Three-Part Recipe for Workplace Success: Developing Procedures

Soldiers execute a standard battle drill in the desert.
Formal procedure create leadership freedom, allow rapid responses, and provide for internal communications.

“Contact right!”, shouted the point man at the sound of small arms fire. The team reacted instinctively. Every member of the team came on line and returned fire from covered positions. The team leader assessed the situation and reported back to the squad leader.  The squad leader directed his second team to flank the enemy position. When ready they laid down suppressing fire drawing the attention away from the first team. The second team leader came up on the radio, “Shift left!” The first team adjusted their aim to the left as the second team began to move across the enemy position. As the second team neared the middle of the enemy position he called for the first team to cease firing and they did. Once across the position, the second team leader advised the first team leader. The first team leader led his Soldiers across the position 90 degrees from the second team’s assault. Within a few minutes the shooting stopped. The enemy was suppressed and withdrew. The squad was victorious. 

React to Contact is a critical Infantry battle drill. It is the foundation of ground combat tactics used by Hannibal during the Second Punic War.  A well drilled squad or platoon can execute the drill with the few words shared in the above story because every squad and platoon in the Army does it the same way, well at least the successful squads and platoons. When executed well, a smaller force has the ability to defeat larger forces. This basic principal of movement is a procedure known to all Infantrymen because it works. This drill allows leaders to initiate action with few words and little direction. In this example the squad leader was the senior leader yet the only decision he made and direction he provided was to a single team leader to flank the enemy. In this battle drill there are only three decisions for the squad leader to make; commit your second team to suppressive fire and allow the platoon to flank, execute the flank with your second team, or break contact. Infantry squad leaders and team leaders rehearse this drills hundreds of times so they know when to suppress, when to attack, and when to withdraw.

Leading an organization of any size becomes easier with formal, practiced procedures. Formal procedures appear to remove a leader’s freedom to make decisions. The opposite is true. Well thought procedures allow leaders to detach from the current crisis and plan for what comes next. Benefits include increased speed by reducing the number of decisions required of a leader, specified lateral lines of communication increase responses, and required actions for teams and individuals without additional instruction. 

Reducing Decision Options

Freedom is defined by dictionary.com as the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; or the power to determine action without restraint. Formal procedures may confine some leaders because they have limited choices. However, well thought out procedures identify best practices and offer a short menu of options proven to work reliably. Formal procedures allow leaders to stick their heads above the weeds and make big picture decisions

Standard operating procedures allow leaders to look at the bigger picture rather than getting stuck in details.
Procedures free leaders to look at the big picture rather than restrict their attention to what is happening in the weeds.

At the front-line level of the React to Contact Drill, the squad leader has a variety of choices. He can direct the supporting team to provide additional fire power to suppress the enemy and ask the platoon to flank. The squad leader can establish a base of fire from the flanking element and have the element who established contact to maneuver across the enemy’s front. He can call for artillery or air support. He can withdraw. However, it is only through the actions of the team in contact, executing without direction, that he as the freedom to evaluate the situation and determine which course of action is best.  Without this drill, the squad and team leaders would have to solve each problem as it occurs.

In organizations outside the military the same principals are true.  The front line leader has a process to execute. For example, a new employee is assigned to work in the leader’s team. If the organization has a process to orient new employees, none of the leaders need to spend much time figuring out what the new person needs to learn. The leaders follow the check list, tailor the learning to the new person’s position, and the new person quickly becomes a functioning member of the team. Without a procedure to welcome new team members, leaders loose time figuring out what the new person needs to know. They make lots of decisions about what parts of what organizational documents new team members need to read. The leaders need to figure out what administrative processes must be completed to ensure the employee is paid, receives benefits, and knows what is expected of him or her.

A new employee orientation procedure takes away some decision making from leaders but only because the leaders decided earlier what new team members needed to do. Now instead of spending a few days figuring out what to teach the new guy, who should teach it, and where the information is stored, the leader turns to the procedure and execute. The procedure frees his time to decide on other matters.

Lateral Lines of Communication

Allow leaders to communicate with their peers to coordinate actions and permit senior leaders to continue to look forward.
Lateral communications ensures leaders are not bombarded with information they do not need and only to make decisions appropriate for their level.

Establishing internal lines of communication allow lower level leaders to coordinate actions and support without having to always run to the boss. The boss does need to know what is going on, but does not need to make or approve every decision. Establishing peer-to-peer communication channels frees up senior leaders to look farther ahead. Procedures specify what types of decisions senior leaders make and what types of decisions leaders lower on the org chart may make.

In the infantry squad example, peer leaders, the team leaders, directly communicated their intentions and directions to move and shift fires. This communication allowed the squad leader monitor the situation. The squad leader had the freedom to call for more resources and determine what actions to take after the enemy attack was stopped.

A non-military example of this principal is a nonprofit providing a service to their clients.  A new client is referred for service and appears at the office. The person meeting with the client knows the organization has a procedure for new client intakes and referrals. The employee welcomes the client and moves them through the intake procedure and determines the client’s needs. The employee directly contacts outside organizations necessary to provide resources and services for the client without having to clear each referral through a manager. Organizational leaders recognized the needs for those services and previously established processes to refer clients. As a result, the clients receive services and resources quickly because the number of people involved and the levels of communication are reduced. 

Action without Instructions

Formal procedures provide direction so others know what to do in a variety of situations without direction.

Formal procedures provide direction to employees about how to perform their jobs. Procedures spell out what kinds of decisions employees can make and what decisions and information require the boss’s attention. In the infantry squad example, each team member knows when they received contact to move on line to ensure they had clear lines of fire towards the enemy and to find a place of cover to return fire. They did not have to wait for direction from the team leader. They were expected to take those actions without directs in order to free the team leader to report the situation to the squad leader.

In an example from the private sector, Tim Ferriss talks about how he empowered his assistants to deal with customer services issues in his book The Four Hour Work Week and several of his podcasts. He found his assistant was reaching out to him several times every day for him to decide how to deal with unhappy customers. Tim realized he was not able to focus on growing his new business when he was dealing with those types of issues. He developed a list of ways the customer service assistant could offer help without consulting Tim and what types of customer issues he reserved to resolve himself. As a result, Ferriss was able to return his attention to growing the business and his customers received improved and faster resolutions to their problems.

Procedures receive a bad rap because organizations implement them poorly and never review them to determine their continued relevance.  The purpose of procedures is to create leadership freedom by providing a menu of choices for common events rather than problem solving every time something similar happens. As a result, the leader is free to focus on developing teams and improving the organization.  If the decisions a procedure allows become irrelevant, they need to be changed. Therefore, leaders must periodically review all procedures for relevance. Failing to do so causes confinement rather than freedom.

Quality procedures help leaders at all levels achieve freedom, increase the speed or response, and improve the quality of service by reducing the number of decisions leaders need to make. Communications improve communications laterally and vertically because leaders only receive the information they need to decide. Employees are more effective when addressing problems and opportunities.

Leaders and workers frequently view formal procedures as limiting their freedom, however, they provide a structured format for leaders to take action without additional control or restraint. Employees who are trained well know what is expected of them in many situations allowing them to make decisions without always running to the boss for guidance. Like the well run battle drill, formal procedures direct action without additional inputs and free leaders to lead.

Reference

Definition of freedom was retrieved from: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/freedom on 8/28/19.

Photo Credits

  • Infantry Attack from pxhere.com with a 0CC license. No attribution provided.
  • Dictionary by John Mark Smith from unsplash.com with a CC Attribution license.
  • Tin Can Phone by Chris Tag as CWD802 from pexel.com with a pexel.com license.
  • Arrow from pxhere.com with a 0CC license. No attribution provided.

Leading Change

“Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.” (Bullock, 1716), everything else is subject to change.

Change is certain. Be a leader of change.

