Many years ago I heard a strange little story about a wicker basket. An old woman had a wicker basket that became very dirty through much use. She gave the basket to a young boy in the village and told him to go down to the stream, fill the basket with water, and bring the water back to her. The boy did as he was told, but by the time he had returned, all the water has seeped through the holes. She told him to try it again, but the same thing happened. In the end, she told him not to worry about the water. She had her basket clean again.
The ethics of the old woman may be questionable, but the strategy she used has some value for training. The old woman wanted the boy to clean her basket, but that’s not what she asked him to do. She asked him to fetch water. In other words, she used an indirect approach to achieve her main objective. The activity she relied on seemed to have nothing to do with cleaning.
How should you approach change fitness training? That depends on whether your training is about fitness, or for fitness. If it’s about fitness, there is nothing wrong with a direct approach. There is much to learn about change fitness – the theory behind the concept; techniques and tools to identify it; implications that invite exploration, etc. Here, change fitness can be brought directly into the foreground and presented as one would present any subject in theory or practice. Studying change fitness as a subject has value, and it is certainly important for leaders, managers, and trainers to be aware of it. But simply knowing about fitness doesn’t mean anyone actually becomes more ready for change.
If, on the other hand, the purpose is to help people develop change fitness, fitness becomes the object of the training, not the subject. Learners don’t necessarily need to know about fitness as a subject; what they need is information, activities, and experiences helping them develop fitness capacities and stories. In other words, don’t get people to clean the basket; get them to bring you water.
Consider an example of how this can be applied. Suppose you want to develop a spirit of cooperation amongst members of a work team. How should you approach the training? You could take a direct approach – sit them down and talk about how to cooperate, the benefits of cooperation, etc. However, a more effective approach is to get them to work cooperatively on a meaningful work project – carefully design tasks that necessitate cooperation, and monitor and coach people through the process. In the end, they may not even realise they had received training.
The really efficient thing about change fitness training is that you can focus on any subject and provide learning experiences to help people develop fitness. You can provide job skills training but do it in a way that enables people to practise and develop their change fitness capacity.
Informal training is also very important. Informal training occurs all the time – through the use of language, the nature of relationships, the expectations communicated, role modelling, and information that is offered or withheld. The importance of these factors cannot be overstated.
If you’re trying to develop the fitness of staff within your organization, there are many opportunities and strategies you can use. Fitness training takes time, and lessons need to be provided over and over again, in different formats. But you must remember you can’t make anyone ready for change – only they can do that. What you can do is provide them with valuable opportunities and learning experiences through which fitness may develop.
Dr Steve Barlow