Friday, 5 February 2016

Horses for Courses

Last week I took my little girl Shari to gymnastics.  We’d been attending weekly for the last 4 weeks and for the most part she has refused to follow the instructions.  Shari has special educational needs so her communication skills are not at the level of her peers.  However, she has a wide vocabulary and does understand the instructions.  It was quite frustrating to watch the trainer - Marie struggle to get her to do the most basic tasks.  Marie offered to seek advice from her manager – a senior gymnastics trainer who specialises in working with children with additional needs, preparing them to participate at the national and international levels.
This week we attended the session and Marie produced feedback based on her conversation with her supervisor.  She had been advised that she should terminate the session the moment the child starts to misbehave.  She said she was surprised and disappointed at the advice given; she really did not feel that it was the appropriate step to take.  We both recognised that based on that advice the session could be concluded after just 5 minutes.  Marie suggested that I joined in the one-to-one session with Shari and see what happens.  I agreed and tried it and  what a difference that made!  She was like a different child... jumping, climbing and lunging about like a pro. 
It is important to respect qualifications and experience but often we have the answers if only we trust our gut.  The experts do not always know better.  There is a Jamaican proverb that says: the wisest man is sometimes a fool - no one has it all together all the time.  When we apply a broadbrush approach to life we run the risk of denying people opportunities, damaging their self esteem and confidence, and the process becomes totally unproductive. 
At ACT - our training company in London we tailor our training programmes, working with individuals, enabling them to be accountable for their personal development.  Sometimes we apply additional incentives and in some cases they are not needed.  Many of our trainees arrive with broken spirits, being unable to find work despite consistently applying, and tired of what they see as Job Centre harassment.  They are not always lazy people – they have hopes and dreams, goals and aspiration like anyone else.  All they need is for someone to listen, to believe in them, help them identify their strengths and carve out an appropriate path.  Progress is primarily mental, not physical.  Once a person has the right mindset and attitude they can make progress. 
As service organisations we need to understand that everyone will not fit into our little boxes.  There are different routes to a destination; indeed there are various types of destinations – not everyone will end up at the same place; the key is to ensure that the chosen route is an interesting and engaging one.  Over the years we have encouraged thousands of people to aspire higher.  We enabled them to access sustainable employment opportunities even when they were unable to read and write English well.  We do that by ensuring that the people we hire to help us have the appropriate soft skills along with the required technical competence to support our trainees.  Further, we ensure that our values are shared and that our culture is appropriate to the business we are operating.  When that happens success is guaranteed and your marketing budget can be halved.
We should never assume that because someone does not take the route to which we are accustomed their value is to be discounted.   Several years ago I was seeking membership of a prestigious translators and interpreters institute .  I had trained for years as a professional Interpreter and Translator in Mexico City and later pursued university studies in Spanish and French, gaining a Masters degree with honours.  When I applied to the institute I was flatly refused; the requirements stated that I had to qualify from a UK institution in order to become a member.  Whatever qualifications I held did not count.  I refused to enroll on a local course and as membership of the institute was important for my career I decided to fight for the right to be a member.  In the end they tested me rigorously and as I passed all the tests they no longer had any credible basis on which to continue to refuse the application.  I am now a senior member and am often invited to co-host their training webinars for new members.  Sometimes we have to fight for what we know we deserve.
Marie is very passionate and skilled in her craft but she lacked self belief and drive.  It took an irrational decision from her manager to stimulate her self esteem and restore that drive.  Now she knows she is good enough.  Not only did she find a workable solution but more importantly she discovered a technique that gave a little girl a chance to dance. She may not hold a degree in gymnastics and she may not have vast experience but she has talent and passion for her chosen field. Too often we think that others are better than we are because they say so, appear so, or because they have papers to show.  Unfortunately academia cannot teach common sense and whatever instruments society may drum up, it cannot be replaced.
Maria has found a marketable solution to a common problem.  This can open doors for her to work with other children who are similarly challenged.  Indeed there is a long waiting list; I’d be the first to give her a recommendation. There is always an opportunity lurking; too many of us get so stuck on problem-solving, we fail to appreciate the prospects begging to be explored.
As business owners and managers we should ask ourselves, are we flexible enough in our approach to managing people?  Do we recognise that they are individuals with unique dispositions, needs and styles? Do we give them space to explore and be creative?  There is a saying:  When Jackass smells corn it gallops -treat people well and they will come through for you.  These are not the days of the well-oiled machine; we need people not only with a pair of hands but with a brain too.  There is consistent change, the workplace is in constant flux; there is always something new to learn.  We cannot assume that our way is the only way. The road to hell is paved with good intentions - while you may think you are protecting your staff by dictating their every move; consider that you may be stifling their creativity.
There are different courses for different horses.