Learning to Unlearn

Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

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Businessman standing on a balcony and looking at city skyline

A new season has approached. The sun is coming up earlier than usual, the birds are chirping merrily, flowers are starting to bloom and the weather is getting warmer. A definite welcome change to the cold, dreary winter months.

As our environment is undergoing it’s usual change, it may be time to also look at how your business handles change.

The old saying goes: Change is as good as a holiday. And in many cases, it is, but why is it that so many CEOs, managers and other staff members are so scared of it? And how can changing some leadership styles and business behaviour bring on greater success?

The decision to change can start with management and trickle down to lower levels of the hierarchy. Employees’ attitude towards change can be from experience from working for a previous company. Previous information can act as a barrier.

Companies such as Zappos.com have mastered the art of embracing change and being different. From call centres and offices looking like amusement parks to the bizarre questions they ask in interviews such as “On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?”, it’s all about roping in people with fresh ideas. Zappos.com embraces “weirdness”. They also include all employees in their decision-making. They even included their employees in deciding what their 10 core values should be by asking employees to name a co-worker that they thought embodied the spirit of Zappos.com the most. By doing that, mutual trust is built between company and employee. When Amazon bought Zappos, all employees knew about the merger as well. Such honesty and creativity in changing processes and the way employees and employers communicate is refreshing and is part of why Zappos.com is so successful.

In a survey done in 2010 by the AMA (American Marketing Association) it found that communication skills were ranked as being the top employee development priority for the immediate future. Communication is a core component of leadership and ultimately also brings about change that is necessary to prosper and move forward.

Apart from communication that needs to be clear, concise and to the point, innovation and creativity is also something that needs to be thrown into the leadership and change mix, which again shows how Zappos.com is different and how they’ve embraced the concept of change and helping their employees to unlearn previous behaviours.

In order to assume leadership, we have to take risks. Decisions need to be based on less information and less predictability than in the past. The challenge of change has to be accepted and also the fact that it’s not going to go away. This means that we constantly need to unlearn certain patterns of thinking, decision making and behaviour. Without doing that, we won’t be able to learn new patterns and skills that would be required to prosper in the world we live in and the future world of business.

To drive change successfully and assist employees in unlearning stale ways, executives should instill a sense of mutual trust and honest communication, whether that’s through training or everyday culture. While in the process of unlearning, leaders should be aware of the state of mind of their employees and the existing assumptions and habits. Executives should be transparent and communicate reasons behind the need to change.

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