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Transforming concepts into reality is very much like combining music and words: one method of communication helps get the idea across. So, although the “toolboxing” technique featured in this column is original to the parks and recreation profession, it should not be a surprise that a similar approach--in a totally different field--was conceived in the early 1960s: Model-Netics.

The brainchild of Harold S. Hook, Model-Netics formally was introduced to the insurance industry in 1971, and continues to thrive today. Hook is noted for “earn[ing] the distinction of having served as president and chief executive officer of three major life-insurance companies before the age of 40,” by using Model-Netics to improve the performance of his companies, most recently the American General Corporation.

Breaking Barriers

Combining aspects of organization and management development--integrated through a focused communication structure--this learning system relies on 151 word or diagrammatic models that cover topics such as delegation, change management, staff training, motivation and development. “In short, the models function as guides to management, thought and action.”

Two frequent criticisms of typical training and/or development programs include:

1. Too much information is presented in too little time, resulting in most of the delivered information running off the participants’ brains like rain water.

2. A potential conflict exists between the ingrained habits and behaviors accumulated during the vast number of hours spent at work compared to the relatively few hours invested in training programs to modify those habits. This overbalance is called the stimulus fraction.

Do The Math

A quick calculation reveals that people who work 40 hours per week for a full year (50 weeks) have 2,000 hours during which they “learn” their jobs (and develop habits, good or bad), in contrast to perhaps only 16 hours spent in a two-day training session. What complicates matters, Hook argues, is that behaviors derived from life experiences are just as influential on job performance, so the actual ratio is 233,600:16 (hours) for a 40-year-old employee (16 waking hours x 365 days x 40 years of living). It’s easy to see from this example that a small amount of intensive training isn’t likely to have a long-lasting impact on old habits.

To remedy this condition, the 151 models create a communications structure--a type of alphabet--that everyone understands: a shared “language” that deals with almost any management issue that may arise. Figure 1 is an example of a word model, while Figure 2 represents a diagrammatic model, in this case, the Main Event Compass.

Once this language is in place, each of the 40-year-old employee’s 233,600 hours of experience can be identified, first, with one model in particular, and then organized within several other related models, allowing the employee to identify where he or she is conceptually strong, or in need of training. Because the training is presented using the same shared language (models), learning becomes much more efficient and effective.

Leveraging these outcomes addresses the too-much, too-little training dilemma by allowing the training period to be extended: as little as one hour per session spread over a span of 20 weeks. The models-as-language approach ensures that what is being taught actually is remembered by the participants, whose habits and behaviors may begin to change immediately.

The continuing existence of systems like Model-Netics and the Manager’s Toolbox should indicate to managers that including visual methods when selecting or designing training and development programs has the potential to improve the actual amount of learning that takes place.

Work cited:

Main Event Management Corporation. (1984). Introduction to Model-Netics. Sacramento, California: Author.

Kim S. Uhlik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Management at San Jose State University. He can be reached via e-mail at

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