Quit Horsing Around! Get Out of the Classroom and Into the Field (Literally)

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September 25, 2017 | Barbara Trautlein | HCI

The struggle to transfer new skills to the workplace is a constant frustration in Learning and Development (L&D).

Traditional classroom training can be designed and delivered with excellence although oftentimes, it cannot get us over the new skills transfer finish line, particularly with a mission-critical skill set like leading change in the workplace.

The failure rate of major organizational change is 70 percent or more, and an oft-cited failure factor is the behavior of leaders.  Across industries around the world, we have an urgent and compelling need for innovative learning solutions to enable leaders to apply and integrate new knowledge, skills and behaviors - now.

Training programs that purport to build change competencies too often focus on models and methods to manage change.  While such programs can provide foundational knowledge, they often fail to give deep insight into how a leader’s behavior on the job actually impacts people’s ability to partner with them through change.  Instead of simply learning about concepts “from the neck up,” what’s needed is to viscerally experience change dynamics in action.

One innovative learning solution to accelerate knowledge and insight is equine-assisted learning, which means using horses as learning partners.  Horses are incredible survival animals that have learned to quickly assess their environment and offer views of how they work with others during change.  Horses are able to use this keen instinct to afford an immediate reflection of an individual’s behavior providing personal feedback – in the moment.  This invaluable information directly applies to leading change initiatives back in the workplace.

Change expert Gerri Steadman works with leaders and teams to build their individual and collective “Change Intelligence” (CQ).  Instead of simply learning about concepts “from the neck up,” participants intuitively experience change dynamics in action.

“Horses make great learning partners because they respond best to non-confrontational, rational, confident leadership,” Steadman says. “A partnership exists between the human and the horse, but the human must be the leader. When I learned to train horses, I realized the horse was also training me. I learned to think, ‘Okay, Gerri, what are you doing that’s not clear?’”

In Gerri’s approach, a leader or an entire team first takes the Change Intelligence Assessment to discover their change leadership style, which gives participants a way to identify and talk about the strengths that make the team more effective as a whole and as individual leaders.  Then, through their work with horses, participants experience how their style can make them effective in leading their horse – and also how their behaviors get in the way.

In one powerful example, Gerri asked the team to introduce change to a horse.  The change was to put a halter on the horse.  The team took the halter, walked over to the horse and put the halter on – done.  Very efficient, very fast – objective achieved!

Next, Gerri asked the team to look at the horse, and to explain what they observed.  The team saw that the horse’s ears were pinned back and its tail was swishing, showing that the horse is displeased.  The team had not noticed the horse’s cues– they had not paid attention to how the horse was feeling.

Gerri then asked how the team introduced the change to the horse.

 “We basically just threw the halter over its head,” a team member said.

That’s when the light bulb went off.

The team members immediately made the connection to how they lead change in the workplace – by throwing it at people - without taking the time to build a relationship first, nor thinking about how people feel about change or preparing people for change.  They saw how their own leadership behavior caused resistance in others.  The horse was a mirror reflecting a critical leadership blind spot.  This kind of “aha moment” is hard to come by in traditional classroom training.

So many leaders understand the theory of change management and yet recognize there is a gap between their understanding and their ability to apply their knowledge in real-time.  That’s the beauty of Gerri’s combined CQ-equine experience: leaders learn to bridge the gap between information and application, in a way that achieves immediate and measurable benefits for themselves, their teams and their organizations.  As an L&D professional, what ideas does this innovative example spark for you in terms of creative learning solutions you could bring to your organization?

Intrigued – want to learn more? Visit www.changecatalysts.com to read a case study describing one team’s CQ-equine experience and results, and check out the other real-life case studies of leaders like yourself putting CQ into action.