Train or Die!

I have been deeply involved in recruiting in helping to build a construction renovation company.  Anyone that is looking for help knows how difficult the current market is for finding talented help.  There is simply not enough qualified and experienced candidates for the positions that are open.  

In past years, finding new help was rather easy.  There always seemed to be sufficient candidates in the labor market seeking employment opportunities.  Often these positions would be filled by word of mouth referrals or employment ads and we would interview, select the best candidate and then simply get them plugged in.  Today, the labor market is stretched extremely thin.  Rather than finding a great candidate, we are often stuck with settling for what is available.  

The bad news is that, looking forward, I believe this tight labor market will not change.

So what is the best solution to this problem?  Companies need talented folks, often with specialized skills.  If you are able to find experienced candidates, they will likely bust your compensation structure.  Or they may come with serious baggage.  Or they may be someone elses problem that they jettisoned.  What do you do?

I believe that we are moving into an era where training and mentoring will be the most important focus of a successful company.  We must have the programs and a company culture in place to train, prepare and raise up talent from within our organizations.  We cannot rely on simply seeking new help from the traditional labor market.  Most companies have some training protocol for new hires and existing employees.  I believe most of these programs will fall far short in this new normal.  Most organizations will need to shift the entire company culture to place valuable time and resources on training and mentoring to grow, or just even sustain, their businesses.  Here are a few areas of focus:

Written Policies and Procedures

In order to teach you need a textbook or a place to store information.  Additionally, all team members need to be conducting themselves in a organized and cohesive manner to ensure best results.  I used to coach basketball and the players would often get out of the offense and start to freelance.  When this happened, I would call time out and get them to huddle up and tell them this: If you continue to get out of the offense I cannot help you win the game.  You will be on your own.  You may win or you may not.  If you don’t follow the plays I have no way of really analyzing what we need to do to win.  I can’t help you. It will be a free for all and I will become nothing but a spectator.  Same is true without written policies and procedures.  In order to train and mentor you need the approved and best practices documented.  Verbal teaching is great but they will only remember part of the instruction.  They will forget.  Documenting all policies and procedures is a beast.  At a previous employer, I coordinated, wrote and edited a 600 page policies and procedures manual that included all processes of the company.  In order to complete the task, we divided it up by each departments and I edited the content for clarity and continuity and we used the same format for each procedural element.  This is a big job, yet it is absolutely necessary to provide structure for training.

A Complete Shift Of Culture To Training

Training must be constant and be present up and down in the chain of command.  The excuse that you don’t have time to train needs to be abolished completely.  Everyone is a trainer.  All team members must stop and take the time to teach, explain, model and mentor.  This can only be accomplished by reinforcing and believing in the true value and importance of training starting at the top of the organization and then emanating down through all levels of the organization.  Every person must teach and help to lift others up.  Abolish the typical HR training responsibility and spread the responsibility across the entire company.

Model Successful Behaviors

Bring your assistants and new recruits to higher level and sensitive meetings and strategy sessions so they can see how you handle different situations.  I didn’t realize the power of this until later in my career.  My team members would let me know later that they learned a particular technique by watching the way I handled some tough situations.  It may not be the most efficient way by having extra bodies and it may change the dynamics of the room a bit but these situational opportunities are infinitely valuable.  A quick debrief after will also assist in cementing these learned strategies in their memories.

Formal Training Programs

Many companies have training programs that are generic and really lack the proper amount of focus to their particular operations and issues that need to be addressed.  Training should focus on real company issues that are real, reoccurring and causing damage to the company.  Focus on the areas that will bring the greatest results.  Training should not be developed by the training department or HR.  They can help coordinate, but the best training is designed by each department to handle specific issues.  This will provide actual, positive and scalable results.  Developing training is not easy.  Just putting on a video and having a little multiple choice test is not enough.  Training must be precisely targeted.  Training should stretch you.  It should be difficult.  It should make you a little uncomfortable.  Role playing exercises are extremely effective.  Develop scenarios of problems with characters and have them act out ways to respond to the problems.  Leadership training is also extremely valuable.  The most successful businesses are led by accomplished leaders and most folks leadership skills need serious help.

Create A Cohesive Team Environment

The best training companies have strong company cultures where everyone is working together with clear goals and expectations.  A previous employer called me a cheerleader for the company as I understood the importance of this characteristic.  If you have a cohesive unit, they will naturally help and teach each other.  If the goals and expectations are clear, there is no question what the next step in required skills for your career path or any hesitancy in exercising these new skills.  Leaders need to build strong bonds and reward behaviors that help to strengthen the group.  There is no force greater than a team that cares for each other and works together for a common goal.

