One of the foundational principles of adult learning is: “Adults need to know why they are being asked to learn.” Many times when promoting training opportunities, we fail to mention the “why”; and as a result, employees show up with a less-than-enthusiastic attitude.
Consider including the “why” in your promotional materials. You do not have to go into elaborate detail, but it is important to provide information that meets this foundational learning principle. To see what I mean, take a look at these two versions of a training announcement.
You are required to attend: Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
Date: March 14, 2013
Time: 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Location: Training Room B
This training is mandatory.
In order to promote a safe and respectful workplace, we are providing Sexual Harassment Prevention Training on March 14, 2013.
Time: 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Location: Training Room B
Since our leadership teams wants everyone in our organization to contribute to moving forward our mission and vision of a safe and respectful workplace, the training is required for all employees.
See the difference? With just a few more words, the second training announcement has provided a “why.” Employees have clearer expectations about the purpose of the training event, which will cause them to show up with diminished fears and less anxiety. That means more energies will be available for focusing on course content, application, and transfer of knowledge.
“On the one hand, we need proven tools that can help people focus their energies strategically and tactically without letting anything fall through the cracks. On the other, we need to create work environments and skills that will keep the most invested people from burning out due to stress. I don’t want to waste time thinking about things more than once. That’s an inefficient use of creative energy and a source of frustration and stress.”
– David Allen: Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
(David Allen writes about the value of a ‘trick” – like leaving your briefcase by the front door so you won’t forget it when you leave the house. My digital recorder container, which you will read about below, is such a “trick”.)
There are two kinds of people. The organized and the slobs. They usually marry each other.
My wife is the organized one. I am the slob.
For example, when we went on our last vacation, she prepared a half-day by half-day itinerary. You know, a very highly-organized schedule. I figured out how to upload it into my iPhone, and we simply checked the schedule every day to get going. It was a wonderful vacation, seeing things and doing things that we would not have included without her research and organization.
If I had been in charge of the vacation, there would have been a whole lot more “what do you want to do today” moments, with time just kind of disappearing by indecision.
Her way is better.
In the past, I lost lots of things. Sometimes, for short times, sometimes for long periods. I finally asked my wife to help me.
For example, I use a specific digital recorder once a month. I used to frantically search for it, practically every month. (I told you – I’m a slob). Now, it has its own specific place to rest during the month. And, more importantly, it rests in a neat little black-webbed, zippered container. The recorder is in the container. Now, I see that container, and remember “that’s the digital recorder.” I no longer search for it when I need it – I just get it from its place. I have other items, each with their own unique containers. I cannot tell you how much better my life works with these little organizational tricks.
Think about the organizational processes at your work. Does everything have its place? Does every chunk of time have its plan, in advance, so that you know what you will do with your next chunk of time?
Organized is better. Less clutter is better than more slob-ness. You really will get more done.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
I was listening to Colin Cowherd’s radio show “The Herd” on ESPN Radio while I was driving the other day. Colin was interviewing Terrell Owens, and he asked Terrell a very fascinating question.
“What would the 39-year-old Terrell Owens tell the 29-year-old Terrell Owens? What have you learned over the last ten years that you wish you would have known then?” (I thought it was an excellent question. Don’t you?)
His answer was underwhelming, to say the least. He laughed and said, “Well, nothing really.”
Colin was incredulous. I was astounded. I couldn’t believe it.
Nothing? Really?!? You mean in ten years you haven’t learned ANYTHING?
I don’t know about you, but if the 49-year-old Mike could talk to the 39-year-old Mike, I would have a lot (and I do mean a lot!) to tell him.
I think that question raises an important point, not just about life, but about how we improve as leaders. As much as I believe in the importance of reading, attending workshops, and learning about leadership styles, philosophies, etc…. the reality is that all of these things are not enough to make you a better leader. They are “critical, but insufficient.”
