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Skills Training: A sound personal investment

Training can improve skills and value

Aristotle is attributed with the expression “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” This is demonstrated every week in the sporting community. The best athletes in the world will tell you that they are always training in order to stay in top form.

This same thought is true for those that want to excel in the workplace. To achieve specific goals, each person needs to focus on their own personal development of the needed skills to be successful. How can this be accomplished? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Check the resources made available by your company. Many companies offer training courses to assist in employee development. Often, these courses are overlooked or even unknown.
  2. Outside resources may also be available through the company. Check with the HR department to understand the available options for tuition reimbursement.
  3. Express your interests to your management. Based on their experience, they may be able to recommend specific courses that can directly benefit you in achieving your goals.

Once you have a clear understanding of what is available to you, design a personal training plan that will take advantage of those resources and execute on that plan to enhance your skill-set.

I have always had excellent coaches and mentors that provided me sound advice, guidance and support. They have always allowed me to enroll in training courses that would improve my personal performance, enhance the team environment and increase my value as an asset to the company. Some of these training courses have covered topics such as:

  • Continuous Improvement
  • Leadership Effectiveness
  • High performance teamwork
  • Public speaking

Topics such as these have provided benefits to all of the various roles I have taken in my career as a manager and as an individual contributor. Before I could register for any courses, my management always wanted me to make sure there was enough room in the budget to cover the costs.

It should be noted, however, that most managers are focused on achieving quarterly goals and milestones. It is very possible that employee development may not be at the top of their priority list. In my own experience, while I knew my management continued to support me, I found that I needed to be willing to take the initiative in my own training. Thus, it is important that each individual proactively pursue their own personal development.

Corner Office Wisdom:
Be proactive in pursuing the development of your skills. Create a plan, review the resources available to fulfill that plan and execute on it to manage your personal development.


Cross-training: A lesson from the World Cup

Cross-training facilitates teamwork!

Watching the World Cup qualifying tournaments has been really enjoyable. It is always great to see individual talents performing at the highest levels. But what was even more enjoyable was seeing the teamwork demonstrated by the players. The teams that gelled the best were the ones that were the least selfish and supported their team mates.

There are many times in the momentum of play that the player with the ball has an opportunity to take the ball down field. As he does so, he will need to temporarily “switch” positions with another player. For example, if the player is a defender or a mid-fielder moving the ball down field, he might suddenly occupy the space of a different player, perhaps a winger. The winger will need to switch positions and pull back to cover for the midfielder. To do this successfully requires great communication, cooperation and common skills between players. If the winger does not fall back, the result will be too many players bunched up in an area of the field. This will leave gaping holes in the defense should the momentum of play shift and go the opposite way.

In one of my roles, I was leading a software development team. It consisted of a Sr. Engineer under contract, a tester, a student-intern, and me, also a Sr. Engineer. We had a tremendous amount of work to do to get our delivery completed. Each of us had individual roles and assignments. After working an extensive amount of overtime, we completed the delivery. Then my group was combined with a second group. It also included a mix of Sr. engineers, testers, as well as a person who handled the massive amount of process paperwork required by the customer.

In our first meeting together as a team, we compared notes and realized the new group had worked even more overtime than my original group. They were really tired and on the verge of burn-out. Looking at the dark circles around everyone’s eyes, we determined there had to be a better way.

We decided to review the process used to get things done. We determined that there were a number of bottlenecks in the way each task was accomplished. The biggest issue was that people were so focused on their own role and assignment that they did not know what the others persons did. We discussed how we can tear down some of the walls between roles in the team and focus on how we can work together better. The results included:

1. Cross-training and developing skills among some of the team members to expand their abilities.
2. Allow them to grow and take on additional, more expanded roles.

As a result, we were able to “switch” individuals between roles and directly assist one another when needed. With the combined adjustments of increasing the skills of the team, increasing communication and cooperation, we met our deadlines with very high-quality, high-morale and minimal overtime.

Corner Office Wisdom:
There are times when process improvement also requires skills improvement including cross-training of individuals in the organization. By improving the skills of the team as a whole and encouraging cooperation, the team will operate with greater efficiency and higher quality in completing their deliverables.

Do you multitask? Not very well!

A colleague of mine thinks they are the ultimate multitasker. Because of their well-honed skills at multitasking, they also believe they are extremely productive. One day, I walked into their office and I saw it in action. My colleague had:

1. A webinar going on their laptop about a new set of use cases for telecommunications.
2. At least two different email reply’s open and “in progress”.
3. Four different instant messaging panels open and blinking waiting for the response from my colleague.
4. A speaker phone dialed in to a conference call. The phone was on mute.
5. A mobile phone with an ear-bud stuck in their ear while responding to a call.

Were they really at the peak of productivity? Or were they deceptively sacrificing quality for quantity?

Since the 1990’s, experimental psychologists have examined the idea of human multitasking to identify our capabilities and impacts. In summary, what has been determined is that our brain’s working memory capacity does not allow us to multitask successfully – in spite of the confidence we have in our own abilities.

Because the brain cannot fully focus when multitasking, people take longer to actually complete a given task and they are more error-prone. The impact to business? Employees are less efficient and quality suffers. Overall productivity is diminished.

Here are some interesting studies highlighting some results:
• A study by the American Psychological Association indicates that we lose as much as 40% productivity when we attempt to multitask.
• A study by the University of Utah in 2013 showed that people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities – and tend to be less capable of doing it.
• A 2008 study by the University of Utah showed that drivers talking on the cellphone missed their exits and turns more often that those talking with a passenger.
• A different study by Stanford University found that even trying to talk on the phone, send an instant message and read email can impair your cognitive control.
• A 2012 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago indicates that multitasking works against the processes that generate the “a-ha” moments of creativity and limits problem-solving.

With so many available channels of communication, we have an over-developed expectation of immediate response. We feel the need to immediately respond to others and we expect an immediate response from them. The result is we respond to the volume of communication but sacrifice value. Our brains are maxed out and we diminish our ability to solve problems and lose creativity.

And my colleague? Were they really successful in multitasking? Not very well!
1. The webinar was recorded so they could listen to the replay later. They likely didn’t get anything out of it the first time.
2. Having been the recipient of a few responses, the email replies were likely sparse and incomplete. The instant message responses were unintelligible and some of the replies were directed to the wrong person.
3. When they heard their name on the conference call, they had to unmute the phone and ask for the question to be repeated. It was later they heard about any action items.
4. The mobile phone call was the only real task that was completed with success.

The idea of multitasking is a great one. We just need to be more serial about it and focus on task-switching. By task-switching, we are able to get the task that needs to be done completed with high-quality, efficiency and minimal rework. This will make us more productive and more successful.

Corner Office Wisdom:
To do a task and do it well needs focus and concentration. Take just a few seconds to get your mind centered on what needs to be done. You will find you get more accomplished in a shorter period of time with higher quality. Quality is more important than quantity with errors.