A Tool in of itself is Never a Solution

Even though most of our customers might call our LeanMail software for Microsoft Outlook the definitive solution to managing email, it’s not.  It’s easy to mistake a tool for a solution because once you have consciously and subconsciously bought into the need of the tool, understand how to use it properly and benefit from the results, you are apt to forget how you initially struggled in the process of adopting a new way of working.  The tool itself is useless if people don’t fully buy into the methodology. How many organizations have purchased hugely expensive CRM systems that their employees begged for only to find out that less than one third were willing to input data, and do so inconsistently? In cases where the success of a new implementation is reliant upon the abilities of people to change and adopt new ways, the credit for embedding a solution must be shared between two equally important components: 1) a solid, easy to understand, and appealing methodology; and 2) training that takes into consideration the fact that we are human — meaning that it’s not just about appealing to logic and common sense.  If you think that’s easy, note that IBM made a survey in 2008 with 1.500 change management executives and discovered that the biggest barrier to success was changing mindsets and attitudes.  This single stumbling block accounting for a full 58% of why these executives’ projects failed.[1] It is for this reason that we, at LeanMail, spend more time and resources on developing the method and training than we do on software development – but then we don’t call ourselves a software company.  We are a solution provider in the real sense of the word. One of my favorite customer testimonials came from a manager at Kimberly-Clark.  She wrote: Atrendia provides every opportunity to form this habit before the training ends. This is what makes them such a distinguished training organization: they don’t let you leave the training without forming the habit of using LeanMail. Her words encapsulate the essence of the mission we are on.  We don’t want to be merely email productivity trainers; instead, our mission and our passion is to provide a long term solution to an enormous challenge that now spans decades, costing tens of billions of dollars annually.  The only way to do that is to understand how to help all kinds of people from widely varying cultures break their old habits and disrupt the status quo.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not the quality of the tool or the training that determines the outcome, but the willingness of the participant to part with unconscious beliefs.  Just ask yourself how willing you are to completely throw away your method of handling email in exchange for something you know nothing about?  And yet 94% of all the people who participate in our training recommend or highly recommend LeanMail. Our task is daunting and it has taken us over ten years to master to this point.  Just 6% more to go. Let’s first consider what the perfect trainee looks like:
  1. She or he is actively seeking a new way of doing things in the particular area they are being trained in.
  2. She or he is ready to put aside any long-held beliefs in order to exchange them for new ones.
  3. Any new things they learn will not challenge her or his old way of thinking enough to dissuade them from enduring.
  4. The learning curve will not be seen as a hindrance; instead, the challenge will excite her or him to obtain and conquer the new habits they are required to adopt.
You’re probably thinking:  Hmm, not a lot of them around – and you’d be right. Even if the training material is presented in a logical, interesting and informative way; and even if the trainees recognize the material as important and useful; and even if enough time is allowed for experience and practice, most training is due to fail because rarely does a trainer stand in front of a perfect trainee. The reason why an excellent product and engaging training is not enough is the fact that we all have very strong beliefs, and these beliefs — rightly or wrongly held — are often impermeable to logic or rationale (Think of some of your friends’ political beliefs).  Further, any challenges to our beliefs — consciously or unconsciously — will be seen as a threat and therefore be resisted. How on earth do people learn then? You wonder. We have been training thousands of people for over ten years and we have found that there are eight important principles that must be understood and incorporated into any training requiring behavioral change:
  1. No one buys into any training, at least not in the long term, unless they are completely ready to accept a change to the status quo. That means;
  2. Acceptance of a new way of working is not so much a question of intelligence, logic or perseverance (current beliefs of many), but of acceptance by unconscious belief systems, habits and biases. Knowing that;
  3. If we want to affect change on a long term basis — real change — then we must get a much deeper buy-in than what current training models permit. To do that;
  4. We must challenge the current beliefs of our trainees enough to uncover unconscious biases, resistance and beliefs thereby exposing the true need for change and growth according to their own belief systems over a sustained period of time. Having said that;
  5. We have to be careful not to push or preach, but to attract; and also to celebrate each step of the journey. This requires us to recognize that;
  6. Each step of the training program must be carefully organized in such a way that each person feels safe and respected (only then can they feel comfortable with introspection) while they challenge their own complacency or status quo at their own tempo, and at the same time;
  7. We must share with them explicit expectations and precise instructions in guiding them on their journey to developing new habits that ultimately lead them to adopting a best practice, which they can trust in all situations. Finally, the eighth principle is that;
  8. Complacency is guaranteed to set in and all previous gains will be lost If, once the training is complete, management does not place higher demands on their employees through regular audits until the innovation is fully embedded in the culture of the organization. In other words, you don’t get what you don’t ask for, and continuous improvement doesn’t stop once a major improvement arrives.
  These eight principles have provided us with many successful transformations, but they are not exclusive to training LeanMail.  You can use them with many change management endeavors and we hope you will share your experience with us so that we can learn from you.   Contact: LeanMail Avenida Diagonal 640, planta 6 08017 Barcelona Spain info@leanmail.com United States:    +1 415 799 9660 Spain:                  +34 69 625 9660 Denmark:            +45 2616 7969 [1] http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/bus/pdf/gbe03100-usen-03-making-change-work.pdf