Chicken Pox Change Management

Recently the Media 1 team went through a performance consulting refresh with Judith Hale, author of the Performance Consultants Fieldbook, and other titles related to performance centered consulting.

During one of our sessions, Judy referenced “learning by disease.” What she was referring to was the sometimes common practice of “exposing” employees to new process in hopes that they would “catch the disease” and learn the new process. This of course reminded me of my childhood when it was not an uncommon practice to expose a child to another child with chicken pox especially if that chicken pox outbreak coincided with a time that there wasn’t school or a family vacation planned. Disclaimer: I remember clearly missing school, so I do not think my mother planned my chicken pox.

This is such a clear metaphor for unmanaged and unmitigated change, not only in learning, but for any process change (and one I fear one we are all guilty of from time to time). However, I’m not so sure that all concerns come from the same place. All too often, we are so concerned that our people don’t catch the disease that we tend to forget that chicken pox – in whatever way it’s contracted – makes the person infected with it pretty miserable.

We should be less concerned about exposure to the disease and more concerned about the effects of it.  The “change by the exposure” method only addresses the environment for change, It doesn’t take into account whether the individual has the skill or capability (except in rare cases, you only can get chicken pox once, and I hear they have vaccines now), and it certainly doesn’t address the way you would want to transmit change (no school or family vacation). And most importantly, why would your employee ever want to catch it (motive)?

Unless our goal is to fail (Ebola anyone?), we need to design and use better models than the world’s worst epidemics. Hopefully this metaphor will help you recognize where this model is being used in your organization, and help you manage change with performance in mind, as opposed to hoping for successful exposure.

RelatedGood Foundations, Good Results: Principles of Performance Improvement.

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