Tag Archives: Gary Harpst

“Throwing Money” At Your Training Needs Just Might Be A Very Wise Investment

“most of the research shows that when class size reduction programs are well-designed and implemented, student achievement rises as class size drops.
Intuitively, it makes sense that the more attention a teacher can focus on each student, the more the student will benefit and, therefore, perform at a higher level.”

(excerpted from here).
and
As business leaders, we’re voracious seekers of business improvement ideas in the form of conferences, books, blogs, and training.  We want our performance to be better, and we know it should be better.
(Gary Harpst:  Six Disciplines Execution Revolution)

——————

It’s Saturday.  Let’s think about a big question/problem for American business.

The conventional wisdom goes like this.  When you hire someone, make the right hire. If you make the wrong hire, you’ve got trouble.

If you make the right hire, and the person you hired needs to improve in a specific area, or two or three, then provide the right training.

This I know.  It is foolish to have a good person (i.e., the “right hire”) trying to succeed at a job that he/she is not trained to succeed at.  And when the “right hire” receives the right training, and then gets the right encouragement/supervision, the person, and the company, is more successful.

So – what is the right training?  Let’s think about this training question.  This is a big issue because in these tight economic times, companies cut expenses where they can – and training is one of the areas that gets cut.  And the result of such cuts can definitely lead to more difficulties.  When training budgets get cut, people don’t get trained.  And then they don’t get better at their jobs.  And then, because they don’t get better at their jobs, companies lose more money, or, at least, don’t make as much money as they could.

So – back to the question.  What is the right training?

I suggest a simple formula:  when the skill/deficiency is a simple matter of learning — for example:  how to use a new software program; how to be proficient on Excel; how to create PowerPoint slides — then a training class of many, even very many, students can do the trick.

But the closer you get to what we call the soft skills — which are critical to a person’s success in so many jobs – then a large training class with very many students may not do the trick.  No, that’s not strong enough.  The closer you get to the soft skills, a large training class, with little one-on-one attention and follow up coaching, will not do the trick.  It just won’t.

Let me describe an underlying bias, and then give an example.

A couple of decades ago, George McGovern came to Dallas to speak to a political group.  One question he was asked during the Q & A was this:  “How can we improve education in this country?”  That qualifies as an important need.  He said something like this (paraphrased, from memory):  “People say that you can’t fix education by throwing more money at the problem.  Well, I’m not so sure.  Because hiring more teachers takes money.  And if there is one thing that we know is true about education, it is this — the smaller the class size, the smaller the teacher-student ratio, the better the educational outcomes.”

Is that true – about the class size issue?  Take Dallas.  One of the schools that is legendary for its very successful educational outcomes is the private school St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas.  Now, I know that the parents are very involved.  And the students come from families that truly prize a good education.  And the school is very demanding.  (Check out their current summer reading assignments.  This is a school with very high expectations!).  And, yes, the teachers are certainly among the very best possible.

But here is a simple fact about St. Mark’s: the teacher-student ration is 6.83 to 1  (I did the math from this page on their website).  Let me say that again – that is better than one teacher for every seven students. How does that compare?  Well, nationally, the teacher-student ratio is higher in public schools than in private schools.  And St. Mark’s ratio is substantially better than the national average for private schools.  (You can compare some of these national average numbers here).

In other words, enough money is “thrown at” education at St. Mark’s to guarantee more personal attention.  And personal attention produces more development, more correction…  better educational outcomes!  And those outcomes are better at St. Mark’s than in schools that have higher teacher-student ratios.

So, back to the business lesson.  What if you “throw more money” at training?  The closer you get to a low teacher-student ratio (trainer-employee ratio), especially for those hard to teach yet very important “soft skills,” the better the training outcomes.  It really is, to state the obvious, simple math.

Here’s one example.  Say you have an employee who needs to make presentations.  This employee is smart, qualified, knowledgeable – but not very adept at making presentations.  What do you do?

You can send that employee to a speech class at a local community college.  (I teach such classes).  That will help – a little, and it will cost very little.  But I have classes with up to 25 students.  The time I have for one-to-one, individual attention per student is practically zero.    And, as much as I hate to admit it, all I can do is “tell” the basics.  I can’t do much “coaching” in such classes.  And, I am sad to say, many of my students in these classes show little actual improvement in their presentation skills over the course of a semester.

Or, you can bring in a good trainer for presentation skills training.  (Karl Krayer and I offer that through Creative Communication Network).  And the outcome is almost utterly predictable – the smaller the group of people, the more one-on-one coaching we can provide in the training experience, the better the training outcome.

For example, we are about to lead a two-day session for a company sending 4 people to the training.  That is a trainer-employee ratio of 4-1.  We will “tell,” but then each participant will practice, over and over again, for the two days.  We will video tape, we will point out the bright spots, and then offer suggestions, and corrections.  This is very high-impact training.

And, it is possible to get even better outcomes. Say a key employee has a very important presentation or series of presentations to make, and it is important for the company that these go well.  If the employee could be more successful, and thus the company could be more successful, if he/she got substantially better, then you could hire a one-to-one presentation skills coach.  (Yes, Karl and I offer this training also).  This coach will provide some initial training, with very focused one-to-one practice and skill development, then watch a few presentations, offer correctives, point to ways to improve, and then provide periodic check-ups.