I wrote this article on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon. It caused me to think about how that happened. There are lots of examples of leaders creating great things in government, business, and in social services after creating a vision of what could be dating back to the beginning of recorded history. As I study and apply leadership lessons, I found there are five principals of leaders who effectively lead change within their organizations. Those leaders set examples by living and enforcing organizational guiding principals, communicating a clear vision for the future, establishing goals and benchmarks, taking disciplined action to accomplish required tasks, and possessing humility.

Leaders establish guiding principals through their behavior. The old maxim, “Actions speak louder than words,” says it all; leaders who say respect is important and treat others respectfully are more convincing that those who treat others disrespectfully. Whether you are new to the organization, in a new position, or a veteran in a leadership role, you choose your values. Ensure they are aligned with the organizational principals, or advocate to changing them. It takes time to establish character, but even if you have been an angry, disrespectful, fly-off-the handle kind of a leader, you can change. Others will notice and your character will change.

In addition to behaving in accordance with your professed and the organization’s values, leaders ensure others also develop character. You cannot ignore a direct report’s violation of an organizational principal and fire a more junior person for the same behavior. If your organization values people’s time, then the person who is consistently two minutes late for work, meetings, and leaves five minutes early needs to be held to account. Not every offense requires firing. Not every offense requires a written reprimand or other disciplinary action. Often pulling a person aside and pointing out their faux-pas is enough to gain compliance. When misbehavior is displayed by otherwise compliant people it may signal trouble. Pulling that person aside presents an opportunity to address the trouble and become aware of their problem.

A few years ago I gave in and went to the eye doctor because I noticed road signs were not as clear as I remembered them. I needed glasses. Over time my vision dulled and I needed someone to help me see clearly again. An organization’s vision is the same. In the beginning everyone knows why they belong, where they are headed, what they are doing, and how to do it. As the organization grows older, the vision fades, just like people’s eyesight.

Help other people see your vision of the future.

Leaders often think they only need to cast their vision before their followers once and they are good for life. They are wrong. There is a reason all major religions have services on a weekly basis. That reason is to refresh the soul. Face it, after ten years of church going, you probably have heard all there is to hear. Services keep your faith fresh.

Likewise leaders need to continually project their vision for the organization. Those who work in the organization need to see it so they can properly care for clients and customers. Clients and customers need to see it so they understand why you do what you do; it builds brand loyalty. Vendors and contractor need to see it so they are on the same page. Leaders, from each member of the Board of Directors, to the shop foreman, need to see it so they can magnify and amplify the vision for their followers.

Vision statements are not one and done. Leaders constantly need to proclaim their vision to inspire everyone they encounter. Leaders develop credibility when they not only talk about their vision, but take action to make it a reality.

Based on the leader’s vision, the leader and junior leaders establish goals to accomplish the mission and vision. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound, and task oriented. Many of you will recognize the SMARTT goal setting model. I added and extra tee for the task steps.

Task steps are important. They provide the directions to achieve the goal. The goal is your What. The task steps are the How.

Use your vision of the future to establish goals.

Leaders should establish a plan for goal setting. Good goal setting happens in cycles. The first step is to assess. Your assessment establishes your starting point and destination. As you walk your selected path, you will encounter life and may find you stray from your planned path. Periodically check your progress and adjust course as necessary. As you move along, you learn; apply those lessons along your journey. As you near the end of your journey, it is time to assess again and establish new goals. Click here http://bit.ly/2YfQH0Y for a short lesson on the goal setting cycle.

Disciplined action ensures accomplishment of critical tasks for mission success. Discipline has several meanings. In this case I intend it to mean controlled behavior resulting from training (adapted from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/discipline). Action means activities required to complete the mission. Disciplined actions are planned and controlled activities that are scheduled, measured, supervised, and coordinated across all teams in an organization.

To be effective, organizations must plan. Planning includes scheduling, measuring, supervising and coordinating actions. Planning requires discipline. Planning also identifies key performance indicators. Controls are necessary to establish measures of performance and effectiveness (insert link to that blog). Supervision is only effective if supervisors know what they are looking for in performance and effectiveness. Coordination ensures things are going according to the plan across all teams. Coordination communicates the plan and status of activities to everyone.

An example of disciplined action are the steps required to make a widget and ship it to a customer. In the planning stage, leaders determine what needs to be done, what resources are required, what will be measured, how often, by whom, and how to coordinate across all the teams. The organization identifies the material, machines, and people required to make the widget. They order material and hire people. They schedule activities such as when raw material should arrive, when workers need to be at their machines, when product will be shipped, and the means for delivery to customers. Coordination is required so there is material on hand to manufacture widgets when workers are available; trucks are available when enough widget are ready to ship, and adequate capacity exists to meet deadlines. Coordination is an on going process. For example, if machine operators are sick, it causes reduction in production. The shipping team needs to know so they can adjust shipping schedules.

Disciplined action requires advanced planning to accomplish leader goals.

Much of this step is as much management as leadership. Management is an important leadership skill. People are involved in each part of disciplined action and that is where the leadership comes into play. Fail to lead disciplined action, and your organization may achieve a task, but it will not remain successful.

I remember reading in Seven Habits that Stephen Covey claimed to have studied great people for years before boiling down their secret of success to seven habits. I thought, “Why would anyone dedicate themselves to such work?” I found myself reviewing Good to Great a short while ago and read Jim Collins’ assertion that Level 5 Leaders are humble. That was not the first or last place I encountered that idea, but it struck me then how many times I learned that point from so many other sources including people I chose to follow. I now wonder if Covey stumbled across those seven habits the same way I found the five principals of leading change.

Humility is an important trait for being a good or great leader. Great leaders do all the things I present in this article, but they also recognize they lack certain skills, lack knowledge, lack connections, and other important resources to make things happen. Great leaders recognize they need to rely on others to help them accomplish the organization’s mission. If they are the smartest, fastest, most skilled person in the organization, they are leading the wrong group of people, and they know that. They seek out people who are smarter they them. They hire others with greater skills. They know these others are their superiors and they are blessed to lead them, or put another way, they know they are blessed those high speed individuals choose to follow them.

You can develop humility. It is a skill that can be learned. I saw it in action during my first General Staff meeting. In a General’s staff meeting there are standard scripts everyone follows to ensure the General receives the information he needs to lead the force and make important decisions. According the script, other staff sections presented their canned information to the General. Then it was my Colonel’s turn to present.

At the time, Colonel Shawn was the Director of Logistics. On schedule, the slides with the logistics information were projected on the screen. COL Shawn hardly noticed. Instead he looked at the General and said, “Sir, I know you’ve seen my slides and our information is pretty good this month. If you don’t mind, I want to tell you about the great work that Kris Skinner has done this month with our surface maintenance program.” The Colonel went on about LTC Skinner’s accomplishments that month. At the end of the story COL Shawn asked the General if he had any questions about his directorate’s data. When the General said he did not, Shawn introduced the next staff chief.

I was impressed. I thought it was a one time thing to bring some attention to the boss about good work done by his followers. The following month however, COL Shawn had another story about the good work another member of the section. Again at the end, instead of getting into the data on the slide he moved onto the next speaker. COL Shawn had someone every month he highlighted at the staff meeting. Now of course none of those workers acted independently. Col Shawn knew what each was doing and used all his leadership ability to encourage them to do the greatest job they could do. Each individual responded by regularly exceeding the standards and expectations.

Disciplined actions result in accomplishment of goals.

COL Shawn was promoted to Brigadier General. He is a confident and competent leader. He accomplished plenty of big things in his own right. Yet when ever he talks with someone, he learns about them. He shares what he learned in a recent book he read. He asks what he can do to make things better for lower-level leaders. He practices humility.

Change is inevitable. Leaders must navigate future changes. Even choosing to maintain a certain level or quality of business without growth or shrinkage requires organizational change. Laws change. Customers change. Demand for products changes. Organizational staff change. Leaders who do not lead change will find there is no one left to lead. Leaders effect change by creating a desired vision of the future. They set and help followers set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound goals with task steps. They plan and manage disciplined action to accomplish the mission and change. They are humble people who understand they still have much to learn. Change is coming. Are you leading to adapt to that change?

