It’s Time for a New Approach to Change: Everyone-to-Everyone Learning

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It’s the beginning of the year, and Ben’s organization, a large tech firm, has just announced a new initiative to bring company leaders together for in-person learning on its DEI objectives. Ben, a mid-level manager of a diverse team, is eager to learn how to be a more inclusive leader. As the workshop approaches, however, Ben learns that — due to the company size and cost restraints — only the top 100 senior-level leaders will attend the two-day in-person training. Those senior leaders will then teach the rest of the employees what they’ve learned.

A few weeks after the training, though, Ben’s manager attempts to relay the workshop’s lessons to her team but can’t remember much beyond a few frameworks and acronyms, leaving Ben and his teammates disappointed.

For years, organizations have addressed behavior change through “top-down learning.” In this model, top executives receive extensive leadership development in the hopes positive effects will trickle down from the C-suite to middle managers and, ultimately, front-line employees.

But in addition to being exclusive, the top-down training model likely only benefits the top-level leaders who attend. What’s more, top-down learning doesn’t account for social norms, which are among the most powerful forces of behavior change: If employees look around and see people behaving a certain way, they follow suit. However, if most people aren’t engaging in the new behavior — which is likely if only a small portion of the company learns the new habits — employees will continue to engage in old, undesired behaviors since that’s what they see.

A better approach is what we call “everyone-to-everyone learning.” In this model, the entire organization goes through the same virtual learning experience within the same time frame, with self-paced as well as synchronous activities. Instead of daylong or multiday in-person workshops — which can’t be administered to all employees at once without bringing the organization to a standstill — learning consists of memorable, bite-sized sessions delivered virtually.

Simply put, you’re able to shift from a model of teaching a few people a lot slowly to teaching a lot of people a little bit very quickly. And at an organizational level, this ends up being far more effective. Here’s why.

It’s impactful

Everyone-to-everyone learning allows employees to learn one habit at a time, over time. Research has shown that learning spaced over time leads to superior consolidation of new information compared to all-day sessions, in which participants forget the information the moment they walk out of the room.

Research also shows people learn best in a social context because doing so activates the brain’s social memory networks. Learning in a social context also increases interpersonal connections, or what we call relatedness. The fact that everyone participates creates a sense of belonging by bringing employees together in an interactive virtual experience.

It’s scalable

When learning isn’t limited to only those who can fit in a single room, it allows the entire organization to reflect upon and reinforce new learnings together. With everyone learning the same material, a shared language is created. The result is that people can share insights, ask for clarification, compare modes of implementation, and swap examples and applications — all of which help put abstract information to practical use and embed new knowledge into long-term memory.

With the everyone-to-everyone model, we’ve observed voluntary participation rates of up to 96% in companies with tens of thousands of employees. Compare these rates to the conventional top-down model, in which an organization is lucky to get 10%–30% of employees engaged in a learning program, and it’s clear that everyone-to-everyone is scalable.

It’s fast

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of everyone-to-everyone learning is its speed. Instead of trying to wrangle top executives into the same room at the same time and then waiting and hoping for the effects to trickle down through the company, everyone-to-everyone learning happens quickly — say, once a week over four weeks — allowing organizations to change in weeks, not years.

A few months after the inclusion workshop, Ben’s organization notices employees are still engaging in old habits. The tech firm seeks feedback from the senior-level managers who attended and learn they struggled to recount the key lessons to their teams. Recognizing a different approach is needed for its next workshop, the company decides to try a virtual learning experience. Within weeks, Ben and thousands of others are in breakout rooms learning new habits to create real change.

Author: NeuroLeadership Institute

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