I got this book “Learning Fundamentals” by Colin Rose and Gorden Dryden for the age group 3-6 to get some tips on how to teach my elder daughter who is nearing 4. As I read through this book, I found the section “Making the most of the activities” useful not just to coach our children but also to groom professionals to the next level in the organization to take up additional responsibilities. I will take you through the ten principles cited by the author and try to relate to the aspect of grooming a professional. The quoted text in Italics are extracted from the book.
1. Ensure Success
If your child can remember three objects in a memory game, but not four, play the game again using three things, until she is ready to try four. Success breeds a positive self-image and a willingness to keep trying and learning. Failure is demotivating.
You might have caught what I am about to write. So let me resort to a non-IT instance to add some color and to avoid being trivial up front. If I wish to perform a Classical Carnatic music concert, I can’t immediately be given a task to do the improvisations like Raga Alapana, Kalpanaswaram without understanding the intricacies of the Swaras that constitute the raga. I will only fail and lose my confidence and stick to bathroom singing.
Here comes the bland one. I cannot ask a developer who aspires to be a Design Lead but exposed only to structured programming to come and design a three-tier application on Java. He need to be taken through the concepts of Object Oriented Programming making him understand how to identify classes and their responsibilities from the requirements, what framework needs to be used, etc. It is a step-by-step process.
Somehow I can’t resist myself from preaching. Here it goes. We should assess a person’s capability and load him with the responsibilities such that he doesn’t feel overloaded or stressed. The person progresses through every step towards the new role steadily, ensuring success at every step and there by building the confidence to take-up additional responsibility. This is also applicable when we conduct training. At the end of every step, we do give practical, hands-on problems just to ensure that participants are confident and positive in achieving the overall training objective. The author also warned at “hot-housing” which is also prevalent in one form or the other in an industry set-up.
2. Give ‘just enough’ help
If you take over, saying, “Let me do it”, you convey a strong hidden message that she is not competent. On the other hand, never leave her struggling. It is also very important to constantly emphasise that mistakes are part of learning.
I became doubly conscious after reading this, both with my daughter as well as with my colleagues. It is very difficult to hold back our temptation to solve a problem rather than guiding some one to solve the problem step-by-step. I recently played a cake baking computer game with my daughter. It was so cool that I was tempted to get my hands-on. When I got my daughter to do the same, she tested my patience at every step which looked trivial to me. When I saw her delight after the computer gift-wraps her baked cake, I felt that it is worth the effort and wait.
We talk about delegation every now and then. Let me take a situation where you need to groom your subordinate ‘X’ to be the SPoC for your customer. You would like to participate in the regular status call with your customer along with X. Customer do delve deep into every single issue. You might want to jump-in with the motive of helping X. Rather you should just sit back and try to observe the thought process of X while trying to respond. This would give X a chance to think through the problem and for you to give a constructive feedback, if any, at the end. At the same time, you should also be there to render a helping hand when needed. When you feel that X is cornered by your customer, you should pitch-in to guide your X to come out of the tangle.
For a person in his debut, it is common to make mistakes while performing the responsibilities. Instead of being harsh and start criticising, we need to work with the person finding out why that mistake has occurred and how to fix it and prevent it. Yes, I am talking of causal analysis. In cricket, how many times have you watched a senior player or captain going across to a young, aggressive fast bowler on his debut who was getting hammered, to pep him up and have a couple of words. This would help your subordinate to feel that mistakes are not the end of the world.
3. Practise ‘show and tell’
She learns most, not when you are her teacher, but when you are her fellow-learner and guide. Show and tell her at the same time, then let her experiment for herself.
If I were to explain what a critical path is to a person who is groomed to prepare and manage project schedule, I cannot just talk about slack or float and network diagram. I will have to show an example, preferably a real one from my experience, assign tentative duration and dependencies for each of the tasks and take them through those terms. Similarly, if I have to explain a deadlock situation in a multi-threaded application I can not talk about resource dependency graph. I need to have a concrete example.
In training or workshop, we often get to see various case studies trainer uses to show how the concepts can be applied and/or what result we can expect if we apply them. This would be followed with the problems to solve where participants can experiment themselves independently.
4. Give her time to work it out herself
Encourage her to think things through herself. Let her correct her own efforts if possible.
This complements the aspect Give ‘just enough’ help we discussed in point number two. One talks about the quantum of help and the other talks about the quantum of time. As the productivity taken as input for estimates take into account the skill level of the person assigned the job, we would normally have time accounted for on-the-job learning. We should just ensure that the person is time conscious and result-oriented. People especially in knowledge industry, hate micro-management and expect management to give them time to think through the problem and solve by themselves.
We also come across people who tend to give-up the fight fast without putting their heart and soul to solve the problem. One should be smart enough to gauge this laziness and accordingly work with the person to make him use all the available time to analyze on their own and come up with the result.
5. Give encouragement rather than praise
Trying to succeed in order to please herself is self-motivation. Self-motivation lasts and is what she will need in later life.
It starts becoming complicated when I try to relate it to the grooming aspect. Some thoughts came controversial too while I tried to think. At first, it was difficult for me to differentiate between encouragement and praise. Don’t we human work in the industry to be in the limelight and to get the accolades. Then I realised the stand taken by the author while putting forth this point. You don’t want your subordinate to do his work just for the sake of pleasing you. You want him to understand the value he adds to himself as well as to others by doing it. You expect him to take pride (the pride I refer in the home page) of his work rather than to take your praise.
Author vividly explains this minute differences with an example on how we need to react to ensure we encourage rather than praise.