To actually be a better leader, you have to perform better. You have to be able to model the way—more effectively than you did last time. You have to be a better catalyst for change than you were the last time. You have to handle the next crisis better than you handled the last one. Leaders have to lead the way—even in having a quest for continuous improvement.
Harvard Business Review recently reported on a study that identified the common traits of high-ranking executives of Fortune 500 companies who had been fired. High on the list of common characteristics was a tendency to tolerate their own mediocre performances and not learn from their mistakes.
Most of us would agree that Terrell Owens has made a few mistakes. We all have. Leaders make mistakes. The key thing, though, is to be honest with yourself and with others—and learn. Improve. Get better. Growing leaders ruthlessly review their own performances. Deliberately. They scrutinize it like Peyton Manning reviewing film from last week’s game.
Read some good leadership books, dialogue with other leaders, and attend some workshops. Those are all important things. However, in order to get the maximum benefit from it all, reflect on each leadership situation that you faced with the intent to improve and you will truly grow as a leader.
So as a leader, what lessons have you learned that you wish you would have known ten years ago?
Organizations love the media when they want to promote an upcoming community event; but one thing I’ve noticed working in the news industry (and working with local government officials) is that some public sector workers are petrified of the media in those not-so-nice situations.
Maybe it’s because they’ve watched too much Nancy Grace. Or maybe they were victims of a sensational local reporter who turned a fire drill into an all-out public panic. Unfortunately, there are these types of extremists in the news industry; but for the most part, the media has the same purpose as you—serving the public.
The secret to having a healthy relationship with the media is to think of them as acquaintances—not best friends, not enemies—acquaintances. Think about how you treat acquaintances. You are cordial to them, yet still cautious to reveal your whole life story to them.
Keeping that in mind and remembering these main pointers will help you avoid a bad media encounter.
- Know what you’re talking about.
This should go without saying. Be knowledgeable about the topic at hand and be prepared for any tough questions that may arise from it.
- Don’t start rambling.
Stay on topic at all times and don’t go off on tangents. The bait used for this is “the long pause”, where the interviewer just stares and nods at you in silence (if it’s a face-to-face interview) to make you uncomfortable and start speaking. Don’t fall for it.
- “No comment” makes your organization look guilty.
It’s generally not a good idea to answer, “No comment” to a reporter. Not responding to allegations allows the reporter to control and run with the story. If you cannot disclose details of the matter, explain that an investigation is ongoing and more details will be released once they become available.
- Stay calm.
Losing your cool can change a reporter’s “non-story” into the top story. No matter how frustrating the interviewer is being, keep your composure and stick to the facts.
- Assume there is no such thing as “off the record”.
Just because you say “off the record” before making a statement doesn’t mean that the reporter can’t use that information. The reporter has to mutually agree that what you disclose will not be used in the report. Even then, it’s only up to the reporter’s ethics to keep his/her word.
How do you deal with the media and what else would you add to this list?
There are many lessons in life that can be learned in a very short period of time.
When I was five years old, I was sitting on the counter watching my mom bake cookies. I put my hand down to balance myself as I leaned in to watch her mix the dough. Unfortunately, I put my hand down on a burner that she had just turned off. Don’t worry – no permanent damage was done! However, a permanent life lesson was learned. Over 40 years later – I still have not touched another hot stove burner!
If only all life lessons came so easily, especially when it comes to the workplace. How often have we looked at a direct report and thought to ourselves, “How many times do I have to show you how to do this?” or “We’ve had training on this a dozen times and you still don’t get it?!”
The truth is – employees need to consistently be reminded of why an organization exists and how it functions. Otherwise, they simply forget. Organizations of excellence engage their employees on a regular basis and encourage them to process “this is why we’re here” conversations via dialogue, training, development, etc. Additionally, those same organizations keep reminding employees of what is expected of them, not in a threatening way, but in an encouraging way – by setting the bar high as a means of giving employees something to reach for and take pride in.
