The butterfly effect is a theory that says even seemingly small, inconsequential causes can have huge, often drastic effects. The term was coined in the early 1960s by Edward Lorenz, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is based on the concept that even a small cause such as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings several weeks earlier can influence and change the path and time of a hurricane. This phenomenon, wherein even a small change in initial conditions triggers drastic changes in outcomes has been around for quite a long time.
We all know about Titanic, the ‘unsinkable’ ship. Though often its speed is blamed for it sinking, the main reason confirmed by many naval architects and historians is that the ship sank because it split. You might think the steel used to build the ship was of inferior quality; that was not the case. It was the rivets – small pins responsible for holding the hull plates together – that failed. The effect those small rivets had on the fate of such a huge, expensive ship considered invincible can’t be missed.
Butterfly effect @ work
So even seemingly minor causes can often have massive consequences. This is true even in organizations. Though working in different departments, often across different geographical locations, each employee is a part of the organization and the actions of each has an effect – positive or negative – on the organization.
A senior often criticizes a junior for no apparent reason, a team member from a certain region is often made the butt of jokes, a manager provides constructive feedback to a new hire, an employee often takes unscheduled leaves – all these seemingly isolated actions can have a deep impact on the organization. Sometimes, the causes may be so insignificant that they go unnoticed. But their consequences will surely be felt.
Such issues need to be identified and addressed at the earliest to avoid disastrous consequences. So what can be done to address these issues? Training is the key! Look for areas with noticeable behavioral gaps and bridge those gaps through appropriate training interventions.
Be on the lookout and identify gaps
Be mindful of what is happening around you, often we can gauge reactions through silent undercurrents and undemonstrated tensions at the workplace. Are your employees of a particular ethnicity being repeatedly made the target of pranks? This will make them feel alienated, lower their morale, and have other long range ramifications. It’s an indication your team needs to be trained on culturally sensitivity.
Most of your employees don’t know what to do in case of a fire emergency? This lack of knowledge can lead to major casualties even if a minor accident occurs. It’s time you conduct mock drills and roll-out safety training programs.
Do you observe that your sales people are stressed out due to the growing number of products they need to communicate to customers? Implement product knowledge training programs that will ease their life and improve your profits.
Conduct informal meetings and share concerns
Spend some time every week or fortnight in informal meetings with team leads and other employees in positions of influence. Talk to them and find out the training needs of their teams. A relaxed atmosphere will help them open up and confide about other issues prevalent in the workplace. This will shed light on current issues and help you arrange appropriate learning sessions. Such small measures go a long way in fostering a healthy work environment.
Prepare a learning calendar for the year
Most of the training programs are known in advance and also the employees they are intended for. For example, you might have a recurring training program for your sales team on selling and communication skills. Prepare an annual calendar for such routine programs. This will help you keep track of the training sessions’ progress and you will also know how and where to fit in other additional trainings, if needed, for the group.
Provide time for the learning interventions to work
Conditions seldom change immediately. Keep this in mind and provide time for your learning interventions to bear fruit. Do not be frustrated if things don’t change as and when you wish. Importantly, behavioral changes and soft skills take more time to be assimilated, and are more difficult to measure. Adopt realistic, achievable milestones (such as the number of customer complaints closed successfully after the first 2 calls in case of a telephone etiquette training program) to measure the impact of learning.
It is extremely important to keep in mind that every action, no matter how small, will tend to have a ripple effect and cause repercussions that’ll be felt throughout the organization. Hence, identify issues which are likely to have negative effects and harness the power of training to correct them at the earliest. Issues with positive effects should be identified and replicated across teams too to increase productivity and efficiencies. Plan your training interventions and give ample time for them to bear fruit so that the ripples you encounter in your workplace are all positive.