This month, I attended meetings at which the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council, in conjunction with the Canadian Standards Association, assembled stakeholders to discuss the creation of standards for the accreditation of training and education programs in the sector. Like any standards, these are planned to be objective yardsticks. Educational programs or courses that are submitted for review and meet the requirements specified in the standard, once finalized, will be accredited by the Council.
Discussion at one point focused on communication between students and teachers, which got me thinking about the divide between ideal-world and real-world communication in learning environments.
One of the principles put forward at the meeting was that of lifelong learning. I enjoy the parallel of this concept with continuous-improvement supply chain philosophies, such as kaizen.
In a professional setting, there is no room for knowledge building that fails to be applicable in the workplace. Operating with this in mind, students/trainees should ideally receive feedback on their course submissions, as well as in related areas such as problem solving (e.g., “You missed the main issue”), presentation and writing (e.g., “I can’t understand your argument”), and working with teams (e.g., “You caused disruptive tension with your classmates”).
On the other side of the equation, instructors also require feedback that provides information about both the degree of customer satisfaction (e.g., “You demonstrated knowledge and answered questions”) and the teacher’s effectiveness (e.g., “You made it easy for me to pay attention and learn”).
Through this kind of communication, teacher and student answer each other’s question, “What can I do to be more successful in doing my job/building my career?” Since, in an ideal world, both parties subscribe to the principle of lifelong learning, each will want the information that answers his respective question, to enable him to improve his performance.
The attitudes of teachers and students will never be standardized, but you can count on market forces to keep the parties somewhat aligned: students won’t waste their time in programs that don’t deliver value, teachers want to remain employed, and institutions want to attract students.
Many evaluations, rather than providing objective information that would help a student or teacher truly develop skills, address questions such as:
- Was it fun? or,
- Did I get a good mark?
And consider, would a teacher really be open to feedback that indicates, for example, that she is boring or her thinking is outdated?
Most of the training that I am involved with focuses on skill building (in negotiations and communications, for example), so, as with golf and languages, there is always potential for growth. I will confess to not always wanting it, but I do solicit and appreciate feedback from my students and clients. It is easy, however, to see how the commitment to lifelong learning could waver on either side of the equation.
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NEWSLETTER FOR THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL (supplychaincanada.org) – JANUARY 2009.
In work that I do with clients, the situations with the lowest return on time/energy (ROTE) consistently involve communications with those who don’t “get it.” “Getting it” and “not getting it” creates very strong in/out-group perceptions. “It” can take a number of different forms, and usually, I am on the outside looking in. I will hear, for example:
- THEY don’t get that a for-profit model can fit in health care.
- THEY don’t get that Canada is a different market from the U.S.
- THEY don’t get that they are losing the chance at more business down the road by being so contentious now.
My job is to help them to help the other side to “get it.” It can work, but not all the time. Recently, I fear, I was the one who was likely being accused of not “getting it,” which, honestly, is new for me. I actually pride myself on being able to see both sides of things, in most instances. As I understand, and tell my clients, when you are involved, things become less visible. On top of that, it can be completely unclear who is right.
For example, imagine those who did not want to give the automotive Big Three any U.S. Government funds.
For them, the situation is clear:
The Big Three (THEY) don’t get that the model is broken and more money is only prolonging their ultimate demise.
For those supporting a loan/bailout, it is equally clear:
The U.S. Gov (THEY) don’t get that we just need a bridge loan. Weather this storm, and we are set up for long-term success.
One of those positions is right, but only time will tell.
My recent challenge is bringing my “soft-skills” orientation into a “tech-savvy” environment in a discussion about creating value in information sharing and collaborating. Quite predictably, one of us is “not getting” that if and how people use any tool–not to mention the relationship between the parties–will dictate a large degree of effectiveness. Perhaps the other of us is “not getting” that in the future, personal relationships, perceptions and things like “the benefit of the doubt” have little or no role in the workplace.
One of those positions is right, but only time will tell.
There is no shortage of continuum-based models in business communication and negotiating. Although it is dangerous to oversimplify, I often force clients and students into binary decisions. One example from last fall was asking my class at Schulich Business School (during the current strike) whether they were sympathetic to the union or sympathetic to the school administration.
As an instructor/consultant, this creates better discussions because you can get away from the “it depends” that is necessarily pervasive in the domain of human behaviour. It also can get to the root of ideological divides (as people identify with different groups) and strategic trade-offs (where it really is this or that – e.g. sucking and blowing).The group identity idea made me think of a after-work beer-aided conversation I had with two of the three business partners that ran the company I was working for in Tokyo. I had just seen the movie “Lulu on the Bridge,” which is worth a watch.
In one scene, very recently acquainted Mira Sorvino and Harvey Keitel lounge in the morning (I won’t spoil it by telling you how they got there). She engages him in a game of “Are you this or that?” where you take turns asking the such questions. E.g. “Are you a river or an ocean?” Goofy, but cute, so I thought I’d throw it into our post-work drink banter.While Partner 1 pondered the decision, Partner 2 blurter out, “Come on, everyone would want to be an ocean.” In retrospect, that response actually told a lot about the personality at play. Not long after, that partnership dissolved. It was not over the river/ocean question, per se, but there was certainly something behind the metaphor in the differences of approach and vision.Sometimes there are “this and that” scenarios. It is natural to prefer one side to the other. I think. it’s dangerous to not acknowledge the other side.
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