It is not enough to dust off those mission and vision statements and core values and rally the troops once a year. Instead, managers and supervisors must strive to keep the organization’s mission, vision, and core values (components of the organization’s business strategy) in front of employees a minimum of once every three weeks. The mission, vision, and core competencies should also be a central part of employee performance reviews, team meetings, project management, etc. By consistently keeping the business strategy before employees, managers and supervisors effectively communicate the consistent reminder, “This is how we do business around here.” Without such reminders, employees flounder and, if left to their own devices, will begin checking out emotionally and possibly leave the organization in search of something more meaningful.
Your employees will learn plenty of quick lessons, e.g., how to drive a truck; how to balance a budget; or how to properly fill out a form. However, keeping employees fully engaged in your business strategy… well, that requires your full attention. By the way, an occasional batch of cookies wouldn’t hurt – just be sure to warn everyone about the hot burners first.
How do you innovate? First, try to get in trouble. I mean serious, but not terminal, trouble. “When life gives you a lemon …” It is a well-known trick that if you need something urgently done, give the task to the busiest (or second busiest) person in the office.
Most humans manage to squander their free time, as free time makes them dysfunctional, lazy, and unmotivated—the busier they get, the more active they are at other tasks. Further, my characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the “victims” of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather.
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
Get in trouble. Go for stress. On purpose. That’s the path to better days ahead. Don’t be fragile. Be antifragile. (Antifragile — imagine a box that you mail with this stamped on it: “please mishandle”).
So, Antifragile is quite a read. Complicated, silly, arrogant, complex, profound… it is almost indescribable. I remember in one of Scott Peck’s books he described how the book-sellers never quite knew where to shelve his books. Is Antifragile a business book? Yes, no, I don’t really know…
Here is what he says. If you coast, you get lazy, and weak. You are tested by tests… stresses. And these stresses make you stronger. Until they don’t, and then you crater. So, you want just enough stress to get stronger (which is a lot of stress to make you much, much stronger), but not enough to “break” you.
You know, from Nietzsche: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” (Though Taleb argues that this does not quite get it right…)
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
“The first task of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say ‘Thank You.’ In between he becomes a servant and a debtor.” – Max DePree
I read that line in Leadership is an Art many years ago. Since then, I’ve read thousands of pages in books and blogs on leadership, but that quote remains my all-time favorite. I love to ask young leaders, “What do you think it means?” This is how the discussion usually goes.
Define Reality? “Oh, that’s vision.” Check.
Servant? “Oh, that’s Servant Leadership. I get that.” Check.
Thank You? “Polite. Don’t be rude.” Check.
Debtor? “Debtor? Really? Must be a trick question.”
Sometimes they will ask, “What’s the context?”
I reply, “It’s the first paragraph. That is the context.”
Puzzled consternation follows.
Eventually, to help thaw the brain freeze, I ask (as DePree did), “What do leaders owe?”
We often think about leadership as a position or a privilege. Sometimes we think about what leaders possess, such as charisma, wisdom, or drive. But, isn’t it true that leaders are debtors? Just as a new car starts to depreciate the moment we drive it off the parking lot, DePree suggested that the moment a person is placed in a position of leadership he/she is in debt. Why? What do leaders owe?
When we frame the question that way, people usually start by saying, “Leaders owe gratitude because they are dependent upon others to get the job done.”
That’s right. Keep going. What else?
What things would be on your list? Here are a few things that DePree said that leaders owe.
- Leaders owe maturity.
When everything goes wrong, we may want to lose our composure and throw a fit, but we owe people a lot more than that. In fact, it’s when a full-blown crisis breaks out that maturity is needed the most. Leaders owe that.
- Leaders owe a certain rationality.
Information is power, and leaders owe followers information so that when they try to understand “what” and “why”, the answer has a ring of rationality to it. Withholding information so that people have to follow because they don’t understand isn’t inspiring. It’s demoralizing.
