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Case Study: How Understanding Unlearning Makes a Difference

A biotech client organization wanted to adopt a culture of diversity and inclusion. They did everything right to reinforce the new culture but until they started applying Unlearning principles, the change effort just seemed stuck.

Everyone in the organization agreed and bought into the new messaging around a new culture of diversity and inclusion. It made perfect logical sense. However, while people could easily get behind the idea, adopting the behaviors that stem from this culture was altogether a different story.

The heart of the challenge in this case was that for some groups in the organization (which was more common with engineers, analysts, and scientists) deep response and thinking patterns needed to change in order for them to truly adopt diversity and inclusion-related behaviors. In particular, the black and white, all-or-nothing, and thinking in "objective" terms of "right and wrong" was an undercurrent that diminished efforts for inclusive thinking and communication. For two years the change leadership team in the organization tried to facilitate the acquisition of the new culture and in some departments that work took roots and made a huge difference. Unfortunately, despite training and dedicated support, units slower to adopt the change still responded without sufficiently listening, jumped to conclusions about the needs of clients and other team members, listened to some team members but not others, and made diminishing comments frequently.

This used to be the way difficult change went. Despite having brilliant in-house change leaders, when people needed to unlearn previous response patterns, it can be an unfair exhausting "battle" against strong previous ways of doing things. But it doesn't have to be this complicated, dragging, and exhausting. Understanding how to apply Unlearning principles made a huge difference. Once they could see where the obstacles were and once they knew how to guide specific teams through the required Unlearning process, the road was clear for new values and skills to be adopted.

Consider discussing or exploring the following:

  • What are individuals and teams you are working with trying to achieve?

  • Will they need to unlearn anything (are there previous ways of responding, behaving, thinking, or otherwise doing things that will need to change)?

  • Make a list of the aspects that will require your Unlearning management attention.

We didn't have access to Unlearning principles before. Now that we do, we can guide people through change faster and with less pain and frustration for everyone involved.

The KCI Change Acquisition Method is a step-by-step process to manage the acquisition of the new by simultaneously managing the Unlearning, the letting go of previous ways of doing things. If that's relevant in your specific situation, we invite you to check out the KCI training and certification programs, or just reach out if you have a specific question we can answer.

With appreciation,


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