/ —- Photo Credits —-/

  • Coins by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay using pixabay license.
  • Eyeglasses by Skeeze ibid
  • Fortune Telling by Tumisu ibid
  • Agenda Calendar by Rawpixel.com from http://www.pexel.com using pexel license
  • Man Outdoors Snow no attribution available from pxhere.com using 0CC license

/ —- Reference —-/

Bullock: https://www.mightytaxes.com/death-taxes-quote-history/ retrieved 7/31/219

Leading Employees, Contractors, Teams, and Volunteers

High standards of behavior are required for organizations to successfully complete their missions. Leaders are responsible for setting, training, and enforcing standards in order to create a culture where standards are voluntarily followed. Organizations that establish and expect compliance with standards attract Ike minded applicants. Employees, volunteers, and other stakeholders learn to trust the organization, know the character of their workers, and understand their leaders.

It takes time to codify standards of behavior. Your standard operating procedures, protocols, employment guidelines, and similar documents will be easier to write when everyone knows and understands the organization’s core values or guiding principles. Governing documents misaligned with organizational guiding principles encourage people to act outside those principles. Well written governing documents aligned with core principles ensures people understand how to behave even when they do not know a specific rule. Written rules are shorter, easier to understand, and are more likely to be followed.

People soon learn what an organization’s real rules are regardless of what is written in SOPs.

Often SOPs, employee manuals, and other written rules take many pages. If the reasons a document is written is based on the core principals, there is no need to restate they whys. Employees who understand the guiding principals will see them in the rules without additional explanations. It is uncommon for all of those documents to be composed at the same time. If the whys are not all based on the common principles, then the authors need all those extra words and pages to spell out the whys for the rules.

Employees, volunteers, and contractors follow the rules better because the standards they establish are aligned with organizational principals. Training time is reduced and retention increased because there is less to teach and learn. As a result, employees will probably do the right thing without even knowing what a rule or procedure is.

Training begins when you first admit someone into your organization. Start with the core principles. Teach your new people what each value means to your group. Give examples of behavior that is compliant and non-compliant. Explain how complying with principles establishes trust across the organization allowing greater effectiveness.

New supervisors adopt leadership styles they see others using. Taking time to demonstrate leaderships styles you expect to be used in your organization reinforces guiding principals.

Training supervisors about core principles and methods of enforcing standards is also important. Nothing destroys trust within an organization than repeated reprimands conducted outside the organizational principals. Likewise, failing to correct behaviors outside expected norms slowly eats away at trust developed between key players. Supervisors and other key leaders need to know how to adjust their leadership style to the situation presented.

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard introduced the idea of situational leadership in the late 1960s. Since then, others have built on those ideas and demonstrated how to apply the principals of situational leadership to a wide variety of circumstances across the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Taking time to teach your leaders how to adapt their leadership style to meet your organization’s objectives and within your guiding principals increases effectiveness.

After training your new people and leaders about your organizations guiding principals, those standards need to be enforced. When new leaders read statements like this they often envision a drill sergeant demanding basic trainees do push-ups for infractions, or a tough CEO calling an errant employee into the office, chewing them out, and then firing them. These are two possible methods of enforcing standards, but neither works well for long.

Good coaches address problems calmly so team members learn better and avoid similar mistakes in the future

On-the-spot corrections for misbehavior can be given in a calm fashion that shows respect and caring. A machine operator found working without eye and ear protection can be told to stop. The supervisor inquires about whether the employee understands what the standard is and why it is important to follow it. If the employee lacks the knowledge, the supervisor provides a quick refresher training and sends the operator to don their protective equipment before resuming their work.

A middle manager who observes such a violation might stop the work and inquire about who the operator’s supervisor is. The supervisor is summoned to the work sight. The manager can use this opportunity to coach the supervisor. In the end, the worker is protected, the organization accomplishes its mission, and the culture of compliance grows.

Making corrections in a respectful fashion and demonstrating expected behaviors helps create a voluntary climate of compliance. People know that following the core principals results in rewards. Failing to comply results in punishment.

Leaders need to work to build effective teams. It does not matter whether those they are leading are employees, contractors, peers, or volunteers. Leaders employ effective methods to influence others to find the right directions in every situation.

Some of you reading this are thinking about why the above statements will never work. You think the union will never allow such supervisory oversight. Some think that leading volunteers requires sometimes turning a blind eye. Others think that they are not in a supervisory capacity and therefore have no ability to influence others. If you are a real leader, you use what power you do have to influence others to comply with the organization’s guiding principals. That may require you to allow others to take action.

In the union example, there frequently are requirements for management to follow certain steps to reward good behavior and punish bad. Meet with union representatives frequently to ensure they understand you want the best people in the organization and the important role the union has helping you keep the good people and separating those who will not comply. The union has a responsibility to equally represent all the workers in their membership, those who perform well as well as those who feel slighted because they are not meeting expectations. Such engagements over time bring union representatives around to looking differently at employee-management relationships.

In the case of volunteers, first ask yourself if you really want a volunteer that behaves in such a way that they endanger themselves, others, or have the potential to cast a dark light on the good work your organization does. Think about ways you can influence volunteers to comply with your guiding principals. People who volunteer believe in the cause. They are easier to influence than paid employees, You have to learn to lead them. It is likely that the threat of separation has a greater impact because their association with you is indeed voluntary. Knowing bad behaviors will not be tolerated ensures compliance. Frequently organizations fail to train volunteers to the same level as employees. Is it any wonder that volunteers may not comply with guiding principals. It is hard to comply with standards they do not know or understand. Taking time to help them understand standards and providing examples of compliance improves trust and helps your volunteers work better. Volunteers who work well improve outcomes for those the organization serves.

Leading team members you do not supervise does pose special challenges. FEMA’s national emergency operation center occupies a large room in Washington, D.C. not far from the Capital. Few of the seats in the room are designated for FEMA officials. Most are set aside for leaders of organizations FEMA works with during disasters. Those members include representatives from the press, various classes of industry, financial associations, think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, non-FEMA government agencies, state, and major metropolitan governments and agencies, and a variety of other interests. None of them answer to FEMA; rather they all answer to their respective organizations. Regardless of who employs each team member, FEMA leads everyone in the room to accomplish the common goal of resolving the disaster, preserving life and property, and keeping elected officials and citizens informed.

Leading others with positional authority is easy. Learning to influences others using other sources of power is the mark of great leaders.

Accomplishing that kind of leadership occurs because the FEMA officials use a variety of sources of power to influence each team member. The FEMA leader needs to quickly learn about not only the interests of each organization but also the representatives. They have to apply a different leadership style to each situation. FEMA has often been attacked about ineffective post-disaster relief efforts, but when you think about all the competing interests, it is amazing they accomplish anything. To be effective, those leaders need to establish high standards, teach them to the team members, and then enforce them in such a way others willingly follow.

Setting and enforcing standards is a key responsibility for leaders. If leaders do not enforce established high standards, followers accept lower standards. Leaders establish trust by enforcing standards. In time, enforcement creates a climate of voluntary compliance. Training what behaviors comply and fail to comply with guiding principals ensures everyone knows what the expectations are. Knowledge develops into understanding and permits the organization to operate effectively with few written rules. People know what is expected of them, and what they can expect from others. Trust develops that others in the organization behave and perform at high levels and take reasonable risks. Learning to find the right leadership style for different situations allows leaders to coach, counsel, mentor, guide, and discipline others to comply with organizational standards depending on the circumstances. As a result, the people in the organization focus on taking care of clients and accomplishing the organization’s mission.

