Employees need to know a lot of stuff.
They must know their company’s policies, procedures, products, service standards, customer preferences, and leadership prerogatives. They must keep up with training, meetings, phone calls, hallway conversations, emails, texts, chats, postings, and signs. Today’s correct answer is tomorrow’s outdated content as employees are deluged with an endless flow of updates, bulletins, and change of plans.
Keeping it all straight requires a lot of memorization.
Unfortunately, our memories aren’t the ideal location to store the large volumes of complex information needed to do our jobs. Here are four ways that memorization can actually hurt performance.
#1: Memorization takes time
Memorization is a time consuming process. In his book, Creative Training Techniques, training guru Bob Pike suggests that new information typically needs to be reinforced six times for it to be retained. Pike further elaborates that knowledge retention activities must require some form of learner interaction to truly be effective.
The time consuming nature of memorization leaves many managers with a dilemma. On one hand, they can take shortcuts in their communication with employees, but this often results in employees forgetting important information. On the other hand, they can devote the time necessary to help employees memorize and retain key knowledge, but today’s busy managers rarely have this kind of time.
#2: Our memories don't update easily
Information changes constantly. Even if you take the time and effort to memorize important facts, you will have to repeat the process all over again when those facts change. It gets even more complicated when a team of employees must memorize new information since some people may continue working with the old information.
Frequent travelers provide an excellent glimpse into what happens when you have to regularly replace old information with new information. Road warriors often rent similar looking cars. Is it the silver Cruze or the blue Impala this week? The key information (Which rental car am I driving?) changes so frequently that its hard to keep straight.
It’s not uncommon for business travelers to get into the wrong vehicle when hotel valets deliver several cars at once on a busy morning.
#3: Memories are unreliable
Our memories are notoriously unreliable. They may fail us completely, or worse, cause us to produce the wrong answer with absolute certainty. In one experiment, researchers found that 40 percent of subjects recalled viewing footage of a terrorist attack in London even though the footage didn’t exist.
Our unreliable memories can prevent employees from being on the same page. I remember once renting a car where I used a pre-paid voucher to cover the cost of the rental. The employee who processed the rental confidently told me that I needed to turn in the voucher when I returned the car. The employee who processed my return confidently told me I should have provided the voucher when I rented the car. One of these two obviously misremembered the correct procedure, but both were absolutely certain they were right.
#4: Memories are use it or lose it
Facts and figures require repetition to remain easily accessible. Information we use often is easily be recalled without effort. Information we use infrequently or haven’t needed for a long time is difficult to recall.
An example I like to give is the high school locker combination. Most of us had a PE or book locker in high school. Back then, opening the locker took just a few seconds. We opened the locker one or more times every day so the combination was easy to recall. Today, most of us wouldn’t be able to remember the combination at all. Why? Because it has been so long since we’ve needed that information that it’s no longer readily accessible.
What’s the solution?
Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll provide some simple solutions to overcome the memorization dilemma. However, I can give you one hint now.
Overcoming the memorization obstacle requires us to rethink our objective.
We ask employees to memorize information so they can quickly apply information to their jobs. What if there was an alternative way for employees to rapidly access this information?