statistical control?  How do you know?", etc.