/——————— Photo Credits ———————/

  • Television Test Pattern: no photographer info available from pxhere.com CC0 license. Modified by author.
  • Open Text Book: no photographer info available from pxhere.com CC0 license.
  • Overhead Group Meeting: by pixabay.com from pexels.com.
  • Youth Baseball Coach: no photographer info available from pxhere.com CC0 license.
  • White Water Rafters: by Tom Fisk at pexels.com. Modified by author.
  • Turnout Gear: no photographer info available from pxhere.com CC0 license.

War Stories

Gold stars from the National World War II Monument in Washington DC.

“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. …there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed.” ― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

A Gold Star Banner displayed in a home means a family member was killed in action.

A war story is just a war story. There are no true war stories. There are some that are blatantly false and made up, told by posers. Most are are recollections. Sometimes they are embellished, minimized, mixed with other memories, or just misremembered. Many people think veterans tell stories to impart some sort of moral or lesson. However, a war story is told to remember a loved comrade, relieve bothersome anxiety, or to get a rise out of the listener. Sometimes the story teller does not know why he tells the story. He just does.

I want to share two war stories today to remember my comrades in arms who died defending freedom. These stories are told from my perspective, what I remember from the time I learned of each death, mixed with conversations of those closer to the Soldier. Fairy tales begin, “Once upon a time, in land far away…” War stories begin, …

(Once upon a time) I remember watching CNN in the day room (in a land far away) at Diyala Provincial Police Headquarter in Baqubah Iraq in late March. There was a report about recent activity in the increasingly violent insurgency. They were showing images of a bridge just outside Ramadi where a truck from the 744th Transportation Company had been blown up by an IED and tossed over the edge. This attack resulted in the first war death of a New Hampshire National Guard Soldier since Vietnam.

Jeremiah Holmes, Died March 29, 2004.

SPC Jeremiah Holmes died in that attack. I did not know Holmes, but several Soldier from my battery had been assigned to deploy with 744th. Holmes worked with a Soldier who had been a section chief in my first howitzer section for a couple years. Everyone I spoke with who knew and remembered Holmes described him as a great guy. The 744th held a farewell event for family and friends during Thanksgiving weekend 2003. A picture of him kissing his 10 month old son on the day 744th departed New Hampshire appeared in the paper. That young man never knew his father. Soon he will be learning to drive for himself.

744th arrived a few weeks in Iraq before we did. At the time we felt a little safer being in a fixed site rather than traveling the roads as 744th did. Our sense of safety quickly eroded over the next few days. Attacks around Iraq resulted in injuries to other New Hampshire National Guard members. Two Soldiers from our company were wounded in Mosul, but that is a different story for another time. Even though I never met SPC Holmes, his death changed the way I looked at the war. A few days later the insurgents directed their attention to our humble abode.

The 744th nor SPC Holmes had been in Iraq long enough to learn about IEDs. We all grumbled during training about how sneaky the observer controllers (OC) were about hiding those pesky bombs. On this first attack, 744th learned just how easy the OCs were being on us. The insurgents were experts at hiding roadside bombs. Homes death taught us all an important lesson about situational awareness and the danger we faced during our time in Iraq. This lesson was learned well. The reality was even if we detected 99% of IEDs, it only took 1 missed IED to kill us or a comrade in arms; and that is the beginning of my next story.

I remember (once upon another time…) walking into our Tactical Operations Center (TOC) on 15 October 2004 to see if they knew why our internet connections were not operating. We had been in Iraq for several months and little phased us so the look on the faces of the TOC staff however told me something really bad happened explaining the internet interruption. Before I could ask, the senior NCO walked into the room with the phone we used to call home and secured it in a wall locker. We were in a communications blackout. That could only mean someone died. I hoped it was not one of ours. “What’s going on?” I asked. The answer dashed my hopes as I learned SPC Alan Burgess from the platoon our company had in Mosul died.

Alan Burgess died Oct 15, 2004

The day started like every other patrol in the city. The squad departed the forward operating base and found activity on the streets was normal, always a good sign. The squad and its leader always expected attacks and hoped for uneventful trips. Most days they did find enemy and engaged or were engaged. Today they expected no more, no less.

In fact this platoon had several significant engagements with the enemy during their time in Mosul. In fact one Soldier had been shot in the chest the week SPC Holmes died. After being shot, the squad returned to base and drew a new tactical vest for the gunner and returned to patrol the streets of the city. The gunner and driver had changed places on the second patrol Just before sun rise, the patrol located the insurgents that shot the Soldier earlier and again engaged them in a fire fight. The gunner turned driver dismounted from the armored vehicle, to attack the disable vehicle containing the insurgents. He was shot again but this time in the ankle!

Today was different. The streets were busy. People were engaged in commerce. There was nothing to indicate death awaited them. The squad was stuck in the normal traffic of the city with no where to maneuver. This is exactly what the enemy was waiting for, a sitting duck.

What happened next, happened quickly. A vehicle in the opposite lane charged directly toward the patrol. SPC Alan Burgess saw the danger and began to engage the enemy. According to some witnesses time slowed down as the car came to a stop. According to others time accelerated. Each tells the war story the way they remember it. The driver of the attacking vehicle was dressed all in white, a sign of one who is about to be martyred. SPC Burgess recognized that danger, but a moment too late. As he released his machine gun to seek the safety inside the armored vehicle, the car bomb exploded. Burgess and civilians in the area were killed. Dozens were injured. Alan left behind his girlfriend and four year old son.

Alan was a loved and respected member of the unit. His loss effected everyone in some fashion. Like Holmes death, it served as a reminder about the fragility of life.

Neither story has a moral. The heroes do not live happily ever after. These are war stories, not fairy tales. Sharing these stories however provided me an opportunity to remind people that Memorial Day is not Veteran’s Day. It is a day to remember those who gave all defending freedom. These stories are reminders that real people died protecting freedom. They were not statistics. As members of the National Guard, these two Soldiers are part of a tradition older that the U.S. Army, protecting family, friends, and neighbors from the evil in the world.

The poppy was inspired by the poem, Flanders Field, by John McCrae based on his reflections of poppies growing in a WWI cemetery between the white head stones.

As Memorial Day approaches, take time to attend a memorial service. Instead of becoming angry about having to wait for a passing parade, give thanks to those whose sacrifices the parade honors. Ask a veteran to tell you about a lost war comrade. Memorial Day is not about the beginning of summer. It is not about fun and family picnics. It is not a paid, work-free day. It is about remembering those who died so we may live free and enjoy our lives in peace. Remember them.

Photo Credits

  • WWII Memorial Stars: pxhere.com, no other information provided. pxhere.com license.
  • Gold Star Banner: author.
  • Jeremiah Holmes: US Government Photo.
  • Alan Burgess: US Government Photo.
  • Poppy: pshere. ibid.

More Information

Three Ways to Improve Employee Performance

Locker doors showing repetition.  The idea is to repeat new knowledge and skills to create better habits.
Repeating new skills and knowledge helps develop new habits and improve employee performance.

Spaced repetition is a concept from Know, Can, Do by Ken Blanchard. It is a simple method instructors can use during training to help students retain what they learned. Few organizations have the money necessary to keep outside trainers available indefinitely. Organizations must rely on supervisors to identify ways to have employees repeat what they learned during training, to increase the return on the training investment. Here are three simple ways supervisors can engage employees and increase behavior changes desired from training.

The first method requires employees to verbally report what they learned to the supervisor. The second method is to requires the employee to type their classroom notes. The third way requires the employee to present the information and methods learned for other employees. Each way engages different learning strategies, increases retention, and reinforces desired behaviors.

When employees return from training they are excited about what they learned. They often do not have time to process how to connect what they learned with their job. As a result, desired changes in behavior do not occur. Plan time to meet with the employee after the training. Require the employee to tell you about the information and techniques taught in the class. Ask the employee to demonstrate the skills taught. Allow the employee to watch you do at least one of the tasks taught and correct your performance as appropriate.

