During a period of disruption and uncertainty, the motivation to learn may give way to the fear of rejection. Under such conditions, it falls upon learning leaders to remind employees that their purpose is to maximize performance and productivity to ensure a sustainable future for the business.

To support lifelong learning and improved performance (even in the face of rejection) proactively, the first question you must ask is: Do your learners have a true desire to upgrade their skills? If the answer is “no,” then start there.

If the answer is “yes,” then the next question is: Are they ready to learn? If that answer is “yes,” then the time is right to provide training and coaching.

Conversely, if the answer is “no,” then your objective is clear: Help underperformers become aware of what they don’t know and why it’s important to refresh their knowledge.

Self-examination is healthy. It is the primary means by which a person can be motivated to learn. Understanding how learning takes place progressively as depicted in Abraham Maslow’s Learning Stages Model below could be very useful to anyone seeking to improve and refresh their skills:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence. They don’t know that they don’t know.

Some people are unaware of the possibility that they may be making costly mistakes or turning out poor work. Their unacceptable performance is obvious to others, but not to them. Both the fear of rejection and the potential for incompetency are high because they’re not motivated to learn.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence. They know that they don’t know.

Suddenly, they become aware that their performance is having a negative effect on production. They are acutely, perhaps even painfully, mindful of their shortcomings. Their fear of rejection is elevated, but this is a good time to acquire new skills because their motivation to learn is high.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence. They know that they know.

They are in a comfort zone pleased with their newfound knowledge. They’ve overcome the fear of rejection, learned from their mistakes and improved their performance. They eagerly seek opportunities to demonstrate their new skills. Their motivation to learn has been satisfied.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence. They don’t know that they know.

They perform assignments with little thought given to preparing for new challenges. Unaware of their shortcomings, they’re only a short step away from losing the competitive edge. Having no fear of rejection and satisfied with the way things are, they’re not motivated to learn.

Finding the Source of Rejection

The vitality of any organization depends on its ability to overcome the inhibiting consequences of rejection. Applying performance management and process improvement makes the data collection effort less personal and more practical. And, therefore it becomes much easier to get buy-in for your initiatives.

Performance management and process improvement are two interconnected feedback tools that expose those sources of rejection and provide solutions. The most effective way to introduce them is to frame two sets of questions in the form of a sequential checklist, as outlined below:

Performance Management

As yourself if the right person is…

  • In the right place.
  • Doing the right thing.
  • Doing the right thing, in the right way.
  • And in the right place…
  • For the right reason.

Process Improvement

Ask yourself if the “right thing” is…

  • Getting to the right place,
  • At the right time
  • In the right quantity
  • And in the right condition.

Start by working your way through each checklist until you can confidently answer “yes” to all 10 points of the two-step sequence. Satisfactory completion will take multiple sessions, so don’t be disappointed at the lack of results the first time around.

Any “no” or “I don’t know” responses to the performance management checklist should trigger an exploration of who’s in that position, what stage of learning they might be in and what additional training they will need to produce a “yes” response in the future.

Any “no” or “I don’t know” responses on the process improvement checklist should instigate a deeper dive to determine which stages of the workflow need improvement to attain the desired performance outcome.

As a learning leader, performance management and process improvement principles can help you provide learners who are struggling with rejection and falling behind in their work with an awareness of why “getting it right” is important, coupled with an understanding of what they need to do differently to improve their performance.

What’s Right with Being Wrong?

Seeking to understand what you don’t know, and then responding proactively to the rejection that occurs when you realize you’re wrong, is a lifelong endeavor. By accepting the challenge to discover the unknown, you become a “doer”: someone who seeks to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reason.

Doers have something special working in their favor: the internal motivation to do a good job that triggers a willingness to acknowledge their own incompetence. They embrace rejection to discover what works, what doesn’t and why.

Doers are the lifeblood of any collaborative undertaking. These morally guided, critical thinkers who provide the ingenuity for new ideas and the constancy of purpose that ensures sustainable outcomes. Doers mobilize and motivate others by building alliances and forming coalitions.

Doers are those self-motivated, results-oriented people who respond proactively to the ambiguity and inconsistency caused by rejection. They do their best work in a time of dramatic change by mobilizing others to work toward their collective wellbeing and that of the organization that employs them.

Doers share five common traits:

  1. They understand emerging economic realities and are compelled to act on an optimistic vision of how they can be successful in turbulent times.
  2. They are people of vision who see potential and work to make possibilities real. They know how to combine resources and talent in ways that make change happen.
  3. They exert a collaborative style of leadership. They believe that the benefits of change can be realized only with more connections within their sphere of influence.
  4. They get involved in their workplace out of enlightened interest. They believe that their personal objectives and those of the organization they serve are intertwined.
  5. They are not “lone eagles” or solitary charismatic leaders. They understand and accept that success is a complex undertaking that requires multiple talents and continuous learning.

Doers are the “go-to” people you count on to get things done. Harnessing their power is the key to long-term viability. Individuals with these attributes are limited in number, which is why quality management guru Joseph Juran referred to them as, “the vital few.”

Given the multiple challenges facing organizations during this era of political division, social unrest and economic instability, training professionals must act as “doers” in their organization — and encourage others to as well.