How to Make a Habit of Cultivating

People generally don’t like change. On the other hand, one of life’s intrinsic motivators is “Mastery” or the desire to get better at things. That’s why people will spend countless hours practicing and playing an instrument with no intent they will ever make a dime at it professionally. Or, how many people play video games professionally? or golf? You get the idea.

Think about that, though. If I improve at something, isn’t that growth? And, isn’t growth, by definition, equal to change? Well, if I find it motivating to get better at things (or grow = change), but I don’t like change, isn’t that a contradiction? It sure seems like it. Maybe the question is, “what does it mean when people say they don’t like change?”

Several years ago my wife and I were having lunch with another couple who were friends of ours. We were talking about personal growth and development. At one point in the conversation my friend’s wife made a telling comment. She said, “If growth means I have to experience any pain, then I’m fine just the way I am.” Bingo! It’s likely what people don’t like is not the change, but the anticipated “pain” we often associate with growth.

What Pain?

We love the flower or the food we get from plants, the result of the growth. So we cultivate. Cultivating means to prepare the soil for planting and to promote the growth of the plants. We prepare soil by breaking it up and introducing fertilizer. What’s the best fertilizer? To put it nicely, dung. To promote growth we make sure to plant the seed where it will be exposed to rain and sunlight. We also pull up any weeds that may start to grow in the vicinity and we often need to prune the plant as it grows. Pruning is cutting away growth that is not healthy for the plant. Wow! “Breaking up, dung, rain, pulling, cutting away,” Ouch! Growth can involve pain . . . “No pain, no gain” so the saying goes.

The pain for us may come in the form of feedback from co-workers that identifies an area where we need to grow. It may come from a boss in the form of an evaluation or discipline. It could come from a mistake we make that identifies a deficiency. It’s often said that failure is a great teacher. None of these is particularly pleasant. But, they are often the beginning of growth.

Putting it to Work

The Engager Dynamic called Cultivate is all about creating an environment at work that promotes growth. The first step is to make the pain bearable. Really, you’re just changing people’s perception of it. If you make continuous improvement part of your culture, if “we get better” is just “how we do things around here,” then feedback, evaluation, and even failure become normal. When they become normal, they seem less painful and can even become as welcome as eating healthily or a morning workout. To achieve this you must allow freedom for mistakes and failure without retribution as necessary steps of improvement. Failing forward is part of a continuous improvement culture.

Making it a Habit

Once you’ve removed the fear of punishment for mistakes, the environment will be much more conducive to growth. The following three elements will promote learning and development for your team.

  1. Exposure – give your people the opportunity to be exposed to new things. Take someone to a meeting they don’t usually attend. Give them a chance to spend time in another job or department for a day. Introduce them to someone who is an expert in an area of their interest. I put this element first because often this exposure excites a motivation for the next.
  2. Education – having been exposed to something of interest, people are often filled with questions to which they sincerely want answers. Now they’re ready to go to “class.” This may be in the form of online learning, or in-person classes your company offers. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money to send someone to a seminar or class or school if your company offers tuition reimbursement. On the other hand, it may be a simple as letting them spend time with a mentor. NOTE: too often, leaders make the mistake of thinking Education is the totality of Learning and Development. They believe if they send someone to a class and they get a certificate, then they should know everything they need to know. In fact, education is only about 20% of the learning package.
  3. Experiences – here is where you really get the benefit. Focus up to 70% of your development plan on providing opportunities for your people to put into practice what they’re learning. We retain only about 50% of what we see and hear. We retain over 80% of what we experience for ourselves. Give people guided experience at leading meetings. putting together presentations, whatever their learning path is about. As I suggested in my post on Training, if you really want them to know their stuff, let them teach you or someone else what they’re learning. We retain 95% of what we teach.

Weave these elements into the every day routine of your organization or team and you will have a thriving garden of engaged, productive people.

How to Make a Habit of Training

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle

In my post on the Engager Dynamic – Train, I said that one of the mistakes leaders often make, when it comes to training, is to delegate it entirely to someone else. I believe it’s a mistake because there is no better time to make a strong connection with someone than when they’re learning something they care about from you. Employees care about learning what they need to be successful in their new job.

You don’t have to be the one who teaches them everything they need to know to be successful. Pick one thing you’re an expert at and spend some time with employees training them on that.

I know of one company, the largest of its kind in the country, where the CEO takes over an hour to engage with every New Employee Orientation class. His purpose is to share the history of the company which is over 50 years old and to connect with the group on what the company’s mission means to him. It’s genius! It doesn’t hurt that he’s a charismatic salesman, but the head of the company making himself available to it’s newest employees is training of the highest order. This is a leader who is an engager. He makes a connection with every new employee by inspiring them with the company mission.

Make it a Habit

What are the skills that got you to your current role? What are you best at? Chances are they’re things you care about so this should be fun. Pick one of those skills. Now ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why is this skill important?
  2. How did I learn this skill? (Not just who taught you but what steps did    you go through in the learning process?)
  3. What does excellent look like for this skill?

Now you have an outline to a training. Take some notes. Write down why the skill is important, how it connects to the mission/vision of the organization and what it does personally for the people who develop it.

Question number 3 above gives you what educators call a learning objective. Write this down next. When you’re training someone it’s good to let them know ahead of time what they’ll be able to do once they’ve completed the training.