Ask the employee questions about ways to implement the lessons learned into work routines. Ask how the skills can be taught to other team members. Before you end the meeting, task the employee with the second method of spaced repetition, note preparation.

Person typing notes to improve learning.
Typed class notes permits sharing knowledge with others, ensures you can read them yourself in the future, and creates an opportunity to present what your learned by using your notes as an outline

Preparing class notes is an important way to reinforce learning. Students should take up to a page of notes for every hour of class. More than that and they are not listening. Less and they have nothing to refer to after class. Typing the notes after class creates another repetition of the learning. Typing notes allows the student to share what they learned with others. Typed notes are easier for others to read. Typed notes can be stored in a file folder in a drawer, or digitally on a computer. Weeks or years from now anyone who was given a copy of the notes can pull them up as a reference.

Another great reason for preparing typed notes is to share them within your professional network. Teaching employees to share notes with their network provides an opportunity to communicate with people they do not see everyday. Their notes provide a reason to open a professional discussion with their peers and expand their influence. Your employees derive benefits when they share their notes with others.

Notes do not have to follow a formal outline, but do need an easy to follow format. At the top of the first page of note place the title of the class. Include the name and contact information for the instructor. Recording the instructor’s contact information allows the student the ability to contact the instructor in the future. It also provides the instructor credit for the ideas presented. Include the date(s), length, and location of the training. Tell your employee to take credit for the notes by including his or her by-line and contact information. People are more likely to contact the employee with topical questions before the trainer. Good notes establish the employee as a subject matter expert. When the employee presents the information, another repetition occurs strengthening the important lessons learned.

After the credit and training information, arrange the notes so they make sense. The note taker may find it make sense to rearrange some information. Create topical groups regardless of the order presented in class. Often instructors and classes deviate from the instruction model creating situations where information is presented out of order. Making those changes makes the notes are useful. Use topic headings if appropriate. Use different fonts or bold for topic headings. If the trainer used a slide handout, refer back to it rather than typing out all the points from the slide. This is especially helpful for diagrams.

Carpenter showing how to drive a nail.  The picture shows how allowing an employee to show others new skills, the employee's new skill improves, and others learn too.
Allowing the employee to show others what was learned presents another repetition of the skill and creates an opportunity for others in the organization to learn new skills and knowledge.

An added feature of the typed notes is that it allows the employee to prepare for the third step in the supervised, post-training, spaced repetition; the presentation. The employee uses the typed notes as an outline for the staff presentation at a selected time in the future. Schedule the presentation close to the date of the original training. The notes are the work of the employee and not subject to any copyrights by the presenter. That means the company can reproduce and distribute them without seeking additional permission. An exception is if the student’s note are direct quotes from the instructor or training material. Avoid plagiarism accusations by requiring the employee to use his or her own words.

During the presentation, the employee tells the others what he learned in the training. He tells how he has applied the lessons in his work and personal life and the results he observed. He shows others how to complete one or more of the skills. He provides each an opportunity, either individually or as a group, to practice one of the skills. Using this method expands the knowledge of the whole workforce for the price of sending one employee. Even if other employees previously attended the same training, this event serves as another spaced repetition, reinforcing the skills and knowledge learned. The presentation develops confidence in the employee and establishes them as a subject matter expert.

Pink flamingo pattern repeated several times to remind readers to repeat new knowledge and skills.
Spaced repetition is the secret for employees to develop new habits and improve performance

Too often organizations send people to training to learn but never follow up to reinforce those lessons. The three steps outlined here provide a model for supervisors to follow to ingrain those lessons. These three steps spaced over time reinforce learning. Meeting with the employee in a few days after the training allows them to show you what was learned. Requiring the employee to type class notes and provides another repetition. Sharing those notes allow employees to expand their sphere of influence. Conducting a brief training event reinforces the learning for the employee who attended the training, and also broadcasts some of those skills and knowledge across the organization. Using spaced repetition is a great way to increase your company’s return on its training investment.

Photo Credits

  • Lockers by Jan Laugesen from Upsplash.com with Upsplash license.
  • Typewriter by rawpix from Pexels.com with Pexels license
  • Carpenter by rawpix from Pexels.com with Pexels license
  • Flamingos by Designercologist from Pexels.com with Pexels license

3 Ways to Use Spaced Repetition in Training

In first grade, we learned the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Spaced repetition in school allowed us to learn where they came from, why they came, and that they really landed on Cape Cod first

Albert Einstein said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” It is all those things you know, but you could not tell someone how or why you know it. If you think back to your school days and the lessons you learned you would find out that you did not learn as much as you think. You learned the same things over again in different grades. For example you learned about the Mayflower and Paul Revere’s ride in First Grade. When you in perhaps Fourth Grade, you spend another year learning American History but instead of the fairy tale version, you identified and learned what caused the pilgrims and patriots to act. When you studied American History again in middle school, you identified the consequences of the actions of key events and figures in history. In high school, you were asked to think critically about how history could have been different if historical people made different choices. Your learning about American History was spaced over time. Each time you added to what you previously learned. As an adult instructor or leader, find ways to introduce spaced repetition into your training. As a trainer you can build on earlier lessons whether the training event is a few hours or a few weeks.

As a trainer you have a responsibility to develop lessons that build on each other to reinforce earlier lessons and help students understand why skills and information taught earlier are important. Using spaced repetition is easier when your lessons occur over days or weeks. Spacing important learning points in a lesson that lasts only hours is more difficult but not impossible. Start by knowing the learning goals of your lesson. Here is a link to preparing learning goals: https://saintcyrtraining.com/2013/08/27/inspire-others-to-go-forth-and-do-good/.

After you identified the important learning goal of your lesson, you know what points to target for spaced repetition. Arrange your lessons so each learning goal is a logical building block. As you complete lessons for each learning goal, do a quick review to show how learning goals build on each other. Each review serves as a spaced repetition of early lessons.

Practical exercises allow students to use skills, ideas, and information learned earlier in the training to make connections and employ spaced repetition.

Another method to employ spaced repetition is to develop practical exercises that require students to use skills learned earlier. For example if you are teaching a group of students to navigate in the woods you would teach them how to read a map, how to use a compass, how to calculate ground distance, and how to calculate the difference between the magnetic and map north readings. After teaching the lesson on distance, you give the students an azimuth and direct them to move along that azimuth for a certain distance. This activity requires them to use the compass and practice the skill of determining distance while moving along the ground. In the final exercise you give them two points on a map to go and find on the ground. This exercise requires your students to read a map, use a compass, calculate the difference in north readings, and measure distance on a map and on the ground. Each exercise builds on earlier lessons and gives an additional repetition space over the course of the training event for each learning goal.

Training events occurring over a longer period of time allow instructors to create more space before each repetition improving retention. Begin each new session with a brief review of prior learning. Ask students to share how they applied what they learned in their lives. Ask for them to report on the results achieved. At the end of the session, ask the students questions to make connections with past lessons. Ask how implementing today’s lessons will improve results by adding the skills learned today to the skills they learned before.

Using spaced repetition during training sheds light on lessons.

Repeating information throughout a training event allows students to make connections to each learning goal. Students understand how each learning goal related to the others. Students improve their understanding of the overall main idea by making connections between learning goals. Spacing the repetition of the basic building blocks of the main idea reinforce those foundational lessons improving retention. Developing various exercises to support each learning goal allows the student to see, feel, hear, and understand the skill in practice by doing it. Spaced repetition is a great way to improve your students’ skills when they return to their world. They know, understand, and do what they were taught which is the objective of every training; changing behavior. Add spaced repetition to your training and watch the light bulbs illuminate in your students.

