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Teach them How to Fish

April 11, 2011

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Chinese Proverb


I got to thinking about learning on the job the other day.  As we were taking some steps to bring a new staff member on board, I got to pondering about how we will truly ensure that we provide the best chance for her to succeed once she’s firmly ensconced behind her desk.  What opportunities for learning are we providing each and every day?

Recently, I’ve been reading through some ASTD information about the need to better connect with the socially-networked and savvy employees in organizations in order to drive learning initiatives.  We all have people in our companies who want to learn and develop but become quickly bored as we continue to subject them to the one-way snoozefests we put on (courses, modules, classes and webinars). There are lots of exciting and interesting things being done in the learning & performance profession that sound way more enticing:  gaming or “gamification” (earn points, badges and track real time stats), virtual role-playing and webisodes and podcasts for the mobile workforce.

Now those applications are fantastic for many of the “learn-then-do” moments at work.  But I think it’s also important to remember that many of the best moments come when our employees “learn-while-doing.” The key to THAT success is ensuring that managers are providing the right level of opportunities through delegation.   But we
have to acknowledge that delegation can be a frightening thing for many managers who feel they’re giving up some level of control.

So how do we make this work? By making sure that our managers do the following:

  • Consider delegation a process; it’s ongoing, continuous and open to improvement.  Delegating to staff members can allow the manager to continuously reinforce desired behaviors and model appropriate decision-making techniques.
  • Delegate a task or project by assigning it and then leaving the person alone to complete the work.  A manager who is a technical whiz or has many more years of experience will feel an overwhelming need to step in and “do the work.”  But continuously inserting oneself into the project may only serve to increase the employee’s anxiety and demonstrate a lack of trust in their abilities.   A better way to approach this is to let them complete the task and THEN get together to go back and review/correct. This allows the employee to learn from any mistakes or missteps and deepens their comprehension.
  • Acknowledge that some mistakes are OK. Obviously, a finished product shouldn’t be turned in that’s riddled with errors, but with proper checkpoints for understanding and progress, the employee can learn and build the requisite skills for long term success.
  • Remove obstacles and burdens that are in the way.  This is perhaps the greatest input a manager can have as they transfer tasks, decision-making ability or authority to
  • Realize that your way is not the only way.  People bring different experiences, backgrounds, perceptions and ideas to the workplace and tapping into that can lead to better outcomes; even if they are different from what you, the manager, might have done on your own.

Our goal should be to ensure that our employees learn and then perform to the best of their abilities. It goes without saying that this is what leads to their personal success
and that in turn drives success for our organizations.  We don’t want auto-bots churning out widgets; we want people who care and learn and grow.

We want to teach them how to fish.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2011 6:44 am

    Great post! The issue of delegation has been kicking around in my head for a couple of weeks (basically that I need to do more of it!). Thanks for the kick-in-the-pants to get moving Robin.

    • Robin Schooling permalink*
      April 11, 2011 4:45 pm

      Always happy to oblige Jay.. 😉

  2. John Jorgensen permalink
    April 11, 2011 7:03 am

    Good points all. The only problem I have with the post is with the picture….that small of a bass is not worth taking a picture of…. Keep up the good work.

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