As leaders, we often have the opportunity to share new information with our teams. We want this information to be adopted quickly and become integrated immediately, yet that rarely happens.
For most of us, it takes time to digest, understand, and build new behaviors. When learning something new, there are five phases that we move through. The speed at which we pass through each phase may vary, but we always go through each one. This applies to learning in any situation, whether it be at work or at home. Below are the stages of learning with an example of learning how to ride a bike.
- Aware- The first step of learning is to help people become aware of the topic at hand, giving them general exposure to the topic or task.
Ex: A boy is exposed to others riding a bike. He is simply watching people ride by and observes what they are doing.
- Understand- Understanding allows them to really dig in, ask questions, and have time to think about the topic or task.
Ex: He then begins asking questions to understand more. How does the bike stay up? How do the wheels move? What are people wearing on their heads?
- Accept- Acceptance means you have their buy-in. They get it. They understand the why, how, and what. But, the are not quite ready to actually act on it.
Ex: When he feels like his questions have been answered, he begins to really internalize that riding a bike may be something he too can do.
- Apply- In this phase, they are trying it out. They may not be super competent, but they are practicing it. It can often feel mechanical rather than natural during this phase.
Ex: He sits on the bike and rides with someone holding the back of the seat. He is wobbly, but making progress.
- Integrate- The topic or task becomes routine, adopted, and natural.
Ex: After some time in the clunky application phase, the boy has finally made it to where he can ride a bike smoothly.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to our team to first recognize where they are in the phases of learning, and second to provide them with the necessary support to smoothly transition to the next phase. Often, we see leaders share new information and immediately expect a change in behavior. When this change doesn’t occur, we become frustrated. As leaders, we must recognize that we will be a step or two ahead of our teams. Recognizing where we are and where our team is allowing us to better adapt to the situation.
Next time you attempt to implement a change within your team, check in periodically and ask which stage of learning they feel they are in. Do your best to acknowledge where they are and give them the appropriate support necessary for they phase they are in. This will ultimately increase buy-in, performance, and adoption of the topic at hand.