Photo Credits

  • 1620 by Robin Booker from pixabay.com using pixabay license
  • Map and compass by Hendrik Morkel from unsplash.com using unsplash license
  • Lightbulb by Fachy Marin from unsplash.com using unsplash license

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Value of Changing Habits for Leaders

Character is the intersection of a variety of factors. Habits and values are two of those factors. Other people make judgments about your values from by observing your habits. When you tell people you value providing quality feedback to your followers, that is a statement of a value you hold. People who hear you observe your behavior and decide if you really value coaching and counseling your workers. When they see you counseling others, they know you value that behavior. On the other hand, if you never

A military leader using a battle drill. Battle drills are effective habits learned through repetition.

coach and counsel your employees, everyone knows you are all talk and counseling others really is not important to you. Given that habits are nothing more than routines people use to simplify life, then deciding to change your habits enables you to align your behavior with your stated values. When those habits involve influencing others, you become a better leader.

Anyone can apply the principals in this post to any habit they want to change or create. For the purpose of discussion, I will continue to use the counseling example from the introduction because it is a leadership task often overlooked by supervisors. The steps are simple; the principals sound.

The principals for changing habits are the same as those for problem solving. Work on one habit at a time. Understand what habit you want to change and why. Know the desired result. Develop a solid plan to implement change. Identify people for support. Steps for habit change include:

  • identifying the habit you want to change,
  • identifying the motivation for change,
  • identifying the cues or triggers, what is the routine, and what is your reward
  • identifying where in the cycle you can make a change,
  • developing a plan to implement the change,
  • evaluating your results.

Like setting a goal, you need to be specific about what habit you want to change. Provide answers to all the who, what, where, why, when, and how questions. Write down those answers. Writing down things helps organize the thought process. When you write down things, you can let those thoughts out of your head and delve deeper into your analysis of the habit.

In our example, you want to become a better counselor to those you supervise. Counseling helps them become better employees that work independently. Employees that work independently allow you to focus

Creating the habit of counseling requires leaders to examine hurdles that prevent execution. New habits continue once the ball starts rolling,

on the future so your group remains relevant to the organization. Your planning ensures mission accomplishment which creates happy customers. Happy customers develop loyalty improving everyone’s job security. So employee counseling is important.

Simon Sinek encourages us to start with why. Understanding WHY allows you to focus on your motivation. This helps you identify what is important to you. After you identify what is important, compare those values to your habitual actions in different situations or events. Ask yourself if those actions are congruent with your values. Sometimes your habits align with your values. Sometimes your habits run contrary to your values. You do not realize this until you analyze your habits.

In our example of counseling employees, you say it is important, yet at the end of every evaluation period you realize you did not counsel your employees. You identify it as a habit you want to develop. You identify your motivation for developing this habit as becoming an effective leader. You know effective leaders improve organizations.

Every habit has a cue or trigger. The cue is the signal to begin a routine outside your thought process. When the routine is complete, you receive some sort of reward. To change your habit, figure out the cue or trigger, identify the routine, and the reward. Take time to write down the answer to each part of the whole habit so you can better understand what happens.

In the case of counseling employees, identify what cues block counseling sessions. What actions or events prevent you from taking time to prepare and execute employee counseling? What rewards can you establish to encourage you to change your behavior? Write down your answers. Use this information to create cues to execute the counseling. Calendar reminders are simple and easy triggers to begin a habit you want to start.

Now that you understand the habit and your motivation for change, focus your attention on change you can invoke. Common strategies include recognizing where the cue or trigger is initiated and avoiding that trigger, substituting a different routine, or changing the reward for the old routine so the habit is not rewarding. Treat this part of the process like a science experiment. Try different approaches at different parts of the habit cycle until you find something that works. Be easy on yourself. Habits form to reduce the work our brain has to do. It takes time and repetition to break an old habit and create a new habit.

Preparing to counsel employees is a time intensive process. Once you develop a habit cycle, the process becomes easier because your mind creates shortcuts to execute the key parts of counseling. In addition to calendar reminders, notify the employee of a date and time for the counseling. If an employee knows about the ‘appointment’ they will help you prepare. The employee will remind you. They may offer ideas about topics they want to discuss during the counseling. Learn to take notes about performance during the week. Figure out which cues work to develop routines to make counseling easier.

As you move down the time continuum, measure the progress you made with your new habit. Figure out how it made your life better. Use this success to start a new habit cycle to align another habit with your values.

As you start to counsel your employees, you measure your progress from the documented counselings. Each session documents the time and person counseled. Use the data to learn whether you are meeting the intervals you wanted, or if you need to tweak your routine a bit to meet those time hacks. Figure out how you can measure the employees improvements from their regular meetings with you. Compare their new behaviors to those occurring before you started your counseling. At the end of a rating period, you find you have plenty of documentation to validate your evaluation.

As your habits become more aligned with your values, you develop character. People will believe you will do what you say because what you say, you do. They develop trust you are the person you say you are.

People follow leaders that walk the talk. You need to do what you say to develop power in order to influence your workers, peers, and senior leaders. Your habits either put you out front or at the end of the line.

As you begin to habitually counsel your employees, they learn you care about their success. They know you listen to what they say. They trust you to look out for their welfare by helping them improve. You become their role model; someone who has character. You developed the power to influence their behavior and they follow you. Your senior leaders heed your advice because of the improvements you demonstrated increasing your influence.

The foundation of leadership is character. Two defining factors of character are your values and habits. Your habits tell others what your values are. They see your values in everything you do. Creating habits aligned with your values increases the influence you have with senior leaders, your peers, and those who report to you. Often leadership instruction sounds much like personal self-improvement. However, when you create new habits you develop power and influence, create trust, and cause the change you desire in others through your own actions. When your words and actions influence others you are a leader regardless of your title. Analyze your habits. Increase your influence. Become a better leader.

Photo Credits

  • Red Smoke — Pxhere.com, CC0, no additional attribution available
  • People Talking — by mentatdgt from Pexels.com, CC0
  • Geese in Formation — Pxhere.com, CC0, no additional attribution available

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Breaking the Ice: Classroom Introductions

Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy breaking lake ice.
USCG Icebreaker Healy

Whether you are teaching adults a college course lasting several weeks, workers about a new process in a half-day training, or conducting on off-site seminar lasting a few days, breaking the ice establishing norms, and identifying expectations is a critical first step. Setting the stage is an often overlooked learning activity by inexperienced trainers. New trainers believe the time available to puke out their information is too valuable to waste getting to know each other, what comes next in class, or how student performance will be evaluated. However, adults learn better when they know something about the others in class, understand class expectations, and know how their learning will be evaluated. Using these suggested activities will help you create a climate to prepare your adult students to learn at their best. Tailor introductory activities to meet your time frames.

Introductions

Introductions are important. It is easy to stand at the front of the class and brag about your background, then go around the room asking each student to share their name and something about themselves. That really does little to help students connect to each other. There are dozens of ice breaker ideas. Here are two.

Ask students to break out into groups of three to six. Have them select a recorder. Each student reports one thing that makes them unique, what they do in their current work position, any special resources they bring to the class, and a question or concern they have about the class (i). Give the groups 15 to 20 minutes to work on the exercise and then report back to the class. This activity allows a small group to meet with others, and the whole class to develop an understanding about the class members as a whole.

Group of people putting their hands in the center of the group.
Student introduction exercises are more effective when students actually talk to each other.

A second introduction activity is a mixer. During this activity, students form two lines facing each other. For two minutes the pairs discuss whatever they want. At the end of the two minutes, everyone moves to their right or left, those on the end spin around facing the opposite direction. Repeat as many times as desired (ii). This activity allows each student to meet several students and know something about the others.

Setting Expectations

Stephen Covey talks about seeking first to understand. You can do this in your class by finding out what your students expect during class. Ask the class what they expect to take from the class. You may choose to record these expectations on a flip chart or whiteboard. Completing this exercise allows you to understand what students think about the topic of the class. You may find that some of their expectations are not in line with your learning objectives. This provides you an opportunity to adjust your training to meet student expectations, or explain why the training is not set up to meet those expectations.

