By Diana R. Carl, EdD

The deli chain where Jackie works just promoted her from employee to manager. She has new responsibilities setting her apart from those she with whom she used to work shoulder-to-shoulder. The line of customers during this busy noon hour grows. Surveying the situation, she sees one employee–a friend–glance at her, which Jackie interprets as being disapproval. She sees two other employees doing more talking with each other than tending customers. She is confused about what to do. She could pitch in to make sandwiches and serve customers or manage the overall situation. There is nagging confusion roiling in her head: She is torn between what she used to do, relationships she had formed, and her new management duties. The situation is telling her an action is needed, but what action? Shifting mental maps would help her process what she perceives in the situation and how these relate to her new role and tasks.

Mental maps guide performance in work and everyday lives. Who has not been in a situation where you looked for certain cues when selecting an action only to find out you had attended to the wrong cues? You had to change your perception of the situation, i.e., your mental map, to evaluate and pair cues with the actions that would help you be effective.

Performance analysts are challenged to help performers shift from mental maps that inhibit effective performance to maps that enable scanning the environment for cues relevant to the new tasks, goals, and role.  Here is what you can do:

  1. Take time to identify the relevant cues in the environment that the performers should consider if they are to effectively perform.
  2. If possible, identify the cues that make up the mental map currently being referenced by the performer: the one likely to be referenced when taking up new tasks. It is not always possible, but doing this provides information about what the performer perceives so that the mental map has the possibility of being shifted.
  3. Enable the performer to:
    1. identify trigger cues that indicate a need for an action the person would take.
    2. distinguish the irrelevant cues that make up the existing mental map from the relevant ones appropriate to the task.
    3. identify consequence cues that indicate the action had the desired effect or that the action has resulted in ill effects.
    4. practice invoking the relevant map when deciding to perform.
    5. Provide an opportunity to reinforce the new map and bring to the performer’s attention the consequences associated with relying on a mental map consisting of the irrelevant cues.
    6. Increase the salience of new cues and help performers learn new ways to scan their environments for relevant cues.
    7. Finally, help performers become aware of costs associated with relying on mental maps not helpful to performing in the situation. Help them verify they are invoking the map with the cue set that will enable them to successfully perform.

About the Author

DianaCarlDiana R. Carl, EdD, is program manager for the U.S. Department of Transportation Training Management System.  Her domestic and international work in performance improvement and training has incorporated human factors.