The importance of cognitive skills to L&D

by John Hilton23 May 2016
Gary Klein is a research psychologist who pioneered naturalistic decision making, and is the author of books such as Seeing What Others Don’t and The Power of Intuition. L&D Professional interviewed the internationally respected decision making expert for his insights.

LDP: What’s the significance of decision-making to employee learning and development?
GK: Employee L&D is extremely important, but the L&D has to be translated into action - into better and faster decisions. Otherwise, the learning is inert. An organisation that invests in L&D without expecting a payoff in terms of better and faster decisions is wasting time and resources.
LDP: Why is it important for organisations to accelerate professional development and knowledge transfer within the business to stay on top of change?
GK: Organisations that stop learning become stagnant and soon wither. But the more successful an organisation is, the smaller the incentive to build more expertise in the workers. It is much easier to stick with the standard routines and procedures. Unfortunately, business models rarely stay put. Competitors are always bringing out new innovations. Customers aren't staying put either. Their worlds are getting more sophisticated and challenging, and the products of a few years ago may not be as helpful tomorrow. 
You can easily train employees to follow the procedures that worked in the past. You cannot anticipate the procedures and decisions that will arise in the future. Your best hope is to create a continually improving workforce that spots new trends, needs and problems and gets ahead of the curve.
LDP: What tips would you give to L&D Professionals to help their learners develop by making good decisions easily?
GK: I think it all boils down to cognitive skills. Too many organisations treat training as procedures but we know that procedures aren't enough. Expertise is not just mastery of the procedures. It depends on ability to make fine discriminations, to spot patterns, to deter anomalies, to gain a richer understanding of how things work. That's where organisations should be investing their training budgets. 
Increasing cognitive skills (as opposed to drilling on procedures) will result in better and faster decisions, more accurate ways to size up situations and faster detection of problems. It will also result in better ability to prioritise goals, manage uncertainty, and anticipate future states and the consequences of actions. And better ability to go beyond procedures in order to perform necessary workarounds and improvisations.
Gary Klein now assists corporations and government agencies to improve their decision making ability and rapid tacit knowledge transfer to staff using a method known as ShadowBox. Klein will share his insight when he conducts a DISRUPT.SYDNEY Masterclass on 25thMay in Sydney hosted by the University of Sydney Business School.