Now that you understand their expectations, you share yours. Your list may include expectations about breaks, class participation, note taking, or any other expectation you want to share. This activity allows students to understand how best to interact with each other, the material, and you during the training or educational event.

Tell Students about the Class

In this part of the introduction, tell the students how you conduct your class. Letting students know you ask lots of questions helps them prepare answers. Likewise if they know you are going to present some material, ask some checks on learning questions, and follow up with a group activity for each learning step, they can mentally prepare and know what comes next. Tell them if you are planning on doing individual worksheets, small group exercises, videos, and what to expect in the way of slide decks.

Introduce your learning goals. Depending on the course of instruction, you may have one or several terminal learning goals. Each terminal learning goal may be supported by one or more enabling learning goals. Develop one or more task steps or learning activities to support each enabling learning goal. During the initial introduction, provide only the terminal and enabling learning goals. Introduce the supporting task steps and learning activities at the being of the block of instruction for that learning goal.

A group of students sitting around a computer working on a group learning exercise.
Students need a variety of activities to remain engaged. Telling them what learning activities happen in class prepares them to participate well.

Tell students how they will be evaluated. No one likes a pop test at the end of training. Let them know if there will be a test. Will it be a written, hands-on, or a little of both. If written, how is the test constructed; short answer, multiple choice, fill in the blank, etc. Adult students need to know how they will be evaluated so they can participate in ways that maximize their individual learning styles.

Tell Them about You

Before you talk about yourself, talk about the facility. Where are the bathrooms and emergency exits? Are there any safety issues they need to know? What is they wifi password? These are simple things that reduce stress.

Now introduce yourself. Bragging turns off people. Tell a story that is relevant to what students will be learning. Tell students why your story is important to help them learn. Share why you made choices you made, and how those choices affected your learning. Be modest. Let students know you made a mistake or two on your journey. Your mistakes communicate you are still learning and it is okay for them to make mistakes in class. The whole point of your introduction is to establish, in a personable way, why students should listen to what you say.

Explain your teaching and leadership style. Let them know if you prefer to be contacted at a certain time of the day. Provide contact information so they can reach you with questions after class.

A quality introduction sets the stage and establishes the climate for your training or educational event. Students develop a better understanding of others in the class with brief introductions establishing trust. They know your expectations, those of other students, and have an opportunity to share their expectations with you. Introducing learning objectives ensures students understand the topics they will learn. Discussing how learning will be evaluated allows students to prepare for the evaluation. Letting students know something about you establishes reasons they should trust you as a teacher and instructor. Tailoring introduction activities to the time allowed for the training ensures students are prepared to learn. This learning step is easy to skip, but reduces the effectiveness of training. Experienced professionals use introductions to create a positive learning environment for their students.

————- Photo Credits ————–

By U.S. Coast Guard/DoD – DoDMedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2338112

All hands in by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Huddled around computer by Fox from Pexels

———- References ———-

iKnowles, Malcolm S. Designs for adult learning. (2009) American Society for Training and Development. Alexandia , VA.

iiPeterson, Deb. Adult ice breaker games for classrooms, meetings, and conferences. (2018). ThoughtCo. Retreived from https://www.thoughtco.com/c lassroom-ice-breaker-31410 1/20/19.

Strategic Planning for 2019

Last January I wrote a post on creating a personal development plan by picking a future destination for your life and figuring out what goals and task steps you need to complete achieve your plan. I mentioned that my inspiration was the process of beginning the development of a strategic plan for an organization I run. We just completed that plan, which again made me think about the importance of goals and planning not only in our lives but for organizations. The important lesson from this process for me was that quality long-term plans require long-term effort to complete. The ideas I had a year ago only slightly resemble the final plan. The benefits of developing such a plan go beyond having a road map to follow on your journey through time. The process established priorities and revealed unknown strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. If you follow the steps in the process outlined here, you will find hidden treasures as you plan your organization’s future. This is not an overnight project, but rather a short trip to identify what is important. As a leader, you have an obligation to set up your organization for future success. The principals are the same as developing your personal development plan, but more people are involved in the process.

Every strategic planning process begins by gathering facts to help you identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This process is called a SWOT analysis. Use other people to work on the SWOT assessment. Others have different perspectives on your organization. Vendors probably have a better understanding of you supply lines. Customers see how well your customer service responds to problems customers face. Line workers know what quality controls work, and which need improving. Managers know about the quality of employees and challenges of training and retaining good people.

When working on your SWOT assessment, think of strengths and weaknesses as internal issues. Gather information from your employees and internal contractors. Opportunities and threats are external issues. Key people in your organization may have some perspective on opportunities and threats, but your best information comes from those outside the organization. Ask your vendors and customers about things you do well and things you can do better.

There are two major theories about identifying strengths and weaknesses. The first is that you should ignore your weaknesses and only continue to develop your strengths. The second is you should build your weakness in order to become more rounded and effective in more areas. A third theory is to focus on your strengths, but examine your weaknesses to identify those that have the potential to destroy you. No matter how strong your strengths, some weaknesses prevent you from reaching your full potential. You need to develop those weaknesses to allow your strengths to propel you higher.

For example, you might run a small retail store and know little about employment law and accounting. You contracted with an HR firm to help you with employee issues and a CPA for accounting. Even with their help, if you do not know some basic principals you may find you still end up in trouble. You might deny an employee a right because of an on-the-spot decision that results in a law suit. Your accountant discovers you do not verify your monthly financial report and starts to divert your money to his or her accounts. Your accountant ends up with the beach villa and you end up in debt.

Analyzing threats and opportunities is challenging. The challenge lies in the fact that what appears on the surface to be a threat may be an opportunity in disguise. Like strengths and weaknesses, you can focus on responding to either, but it is probably better to recognize and conduct some risk mitigation for a few threats and focus on your opportunities.

Reach out to your vendors and customers. Develop a short online survey and ask them to complete it. You may learn of a feature customers want but you do not offer. A vendor may tell you about a potential problem in your supply chain not known to you.

Your facts help you determine where your organization is right now. Facts do not tell the whole story. No person ever has all the facts, not even Google. People fill in gaps with assumptions. It is dangerous to blindly assume anything. Use facts and good judgment to reach reasonable conclusions. As you gather more facts, reassess your conclusions and assumptions in order to continue being successful.

Role up your SWOT assessment as a grid with the SW in the top two quadrants, and the OT in the bottom two quadrants. This allows you and others to visualize the relationship of all the facts.

I attended a few classes on leadership when the instructor encourages students to write their own obituary. Organizational leaders need to do a similar exercise by envisioning what they want others to say and think about their organization. This exercise allows leaders to pinpoint their organization’s future. There was a time when people talked about The Phone Company when referring to AT&T, or dreamed of paying off their Sears card. Instead today, people have a choice of phone companies, and the executives at Sears dream of extracting themselves from their debt quagmire. When Walmart opened its first store, Sears, Newberry’s, and Woolworth’s were the retail giants. No one ever doubted they would stay in business. That is why it is important for organizational leaders to see the future of their organizations.

Values, or guiding principals, are an important part of creating your organization’s strategic plan. An exercise I use in my training requires students to select their values from a list on a worksheet I provide. This is an awesome group activity that needs to start before any planning retreat. Include this as part of a pre-retreat survey. Ask survey takers what values best reflect the organizations and provide a list. Limit them to a few answers to focus on the most important, three to five. Provide a space for them to enter an answer not provided. During our values focus group, we struggled to narrow down three similar values into one. One participant spoke up and suggested we keep them all because they are necessary to the work we do as a team. BAM! Teamwork had not been offered as a value or principal, yet it was the very term to describe what to describe what we were trying to say.

Now that you have an idea about where you want to lead the organization in the next few years; you understand the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; and you know what guiding principals are important, you can start to chart the path. Identify two to five activities or achievements your organization needs to accomplish to reach their destination. Think of each of these as milestones. Each should build on and support the others. Limit your strategic goals to five or less.