If your response is: “Good girl” she will come to want to do things to please you rather than herself. He advises us to encourage her with a helpful advice like “Well done, you succeeded because you looked carefully” or, “You got on well that time because you did it a bit more slowly.
6. Encourage methodical thinking
If you prompt her to think for herself, deliberately and methodically, helping with the words she needs, you create self-confidence. Here are three powerful thinking steps – Help her see what’s important, Help her take time and plan, Encourage her to take care
This section talks about the fine-tuning of thought process. Once when I took up additional responsibility, my Manager sensed that I was stressed because of lack of time. He guided me to realize and measure the actual importance of things I do and the importance I gave to them in terms of time. It helped me understand prioritization of things. This in a way is closely related to what Pareto principle, the 80-20 rule tells us so that we focus on the important, critical things.
In the beginning of my career, I used to be overly aggressive with the estimates I committed for my work because I was very short-sighted. I was worried only about the development activities. Did not think through all the activities / process steps that I need to take account of. I was then guided to think through the complete process steps right from analysis of scope of work till how I am going to deliver and deploy my completed work. It is important to point out that making a plan – and not just rushing in – saves time later.
A person on debut tends to jump in excitement to execute things in a scurry when additional responsibilities are given. We tend to miss out on finer attention to details. So, it is essential to caution the person to take complete care with full attention so that we can expect completeness at the time of completion.
7. Avoid rewarding with treats
The effort disappears when the bribe disappears. Your aim is for internal motivation where the feeling of success in meeting a challenge – a sense of self-mastery – is its own reward.
Once again we are visiting a topic that is close to what we have discussed in section 5: Give encouragement rather than praise. Here it refers to those deals that we tend to strike to get things done or make the person perform. I have offered to get cake for my daughter if she gets ready quickly to her school. I did promise my mates to treat them with Pizzas if we deliver the release that night. On a number of occasions, I would have felt helpless or felt that people expect treat to get things done. I do think quite often that why don’t people volunteer to deliver the commitment without me offering those treats? How can I nurture that sense of internal motivation and ownership in each one of them? How can I kindle that passion in each one of them to create and sustain that internal motivation? As a leader you will exhibit that passion from the front (if not, you will have to, again excuse me to be imperative) and expect every one in the team to share the same passion. Believe me, it is not so straight forward, simple and scientific. I am still learning to master that art.
Every organization has a rewarding mechanism. According to me, rewards are there to recognize and celebrate one’s achievement and success rather than means or the so-called ‘carrot’ to get things done.
8. Take your lead from her interests
Suggest games, provide option, but let her choose what she wants to do.
If I view this principle from one viewpoint, I thought the author is asking us to find out what really thrills the person and what kind of responsibilities he would be interested to take-up and present those options to the individual. In industry, we also need to candidly assess his own strengths and weaknesses in his list of interests. I think, this can be used as a real good aid to re-motivate people who are not feeling so satisfied with the work.
On the other front, I could also relate this principle to the flexibility and empowerment we provide to people to decide how they want to execute their responsibilities. After I make a person in charge of the team while grooming him to take-up that role, I shall not ask him to do a daily stand-up meeting at 10 AM, have a joint lunch with the whole team every week, etc. You can present various styles of management, how people practice them and under what circumstances each style become more effective. He can choose how he wants to execute the same on a daily basis.
9. Encourage curiosity
Encourage her to think around at everything – to wonder, to ask, why how, what?
Again from an aspiring Carnatic professional. If I just follow what elders do by starting the concert with a varnam without understanding why they are there in the first place, in future, I might not think twice to not sing that in the beginning.
Nowadays, every industry has defined quality processes and the documents each project team has to create and maintain. A person who is getting groomed to be a Process Owner in a project has to understand and justify the existence and relevance of each of the processes and the templates attached to them. Only then, you can also expect a good tailoring coming from him. As a leader, we will have to ensure that such in-depth analysis with reasoning have gone in the work before you accept the result. Author asks us to do this best by being curious and questioning as well. In the industry, you expect people to be curious to understand the bigger picture so that they can relate the value they and their work add to the overall success of the industry.
Let me try to get the interests of the programmers. Take an instance of a programmer learning to automate unit testing with JUnit. In Software industry, one great feature it has given for itself is copy-paste and find-replace. The programmer copy-pastes the unit test case written for another module by his colleague for his module and find-replaces all the context specific nouns with the author being the first. Sorry, more often in the unit test cases that I have reviewed, wrong author used to be the first defect that I used to catch 🙂 Unless you question him, “Why do you have ‘setup’ and ‘teardown’ methods? How and when are they invoked?”, he will not make real use of those methods and might possibly miss them in his future unit test cases. A robust Software cannot be developed unless every developer is motivated and curious to break their own piece-of-code.
10. Avoid comparison with other children
There’s always someone richer, brighter, more artistic or more attractive.
This is a universal truth. So, I will not add my own explanation to it. I will just stop with a pointer to “The Cracked Water Pot” story. It was very interesting to read it. I will just present the moral of that story here. Each of us have our own unique flaws. We’re all cracked pots. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are, and look for the good in them. There is a lot of good out there.
In this article, we discussed how to ensure your subordinate gets successfully groomed to the next role with just enough help rendered through the practise of “Show and Tell” inculcating methodical or organized inquisitive thinking along with sufficient freedom and time to solve the problem himself with enough encouragement and without external comparison. It is easy to preach, but difficult to practise. If you just check individual principles, there is no or very less science behind them. They are more of an art. It can only be learnt with conscious practice of each of the principles and constant introspection on how our techniques work with our children and our subordinates.