- Leaders owe followers the chance to do their best.
Excellence inspires others. Mediocrity doesn’t. When leaders hold themselves accountable to perform at a high level, they model the way. Followers will not consistently rise above their leaders. As a leader, if you want your followers to excel, make sure that you are never the one holding them back.
That’s a partial answer to what leaders owe. What else would you add to the list?
You may have a designated training room. You may end up training in whichever room is available. If you’re lucky, you’re giving input on a new training room that is in the works! My hunch is the last scenario is on the wish list for most of us, but since that is probably not the case, here are a few pointers on creating the best space for your training sessions.
- Don’t design your training space in a way that limits creativity.
Consider a room that’s square rather than rectangular. The former allows the trainer to be close to the entire audience. The latter makes it difficult for all participants to feel engaged. Also, think outside of the box and use two rooms for a training event –one that is used for presentation, and another that is used for small group discussion or breaks. Other creativity killers include limiting yourself to projecting video on the same wall, or tying a presenter to a podium with a three-foot long microphone cord.
- Stretch your budget dollars by thinking long-term.
For example, if you are considering ceiling speakers, you may want to reconsider. Portable sound systems are more durable and affordable than ever and may be used in numerous contexts. I know the touch pad screens that control every device in the room are really cool –but in my humble opinion, cost effectiveness, flexibility, and engaged participants trump gadgetry.If the budget is really tight, consider something as simple as a new coat of paint. In Raymond Noe’s Employee Training and Development, he recommends pastel hues such as oranges, greens, blues and yellows. He notes, “Variations of white are cold and sterile. Blacks and brown shades will close the room in psychologically and become fatiguing”
- Be prepared. Be overly prepared.
It’s always a good idea to stay two steps ahead of the presenter. Having wireless internet access and some sort of table is a good place to start, but also provide a backup of everything the presenter requests for his or her presentation. Many presenters bring speakers, a laptop, cables, an extension cord, etc., but many do not. Preparing for the unprepared is always in your best interest. Each presenter will have a different preference, so double-check beforehand.And don’t forget the snacks! Food is one sure thing that brings people together. If you won’t be able to provide any, let the participants know they are welcome to bring their own.
Last weekend, I facilitated a City Council retreat for one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. It was a city that considers excellence the routine floor to work from, not an unattainable goal to simply strive for. During the course of the retreat, there was some reflection upon their rapid transformation from a small rural farm community into one of the premier cities in the nation.
Certainly, regional growth patterns contributed to their success; but while many cities experience rapid growth, only a few achieve sustainable excellence. I work with city council’s all over the nation and a consistent pattern is very clear. Sustainable excellence is always accompanied by the following key characteristics:
- A compelling strategic vision shared by elected officials and city management of what they want the future to look like and a realistic game plan to get there.
- Elected officials who understand their role as strategic thinkers and vision casters and enforcers of the mission, vision and values. Elected officials who abandon this top level responsibility by trying to do the city manager’s job ensure a culture of mediocrity and that their vision will never become reality.
- An effective citizen engagement plan to ensure that the community has meaningful input and buy-in to the vision. Great visions are not cost free, but most citizens are willing to pay the price for pursuing excellence if they have bought into the legitimacy of the process that produced the vision.
- The political will to make decisions based on a fifty-year time horizon, rather than the next election.
- The courage to stand strong and do what they know is right for the future despite threats and bullying from CAVE men (citizens against virtually everything) and articulate incompetents (those who make doing the wrong thing sound SO right). Those who get satisfaction from destroying rather than building are always the loudest, but volume rarely equates to what is best for the overall community.
The question is not whether your city can achieve excellence (you can) –the question is whether you truly aspire for excellence. And if you do, it’s a matter of whether your council/manager team is willing to follow a proven formula for achieving sustainable excellence, or whether you are going to keep doing business like you always have and remain trapped in a world where tomorrow looks just like yesterday.