For example, you decide you want to become the premier craft brewery in your region. You spend one or two years learning about medium levels of producing brew. In the second year, you develop your brand and marketing plan. In your third year you develop a pub menu that comes from local suppliers and appeals to your target audience. In your fourth year you renovate your space to make your customers comfortable and encourages repeat visits. Each goal depends on the previous goal to reach success. You cannot do all of them at the same time well, so you focus on one area, building on success each year.

Use some of the information from your SWOT analysis to focus your strategic goal setting. You may recognize that you seek to achieve a particular task, but one of the critical resources was identified as a weakness. Strengthening that weakness will help you achieve your goal. Use product ideas from your external surveys. If your customers are asking for it and you are not figuring out how to meet their demand for it you can bet your competitor will.

Just because the focus is on one goal does not mean you ignore everything else. Complete activities to support your main effort, and prepare for the transition from one goal to the next. Figure out which supporting activities are essential for the completion of the main effort. Schedule those tasks on your organization’s calendar. Assign a person by name or title to supervise and complete each task. No matter what, the main effort needs to be the main effort.

You only have to plan the task steps of each goal as the start date approaches. Many things may happen in the world as your strategic plan becomes reality. Action plans at this stage only require two to four steps.

A final step in strategic planning is resource allocation. Knowing there can only be one main effort, every resource in the organization must be poised to support that effort. You cannot plan on your master brewing becoming an expert on using modern technology to brew old fashion recipes and then slash your travel and training budget the next year. The two ideas are incongruent. Ensure your resources are aligned to support the main effort.

Strategic plans are like road maps in that they are only helpful when drawn out. Anyone who has tried to follow verbal directions knows how hard it is to remember whether you were supposed to turn left at the third traffic light, er was it right? When your plan is written you can refer back to it to remember what comes next. A document is easier to share with others increasing understanding across the organization. You can use your plan to lure investors, employees, and customers. Even if you leave the organization, your replacement knows why certain things are being done, and understands what comes next.

Strategic plans can be a one-page document, or a multi-page report. You want enough detail so there is no question about why the organization is changing, how it plans to change, or what changes are coming. If you have a small organization you can farm out the work to a consultant. There are benefits of hiring someone outside the organization to write the plan even if you have the resources to do it yourself. They can remove jargon making the messages clearer. That fresh set of eyes serve as a common sense check.

December and January seem to be the time of the year people pause and reflect. As one year ends and another begins people recognize the importance of planning for change. I provided some ways your organization can plan for the future by analyzing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Gathering and analyzing facts allows your organization to reach reasonable conclusions and make informed decisions about future objectives. Aligning short-term goals with long-range objectives ensures your main effort has support. Clarifying your values helps develop the direction. Creating a written plan ensures you have a solid picture of how to use your resources over the next few years. The plan serves as your map. With your map (written plan) and compass (values) in hand, navigating the uncertain of the future is easier. Take some time this season to draw your organization’s map before it starts the journey in 2019.

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Photo Credits

Starting line by Martin Roz from Pexel.com CC0 License

Builders by Michael Gaida from Pexel.com CC0 License

SWOT by Author

Map Saddle by Author

Note-Taking Guides in Training

Man_taking_notes-PXHere

Taking notes during class is a tried and true method to improve information retention. Developing a note-taking guide or workbook is a great way to encourage your students to take notes during class. A good note-taking guide is more than the traditional presentation handout with three slides on each page and lines in the right column. A good note-taking guide requires active participation by students to record and receive all the information. It takes time to develop a good guide. It begins as you plan your lesson. Here are some tips and ideas to make a great note-taking guide for your students in leader training.

Using your slide deck is a great place to start. You can simply replace key text with underscores to create blank spaces for students to complete. If you select the two slide per page option, the slide is large enough for the student to write their answers. If you develop great slides, the kind with pictures and little text, using the fill-in-the-blank method will not work. A little creativity, however, allows you to incorporate pictures into your note-taking guide and still provide a space for the student to insert keywords for retention. The SMART Goals page is an example of using this idea. Using pictures in your workbooks reinforces the ideas from your slideshow. You need to creatively find ways so students will insert the keywords to help them remember the meaning of the picture.

There are times when text is necessary such as introducing laws, rules, definitions, or quotes. Replacing keywords from the text with blank spaces is a great way to ensure students record the key ideas from messages requiring lots of text. Often, students who do take notes in a traditional notebook try to copy every word of every slide. When they take notes this way, they miss the supporting information spoken by the instructor. The blank space replacement method permits enough writing to reinforce important messages from the slide, and also allows the student to listen to the explanatory message from the teacher. Providing some additional space allows the student to record connections they make from the information to their experiences.

Fill In The Blanks.jpg

Copy the high points of your lesson outline into a separate word processing document. Using this method provides the same information as slides, but allow you to reduce the information in the workbook. It also is a great way to provide a note-taking guide if your slides do have lots of pictures instead of text. Go back and delete important points and replace them with the blank line. The blank lines send a message to students that the missing information is important. Having the high points puts students on notices about the general direction of the training. They know when important information is coming and are understand what the main ideas are versus the supporting ideas. Another method is to provide the category of information and then place an empty numbered list below the heading.

Training classes should have learning activities sprinkled throughout allowing students to practice what they learned. Use individual, collective, and small group activities during leaders training. The note-taking guide is the perfect place to insert worksheets, instructions for exercises, or a place to record reflections of the learning activity. Frequently individual worksheets become separated from students notes. When they return to the notes later in their lives, they lose the benefit of the lessons learned during the classroom exercises using worksheets. If those learning steps are part of the class workbook, they are available to students days or years later when they reflect on finer points of the training that they want to remember at that later time.

As you prepare the note-taking guide, you will find it tempting to include everything from every slide in your presentation. Do not do it. I took a two-day class some time back. The students were provided with copies of the slides later. There were over 300. I have a two day class on professional decision making I teach. There are less than 80 slides. The note-taking guide allows students to note the most important learning points from your lesson. No one is going to easily find the information they are looking for by reviewing 300 slides. When I attend a training, I try to limit my class notes to one or two typed pages per hour of class time. With that number in mind, you should aim to only have one or two workbook pages for students for every hour of class. This number does not include any worksheet activities. If the class I took with 300 slides had information from each slide in the note-taking guide, the document would probably be 150 pages. Notes should be a summary of what is learned in class. A 150-page notebook is not a summary.

goal setting cycle.jpg

Flow charts showing processes and decision points are great for inclusion in note-taking guides. The page includes all of the steps and decision points but excludes text. Include text for the most critical points so students have that information after class. Leaving most of the steps empty however requires the students to pay attention and fill in the blanks. When they leave class, they have a model of the whole process. The remember more of the process because they wrote it down in the note-taking guide. They can return to it anytime and review the process improving the quality of their work without supervision in the future. Their behaviors conform to the organization’s expectations which is the point of conducting training.

Developing a note-taking guide for leaders training is a way instructors encourage students to take notes during class. A well designed note-taking guide serves as a workbook by including adequate space for structure and unstructured note-taking, forecasts what points will be made during the training, includes worksheets for use during learning activities, provides pictures with meaning, process charts for student completion, and improves lesson retention. Students structured notes to refer to in the future to share their learning with others, and to refresh their learning. An ideal note-taking workbook is one or two pages for every hour of training exclusive of any learning activity worksheets. The guide is not a copy of the slide deck used in the presentation, rather it complements the slide deck. A well designed note-taking guide improves learning but takes time to develop. Development begins as you work on your lesson plans. Your students will leave class thinking you are the profession expert you professed to be when you provide a quality note-taking guide.


Image Credits

Person Taking Notes:  PXHere.com-no attribution information.

Workbook page examples: Author from examples of his note-taking guides.

The RSA language is from NH.gov.