Thursday, April 30, 2009

At Some Point You Have to Act!

My team is currently looking at completely overhauling our development environment. One of our tasks is to evaluate some tools that may help us convert some things from one platform to the other. There's one guy on the team who has been taking the lead on this part of the project and sent out his recommendation the other day. Someone else on the team is actually quite familiar with some of the different tools available and was really wondering what it was about this particular tool the made it the recommended choice. That's when I heard this;

"I was just wondering, have you actually tried any of these tools out yet?"

You can do all the research and read all the studies and recommendations and reviews you want. At some point, though, you have to try something. Most all of these tools offer a 30-day trial download. Pick one, download it, and see if it works. Then do it with another one. Then another one.

We have been so conditioned that if you try something and you fail, then you must be a failure. Sorry folks, it doesn't work that way. If you truly want to be successful, truly want to innovate and create, you have to try, fail, try, fail, and keep trying until you get it right. Richard Marcinko, the Rogue Warrior, said, "Don't be afraid to make mistakes, the path to glory is littered with fuck-ups!" Think about it. He's absolutely right.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Finding What You Need to Learn

Every job, from garbage collector, to accountant, to professional football player, entails a certain set of skills that need to be learned. That's just the basics. To get really good at your job you have to work on those skills and take them to a whole new level. In sports even professional athletes run through drills to continually practice, and improve, even the most basic skills. In business, those drills are missing.

In the military, units will go through complete missions in real-time just to make sure they have it down. And they should. Lives are at stake. How often does your sales force practice their presentations with a hostile audience? When was the last time your IT department simulated a complete catastrophe to test your disaster recovery plan? So, how do you know if it's actually going to work? The time to find out is not when it happens. In fact, you should be training your staff so that the real thing seems like a walk in the park! How many people have quit your company because your training program is too hard? Why not?

Every job has a certain set of skills that are required to do that job. Identify those skills and then drill them into you and your staff. Find a coach. You need to get instant feedback to know what you're doing right, what you're doing wrong and what you need to do to fix it. Training should not be a one week a year endeavor. Training should be going on daily.

At the 2008 Summer Olympics Michael Phelps was only in the water for 24:50.18. That's the total time he was in the water, preliminary heats, semi-finals and finals. It took him less than half an hour to win 8 Gold Medals. It took very little time for the payoff. Now, go look at his training schedule…Do you even remotely train that hard for your job?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Training?

I've always been fascinated by training. Every time I go to a class or learn about something new, I immediately want to teach it to someone else. You would think that would have obviously led to a career in teaching or training or some related field. I'm an Application Developer. A computer geek. I write code for a living. So how does a guy who loves being in front of a group talking, teaching and coaching wind up in a job where he sits in a cube writing code?

Jessica, over at Fistful of Talent, has a posting today about "falling into HR". Well, that's exactly how I wound up in IT. I started working as a Rate Analyst for an HMO a couple years after graduating from college. Within the first week my boss handed me a disk with an Excel spreadsheet that was a rate model used to rate small business used various brokers. He asked me to go through it and update it with rates for the new year and make sure that it was secure and locked down. Having very little experience with Excel, I went through that spreadsheet cell-by-cell to figure out what it was doing. The rest is history. I've now been doing application development for nearly 13 years.

The one thing I've done in every job since is find a way to stay in front of a group providing training. I teach first aid/CPR for the Red Cross and have offered up that skill set to my employers to provide training. I've offered to provide basic user training for the various software applications used within the companies. I even wrote a monthly newsletter column for one company. I love training! And it doesn't happen enough. Imagine if the only time your favorite professional football team ever got together was on Game Day. What kind of record do you think they'd have? So why do we do it in business?

Everyone one of us has gone through some form of schooling, training or coaching to get where we are. When was the last time you went back and read those old college text books to reinforce that basic training you had back then? In business we tend to believe that once we've had training we've learned it all. We don't reinforce that training by revisiting it day after day. We did it once, why do we need to do it again. It's like thinking, "I learned how to read a balance sheet in my college accounting class, so I know how to read a balance sheet." That kind of thinking is no different than if Peyton Manning decided that since he knows how to throw a pass, he doesn't have to throw any during workouts. He can just walk out there on Game Day and do what he needs to do.

How did you get where you are? When was the last time you went back to the basics of what you do and relearned it all again? Now, do that daily. That's training!