These are a few of the major items that will help to foster an environment of continual training.  As a life long learner, I have experienced the power in mastering new skills.  I have personally witnessed the power of learning new skills and the associated resulting career advancement.  Additionally, I have been rewarded with gratitude from former team mates who learned specific and valuable skills as I took the time to teach throughout my career.  Don’t let this opportunity go to waste.  You have a captive audience in employing your team.  Take every opportunity to teach and stretch your team so they will grow and mature into tomorrows leaders.  You really have no choice.  Training is no longer an option. The plug and play days are gone.  Move on to the new normal of raising up your leaders from within your organization.  Train or die!  

So what do you think? Have you also experienced this tight labor market? Do you have a success story or solution you would like to share? Please click on “Leave a Comment” and let me know what you think!

Don’t Do This When People Make Mistakes

We all screw up sometime.  Maybe a careless moment or a poor evaluation of the circumstance.  There are consequences when mistakes are made.  I have been “blessed” many times with being clean-up crew when there is a big mess that needs to be cleaned up.

The fact is mistakes are how we learn.  I have really come to realize this as I have gotten older and gained more experience. There are so many times I get that “deja vu” feeling because I am in a similar circumstance I’ve been before and I remember the proper way to navigate out of it.  Experience is huge and you can’t always make up for it.

I have watched mistakes happen and I have watched how various leaders handle the problem.  There is one thing that I have learned that never seems to work in fixing a mess.  This is using blame.

When you are in the midst of fixing a bad situation the worst thing you can do is to immediately go to blame.  There is a time and a place to analyze and discuss the failures that led to the problem, but going to blame will only magnify the issue.

You will likely isolate the person who messed up.

They will feel that it was all their fault.

They will feel attacked.

They will not be in an effective position to help you fight your way out of the mess.

When one of your reports messes up its for a reason, in the vast majority of cases, the person responsible for the screw up is the person you see in the mirror.  They were not trained properly.  They were overwhelmed and you should have provided help. They weren’t ready for the assignment.  They didn’t have the proper resources.  It’s not them- it’s you!

So why are we quick to blame?  It’s our own ego and pride response.  We blame to protect ourselves.  Protect our perfect standing.  It couldn’t be me?  I did everything right!

After the dust settles and emotions die down, then you can take a look at the mistakes that were made.  The only way for learning is to confront the mistakes that were made and make changes so they don’t happen again.  This is the learning experience.  This is life.  The best lessons are learned out of pain.  It’s not fun- but it’s true.  When you have a mess, concentrate on clean up.  Jump in and help make it right.  Then, after things are fixed, take a good look at what happened and fix the problem.  Time to heal allows for objectivity and reflection.

Stay away from blame.  When you feel like you need to play the blame card- STOP AND THINK- about your role in the problem and understand what you are really doing when you blame.  A great leader will accept responsibility.  They understand that they are not perfect.  They are emotionally mature enough to know that they can make mistakes sometimes and they accept the failures of their reports.

Jump in and fix the problem.  Keep your mouth shut.  Talk about what happened later.

So what do you think?  Have you worked with a “blamer” before?  Do you see the connection between blame and pride?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!

Ambushed!

Last week I met with a woman on our team at work.  This meeting was long overdue.  We have been very busy lately dealing with problems and putting out fires.  This was a meeting to discuss process improvement, which seems to take a back seat when you are busy doing “the work”.  I had several items that I knew that we needed to work on.  None of my stuff was really dramatic.  Mainly just tweaking what we were doing now.

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I reviewed my items and she also shared some things that were helpful in refining our processes.  After we completed our review, she turned to me and said, “I have a couple more things that are not on the list”.  Then she started to share how she felt that our on-boarding process has been poorly executed.  She also shared that she felt a disconnect between the field staff and the office staff.  She shared that the office didn’t have the feeling of family that we had before the recession.

Ouch!  This caught me a bit off guard.  I was ambushed!  Yet, after considering her observations, I was in complete agreement.  And, it was exactly what I needed to hear.  Things are different, and not necessarily in a good way.  And most disturbing- I have always championed team building.  My boss calls me the cheerleader.  This is what I do.  And I have been seriously neglecting this role.

Isn’t it funny how we will often overlook something that is one of our strengths? Like it will just take care of itself? 

We wrapped up our meeting and I realized that the process improvement stuff was really minor compared to the things she shared.  I was very grateful that she had the courage to call me out on these items.  It was exactly what I needed.  A wake up call.  A reminder to refocus.  Get back to what I do that really matters.  Get back to serving and quit worrying about “feeding the beast”.

The reality is that problems will come and go.  They rarely make a lasting impression in your life.  What really matters is the story that you are writing as you touch the lives of others.  It’s so easy to let the activities of life cloud your focus.  Every so often it’s good to stop and assess where your at and where you are focussing your efforts.  If you ignore what is good, healthy, and lasting-  be prepared.  You are likely to get ambushed!

What do you think?  Have you been “ambushed” before?  Click on “Leave a comment” and tell me what you think!

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