This is very expensive training.  But maybe not as expensive as continued inadequate performance.

This approach can be repeated with other skill development.  For example, Karl Krayer teaches a half day business writing skills session, then meets one-on-one with each participant, going over actual writing examples, and then provides follow up.

Why?  Because we forget what we hear/read in the training sessions.  We forget what our “coach” told us.  There’s a reason why great sports teams practice every day.  And there’s a reason why the best sports teams have very low coach-athlete ratios.  It takes a lot of work to get good, and than really good, and then even better, at anything.

Such are my thoughts for a Saturday.

Which is It? Overmanaged and Underled — OR, Undermanaged and Overled? How about Undermanaged and Underled?

In Leading Change, John Kotter states that some organizations try to implement a change program which is then likely to be “overmanaged and underled.”  In The Leadership Pipeline:  How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel, that theme is more broadly developed.  They write:

Because of the new business realities, including ever increasing and unpredictable complexity; AND, because businesses “dramatically reduced their investment in talent development, greatly reducing or even eliminating training programs, development assignments, and time for coaching,” the famine for leaders is acute.

1.              The need for leaders has grown exponentially.
2.              There are not enough leaders to meet the demand.
3.              There is not enough “talent” from which to develop enough leaders.
4.              The inevitable consequence is that many (most?) companies are at least partly underled, thus underperforming.

Other authors, almost too numerous to mention, echo such sentiments.  Now comes The Best Leadership Is Good Management:  Too many so-called leaders fancy themselves above the messy, but crucial, work of managing by Henry Mintzberg in the latest Business Week (published on-line on Aug. 6, 2009).  Mr. Mintzberg argues that the opposite is true.  He states:

Corporate America has had too much of fancy leadership disconnected from plain old management.
We’re overled and undermanaged. As someone who teaches, writes, and advises about management, I hear stories about this every day: about CEOs who don’t manage so much as deem—pronouncing performance targets, for instance, that are supposed to be met by whoever is doing the real managing.

So – which is it?  I suggest that it is both.  I think there has been a failure in management.  This is the point of such books as Execution and Six Disciplines Execution Revolution.  Execution is all about management processes, actually getting the job done, well, and on time.  But I think we also face a failure of leadership.  It is leadership failure that keeps companies from facing an uncertain future with a strategy to survive and thrive.  How many have said that General Motors should have seen the changing landscape far before it did?  Leadership is about seeing the big picture, setting the direction—and then making sure that the job gets done.

So – I agree that we’ve got to get a whole lot better at management.  But we’ve also got to get a whole lot better at leadership.

Robert Greenleaf nailed this years ago in Servant Leadership.  He described two kinds of leaders.  His terms were different:  Conceptualizers and Operators.  But the two roles are the same – an organization needs leaders to help them see the future (conceptualizers), and leaders who can make that future happen (operators).

So, here’s Randy weighing in on the debate.  I think Mr. Mintzberg is both right and wrong.  He is right – we are undermanaged.  But he is wrong – we are not overled.  Too many American organizations are, sadly, both undermanaged and underled.

Once you Decide and Plan — It’s All About Execution

Yes, plans can be tough to make.  Planning done right is hard work, and a failure to plan leads to ongoing failure down the road.  But most business failure has more to do with a failure to execute than it does with a failure to plan.

This message was stated clearly in the Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan book:  Execution:  The Discipline of Getting Things Done.  They wrote:  “Many people regard execution as detail work that’s beneath the dignity of a business leader.  That’s wrong. To the contrary, it’s a leader’s most important work…  Putting an execution environment in place is hard, but losing it is easy…  When a company executes, its people are not victims…  When a company executes well, its people are not brought to their knees by changes in the business environment.”  Here’s their definition of execution:  Execution is a systematic process of rigorously discussing hows and whats, questioning, tenaciously following through, and ensuring accountability.

A few other books have picked up and built upon the execution theme.  Notably, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution:  Solving the One Business Problem that Makes Solving All Other Problems Easier by Gary Harpst.  In this book, Harpst quotes from business guru Michael Porter:  “It’s better to have grade-B strategy and grade-A execution than the other way around.” I like Harpst’s simple reminder:  STRATEGY:  DECIDING WHAT TO DO — EXECUTION:  GETTING IT DONE. “Of the two, execution is far more difficult to achieve.”

Another volume to consider is the one by Amir Hartman,  Ruthless Execution:  What Business Leaders Do When Their Companies Hit The Wall.  He finds execution especially valuable when a company hits a tough spot:  “Ruthless execution is the method and strategies that business leaders employ to break through performance walls.”

I thought of these books in church this morning.  We had a guest preacher, the regional Bishop for the Methodist Church, Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe.  He asked a simple question:  “What is unfinished?  What unfinished business do you need to finish?”  The text was from 2 Corinthians 8:11 —  “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it.”  The subject  at hand dealt with helping those in need.  But the underlying principle was unmistakable:  finish what you start.  Finish what you plan.  Plan — then execute your plan.

So, yes, I confess that my mind drifted to these business volumes in the middle of church.  Why?  Because the truth is inescapable — for business, and for my own life.  Starting is relatively easy.  Finishing strong, finishing well… executing.  That’s where success is truly won.

{To purchase my synopses of Execution and Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site}.