I remember when my brother and his wife were getting ready to have their first child. Suddenly, they developed this all-consuming interest in the latest books on pregnancy and childrearing, and attended courses at the local hospital. They even cultivated a circle of friends who were already or soon-to-be parents so they could share tips.
I could hardly believe my eyes … my little brother, the party animal, poring over baby books?! But, he had reached the “teachable moment” in his life where soaking up this information like a sponge was more important than getting together with the guys for a beer.
In other words, he had a rational self-interest that was motivating his desire to learn. If parenthood was not a rapidly approaching dot on his horizon, no amount of fun would have provided enough motivation to learn this stuff.
The tricky thing in the corporate world is that learners are often tasked with learning something someone else (leaders and managers) wants them to know. This means we need to dig a little deeper to find that rational self-interest that will create the “teachable moment.”
Here are some possibilities, culled from my years of working with clients on successful projects:
- Your job will be easier.
- The boring, routine tasks will be automated, so you’ll have more time to focus on the interesting, strategic work.
- You’ll be setting yourself up for career success. In fact, you’ll be able to write your own ticket.
- You’ll be able to make a visible, meaningful contribution to the goals of the organization. Your work will count.
- You’ll be able to stay safe or out of trouble.
- You’ll be able to keep up with your peers.
- You won’t look foolish.
This is the steak, not just the sizzle provided by a learning environment chock full of bells and whistles.
Motivation Equals Application
Once you figure out the rational self-interest, you need to communicate — or rather over-communicate — the “what’s in it for me” to learners. Don’t assume that it will be evident.
Most learners just see work piling up while they attend training, and even more work piling up while they take the extra time needed to figure out how to apply new knowledge and skills to their jobs. In fact, learning can feel like being punished.
While this transition time is no picnic, it will be worth the pain because learners will have a rational self-interest powering their motivation to learn and to apply what they’ve learned.