Now, break down the skill into steps. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Have you ever been in a meeting where they did an icebreaker about giving or following directions? I’ve seen ones where you had to guide a blindfolded person through a maze with only verbal directions, or where you’ve had to write directions to building a Lego toy, or describe to someone how to draw a picture you’re looking at. It can be pretty funny because of how difficult it is to give clear directions.

You might want to try a “wax-on-wax-off” drill to improve this step. Write down the steps involved in brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Try it with several everyday things you do. Now, ask someone else to follow your written directions. Have some fun with it until you’re pretty good at writing clear, step-by-step instructions. Now, go back and re-write the steps to the skill you’re training on.

Put it to Work

You now have the most of a training prepared. You can put it into a Power Point presentation or simply organize your notes. Decide how long it will take to go through what you’ve put together. Figure out what hands-on practice you should provide as part of the training. Is this skill best learned one-on-one or can you train a group?

Now you need (a) trainee(s). Which of the people on your team could use the opportunity to develop this skill? Schedule time with them and go through your training. Receive their feedback and observe them using the skill later. What might you do to improve the training?

Finally, like the leader at the company I mentioned above, you may want to get yourself scheduled into New Employee Orientation as a regular presentation. To build on what Aristotle said, becoming excellent and helping people become excellent will make you a powerful engager.

Train – Engager Dynamic #2

I can lay out clear expectations, be consistent with them and get all that right, but if my people don’t know the skills or how to perform the work they will never meet those expectations. So, the next Engager Dynamic is Training people how to meet your expectations.

An Example

Let’s use an acute care Hospital Environmental Services (housekeeping) department as an example. One of the responsibilities in this department is to clean the patient room after the patient has gone home to prepare it for the next patient. This is called a “Discharge Clean.” Now, I can explain the expectations; the room will look a certain way (even show a picture) when it’s done, it will pass a 14 point cleanliness inspection, and be completed within 30 minutes. Those are pretty clear, specific expectations. Everyone in the department would have to meet the same expectations so they are consistent. But, if I just communicate the expectations and walk away the employee will never be able to meet them. They don’t know how to perform the tasks and processes necessary to meet those expectations. I have to train them.

Step by Step

Early in my career I learned a 5-step training process that has served this dynamic well. The steps are as follows.

1. Tell Them – In this step you verbally explain everything needed to do the job. This will include the names of equipment, the tools necessary, how to operate them. Also important in this step is to explain why each step in this job is necessary and how this task contributes to the overall success of the company. You verbally walk the employee through each step in the process explaining tasks along the way.

2. Show Them – In this step you demonstrate what you have explained verbally. This can be done with training videos or in person. I prefer to do it in person in the environment where the employee will actually perform the work. You can have a skilled employee demonstrate the process and steps while you narrate or you can demonstrate yourself providing narration as you go.

3. Do it With Them – Here you will perform the job while the employee mimics you alongside. As you go through this step be sure to reinforce not only what needs to be done but also why and how it fits into the overall success of the company. This will provide memory pegs that will aid in learning and is also part of another Engager Dynamic called “Inspire” that we’ll discuss later.

4. Watch Them – In this step the employee performs the job by themselves while you observe. During this step ask questions to guide the employee if they are struggling and/or to continue reinforcing the whole learning process. It’s particularly helpful to ask questions about why each step is done

5. Have Them Teach You – In this step you switch roles. You have the employee pretend you are a new employee and they are the trainer. Have them teach you what they have learned. They should be able to go through the same process with you that you have gone through with them.

This is a basic training outline. Depending upon the complexity of the job, the prerequisite education or skills for the job, the learning pace of each employee, the amount of autonomy in the job, and other factors, this process could take hours, days, or weeks. You may need to go through the process more than once or repeat certain steps. It’s sometimes a good idea to break the steps up over a few days in order to help entrench the learning. Training is never a one-and-done proposition. In fact, one of the definitions of “Train” is,

“To teach (a person or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time.”

Once this outlined process has been completed, competence should be tested by you, the leader and cross-checked by another leader or skilled employee within two weeks and again at 30 days to assure the employee has learned the job.

Mistakes to Avoid

Leaders often make two critical mistakes when it comes to this Engager Dynamic. One of those mistakes is to rush the training process. Often we need the person up and running immediately so the temptation is to run them through some form of training, assume they’ve got it and send them on their way. Training is what Steven Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, called a Quadrant 2 activity. It is extremely important but not urgent in the same way as a ringing phone or getting to a meeting on time or someone stopping by to ask a question seems urgent. Do not let anything distract you from investing the necessary time and effort into training. It will pay dividends in the long run by preventing errors that could cost a lot of time and money.

A second critical mistake is to delegate the teaching entirely to someone else. This dynamic is listed on the Connector axis of the Leadership matrix. That is for a couple of reasons. First, when a company invests the time, money, and effort into a robust training program for both new hires and for continuing growth (see Engager Dynamic “Cultivate” –  coming soon) of existing employees, the message is “This is a great company; we believe in you and are glad you’re here.” This goes a long way in helping employees feel connected to the company and it’s values and purpose. The second reason Teaching is listed under Connection is that the time invested directly by the leader is the first real opportunity to develop a connection with the new employee. Leaders who are Engagers recognize the value of that connection and devote the necessary time to their people.

Think of It This Way

Another definition of “Train” is “To point or aim something (typically a gun or camera) at.” Think of it this way, when you take the time to properly train someone, you’re aiming them (and your organization) at success.