How Not to Train People

If your employees cannot be counted on to do things right the first time, it can only mean one thing - you've trained them backwards.

By Anthony Noel

It is an axiom we have all heard, and one far too many of us live by: "If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself."

If you think you might be living by it, you probably are, and doing so is a big mistake for any manager. Any manager, that is, who wants to have some semblance of a life outside of work.

Managing people is no picnic, that is for sure. There is always something, or someone, tugging at your sleeve, demanding your attention. After all, you are the boss! You are running this outfit, just like you wanted to when you started it up, or took the reins of leadership.

And because of these unending demands on your time, it is often easier to seize the moment and take care of a particular task than delegate it to someone else - especially if you do not have much confidence that someone else will get it right.

But in reality, the long term trade-off is not worth the short-term payoff. Because the more you take the bull by the horns, the less training your employees are getting. Actually, it is not that they are not getting trained, it is that they are getting trained backwards.

That's right, backwards.

After all, why do you hire people? To do what you need to have done, right? So why the heck are you still doing most of it yourself?

Each time you take responsibility out of an employee's hands, you give him a strong disincentive ever to want responsibility. Sadly, every day, in shops everywhere, a manager or owner opts for a hammer instead of a computer, a fork truck instead of his car. In short, he chooses doing the work himself instead of finding someone else to manage the work - not because he is a control freak, or is distrustful of his employees, or even that he is more enamored with the work than with managing it.

No, it happens because he has trained his employees that if they do not do something, it will get taken care of anyway and without repercussions. I do not know about you, but that is pretty much my definition of the term "dream job." And the worst part is, once you put yourself on this hamster wheel, it can be next to impossible to get off because the practice itself trains people not to take initiative And without initiative, change cannot occur.

Another old truism states that companies tend to reflect the style of the person or people running them. Take-charge managers cultivate take-charge employees. Fair, forthright managers foster fairness among employees. And managers who ensure that everyone gets fully and broadly trained tend to have a shop full of employees who pass that knowledge along, if only for the sheer joy of seeing the spark of recognition in a greenhorn's eyes.

Those eyes and the eyes of everyone else in your organization are on you, and if you are sending the message that you will clean up the messes of others, that there is no clear line of where your responsibility ends and theirs begins, or that you would sooner dummy up than speak up when you come across sub-par work or chronic tardiness or recurring errors, well, are you really naive enough to think nobody notices?

Not only do your employees notice it, but they come to expect it - to accept it as the way things are. It is cited in lunchroom conversations as the benchmark behavior ("He doesn't seem concerned about it, so why should I be?"). And the next thing you know, you have got no life, because you are too busy following up on things that others should be seeing through, rather than holding them accountable for their failures.

The funny thing is, they won't fail. Not ultimately. Not if you take the time - and time is the vastly larger part of training - to make clear what is expected and how to produce it.

Sure, there will be a learning curve, and it is at some point along that curve where many managers lose sight of the goal, where they give in to the "do-it-yourself" urge and begin sliding down that backwards-training slope. Then, in their quickly gathering fog of sleep deprivation, they will each wonder about their employees and think, "Why did I hire these people in the first place?"

They did not do it to impress their employees with their skills. They did not do it because they wanted company. They did it because they were so darned busy they could not do everything by themselves anymore. Yet, here they still are, doing it anyway.

And sometimes all they need, in order to begin training people in earnest, is to be reminded of that.

Consider this your reminder.



Anthony Noel is a management consultant and has written this column since 1994. He writes and works in New Bern, NC. Send him e-mail at anthonynoel@cox.net.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.