Thursday, December 23, 2010

Moving forward to an older model

It's perhaps appropriate that I should be formulating these thoughts at Christmas time. According to Christian beliefs, Jesus was a carpenter before he embarked on his three years of ministry. Why? Because his Dad was a carpenter. That was pretty much the way things were done all those many years ago. When you were old enough, you went to work with your Dad and you learnt his trade from him. I'm not quite sure what happened if you were the son of a carpenter, but you really wanted to be a farmer. Perhaps, if you had understanding parents, they went and had a word with a local farmer and arranged an apprenticeship for you.

Of course, there were gender inequality issues, and certain choices were only available to one gender or the other, but girls learned from their mothers how to dye cloth, make clothing, prepare meals, etc.

There were no exams.

In the middle ages, it was much the same. Experienced stonemasons taught would-be stonemasons, skilled glassblowers taught apprentice glassblowers, and so on. People learned their craft from someone who already knew how it was done. No doubt there were those with great potential and those with less. No doubt there were those who quickly outstripped their teachers, and no doubt said teachers reacted with varying degrees of grace (or lack thereof). No doubt some teachers were kind, while others were cruel.

Today's employee is (hopefully) more empowered than the apprentice of yesteryear, so perhaps the vagaries of the 'master's' temperament can be thus addressed. And there is so much that can be achieved with the implementation of a variation on this model. Learning from someone who is more experienced has got to be more effective, more timely than waiting weeks before going on a generic course. Progressing at your own pace with your own personal mentor, who gains kudos from your achievements. Asking the bloke at the next desk leads to an answer which can be implemented right away: quick win, uninterrupted workflow. What's not to like?

With the speed of change and technological innovation, who's got the time to put together a slick learning resource before something changes again anyway?

My thoughts along these lines put me in mind of a conversation I had recently with some L&D leaders about redundancies.

Think about it like this. The economy is rough. You've got to lose half your team. You've got two senior members earning an fair amount, and several inexperienced folks who are still learning the ropes. After a fair amount of thought, you are able to identify the stronger performers from among the more junior team members, and you cut the rest. But you still have to lose one of your senior members. One of them churns out work like a machine. The other seems to a spend a fair amount of time chatting to the newer staff members and his work rate suffers as a consequence. So you decide to keep the one with the higher work rate.

And it turns out to be the biggest mistake you've ever made.


Because when he was 'chatting' with the more junior staff members, what he was actually doing was helping them come to grips with the system, teaching them a few skills, mentoring them, coaching them, turning them into productive team members. Once he goes, the morale of the whole team plummets, and the workrate follows suit. Even your star performer's workrate suffers because she's not getting the handovers from the rest of the team.

In marketing parlance, this is 'below the line' training. It just happens, because your newly unemployed staff member is naturally an enabler.

What if you turned that into a KPI? What if you actually set the expectation on every team member to contribute to team morale and development? What if you had a system by means of which team members awarded one another kudos points (or gold stars or thumbs up or something) every time they helped one another out? What if it became enviable to be the person on the team with the highest number of kudos points? What if management realised that the enablers on the team might in fact be more valuable than than those with the highest measurable output?

What if everyone shared what they learned with everyone else. What if the young techno-wizard on the team were encouraged to look at innovative ways to tackle things? What if he got to share his ideas at the weekly team meetings? What if he spent time teaching the wonderfully creative, but slightly techno-challenged member of the team?

What if everyone was teaching and everyone was learning...all the time?What if the L&D team stopped being the bottle neck, and started being the team that helped people help each other - going from being the only goal-scorer on a low scoring team to being the person with the highest number of assists on a high scoring team?

What if? What if?

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