The rate at which adaptability and responsiveness – as a skillset – are now required can be brought to study, to show how vital the role of unlearning is in today’s workplace. Why is this? Smart organisations design unique ways to respond to change. The fact that there is a response to change or responses unique enough to further establish market leadership for such organisations charges employees to do the same. Employees need to unlearn so that they can move ahead, work smarter and advance the company’s mission.


Unlearning may seem like a wild idea. It may even appear complex and invariably unacceptable at first, especially if its benefits are not properly aligned with advancing an organisation in terms of its workforce or success in the marketplace. But how can this be made relevant to an organisation or employee’s cause in the workplace? An excellent place to start might be to:


  1. Promote unlearning the same way learning is campaigned so that there is a natural openness towards the idea. The goal, ultimately, is to foster willingness rather than shock employees with a seemingly mysterious process. Instead of compliance, for example, a system could be put in place to encourage acceptance followed by a transitional period. This period should come with opportunities to gradually assist employees to unlearn and then relearn, over a timeline. People are generally co-operative if they do not feel coerced, or if they believe they are part of something positive and significant. To get the right motivation in place, a senior colleague could model the process. For example, to correct time management behaviours, you may need to first raise awareness on the impact of bad time management to the organisation by sharing data on declines in task prioritisation, the potential loss of prospects, and other metrics. The process can be made easy and relatable by building a bespoke time management software or buying one off-the-shelf. Furthermore, as a matter of getting employees involved in the whole experience, you can engage them by asking for ideas on how they manage their time between work, family, and social and religious life.


  1. Prepare employees to adopt a culture of unlearning. Think about the employee that shows a natural (initial) resistance to change, a brilliant and effective employee, nonetheless. Your organisation is known for its unique culture of nimbleness and agility. With new ideas and tech-centred innovation like presentations-on-the-go at the forefront of your organisation’s affairs, that employee becomes severely limited in their ability to work offsite and deliver presentations based on new requirements. Sometimes, people find it unnerving to pursue the unfamiliar. When confronted with ideas that are innovative or disruptive enough, they lean naturally towards the familiar, viewing the new with the eye of the old. This is a challenge, and it is limiting. However, if unlearning will contribute significantly to the pursuits of the organisation, then it is important to pursue new and higher goals, and get to understand how they can potentially transform the organisation most positively. Perhaps, tying this part of the process to recognisable achievements at work could help get things moving along.


  1. Craft a “high-energy” and attractively stunning idea around unlearning so that it looks almost as if a learner is changing environments from a classroom to a colourful educational playpen! New events or surroundings can help you notice things. This is a bit of psychological trickery on the brain, and the goal is basically to turn to new learning almost by wilful compulsion but, in truth, unlearning one idea and learning another. This is like breaking habits!


  1. Diversifying teams – This idea supports the fact that opposites attract. When making efforts to unlearn, one of the best approaches is to surround employees with people with different mindsets. Putting like-minded people in a situation hampers their ability to see beyond the opinions they already have. Teaming employees with business professionals from a different unit provides the opportunity for them to see things from a different viewpoint; this fosters more open-mindedness and a fresh consideration of the unlearning process.


  1. Consider helping your employees take advantage of the unlearning process by fostering curiosity. There’s probably no better way to get this going besides digital learning. The benefits of digital learning are two-pronged – the employee can take ownership of their process through self-paced study, and also enjoy a sense of safety through their trial and error stage. Digital learning, in no small way, allows for curiosity and imagination as all the components of an eLearning system are built to stimulate the senses. VR – based learning, for example, helps an employee to find their inner child through further kinaesthetic exploration of new material. No better way to get the unlearning process going!


  1. Support employees to commit to the unlearning process and become advocates in their own little way. This happens if there is a sense of reward, fulfilment or achievement tied to this process. One way to ensure this is to create specific goals and define what success means in their endeavour. If the components of worth, success or achievement tie firmly to an employee’s social and emotional life, they tend to work better. Setting short, meaningful and measurable goals can help achieve unlearning. These goals, however, should be clear and challenging enough, yet not infringing on the learner’s sense of ownership of the goals. The steps to achieving these goals should encourage a smooth transition. In addition, leader boards can be introduced to help instil a true sense of accomplishment.


  1. Create continuous, collaborative support and check-ins to help seal the deal. It may not be an easy thing to do, but a good way to get started is to create a support team to help handle the process; at this time, tip 4 comes in handy!


Today’s workforce may not have completely grasped the realities of changing, disruptive times.  However, it appreciates the need to stay relevant; this is nothing short of proving that to move ahead, one must unlearn, learn and relearn!


Written by:

Bereola Martins

Assistant Consultant