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Celebrate "I didn't know"

In the course of your day, week or month there’s a good chance a coworker will say “I didn’t know”. You have so many ways to react. How do you respond? 

  • Forgive them, they’re new and still learning.

  • Assume the trainer didn’t originally cover the topic thoroughly.

  • Politely say “ok, now you do, next time will be easier”.

  • Forgive it, presuming that no one could have anticipated the situation.

  • Get annoyed, mumble to yourself “that’s because you didn’t pay attention during training”.

  • Ask rhetorically why it happened, then incorporate the situational details into the training program.

These options require significantly differing levels of effort. Even if you help clarify the answer for your coworker after the “i didn’t know”, it may not help. With corporate attrition at historic highs (due in part to low unemployment and a newer millennial mindset towards company loyalty), the same employee may not even be around the next time that same issue recurs.

The moment you remove blame of any kind is when you begin to make effective, long-lasting change. It doesn’t matter if you TOLD the supervisor to cover that topic, or if you TOLD the employee how important it was to remember the item they now believe they didn’t know. If it WAS a  “never covered in training” situation, then there’s no one to blame, but the need remains: the training process needs to include it. That requires work. It’s time consuming. Once the learning is incorporated into your corporate training process, it pays dividends to the company that outlast the tenure of any particular person.

One problem: there are few reasons or incentives to DO this. 

  • The person who didn’t know isn’t really incentivized to advertise it. Doing so makes them look weak. 

  • The person who hears the feedback and makes the training program better may not be an owner in the business. They may not receive any direct benefit from doing something with the feedback.

  • A coworker may use the admission for competitive, selfish gain.

  • A manager may use it as ammunition for a looming termination.

  • Corporations rarely award admissions of weakness, confusion or omission.

The impact to a business that doesn’t identify its “we didn’t know” items is major. The math is simple: take each “i didn’t know” multiplied by the number of people who won’t have to “remember” to train it later, and the people who won’t find themselves blindsided from not knowing about it later. 

Celebrate those who share “I didn’t know this”. And reward those who turn an “I didn’t know” into more than just a “remember to tell them this part” aside but instead incorporate the learning thoroughly into your employee onboarding and training material. 


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