When I was in my mid-20s I got my first Training Manager job. Before I started working at MindFireInc. (that is the company’s name), I would say that I was pretty proactive and self-reliant. I had made my own way in the world, and I had already obtained a Master’s degree in Adult Education. However, I quickly learned that I needed to better – more accountable, more self-reliant, and more empowered. My boss, Dave Rosendahl, taught me this with one simple lesson.
The company is a software development company, and while I have always had a knack for technology, I was not formally educated in anything related to technology, and my experience to that point really was not technologically focused. So issues would arise with a firewall or some other server setting, and the clients I was supporting would look to me for help and guidance. I was their trainer after all!
What’s an employee to do?
I would do what many employees do, and I would run to my boss’s office and say, “Dave, I’m encountering this problem. What do I do?” Dave’s response? “Did you Google it?”
You mean I can’t just come to you with all my problems, and you fix them?
Thank goodness Dave did not just give me the answers and solve all my problems because I would not be as good as I am today if he did. That simple response was Dave’s way of saying, “Did you try to figure it out? What do you know about the problem? Can you explain the error message? What solutions can you suggest to me?”
He was not saying, “I won’t help you.” He was saying, “Help me help you.”
I took that lesson, and learned it quickly. I did not want him to ask me that question again. I was going to come prepared! Throughout my tenure as a Training Manager, I have expanded that lesson. I expect my employees to come to me with answers to those questions – or at least an attempt.
Help me help you.
Yes I want them to come to me. Yes I want them to feel I have an open door and that I am here to support them. I do not, however, want them to bring their garbage, drop it on my desk, and expect me to clean it up and take it out.
I want them to TRY first. I will provide guidance, support, and tools, and I will fill in the blanks, but they need to show the initiative.
They need to take responsibility for their future, decisions, and actions, and I will work with them to achieve agreed upon goals and to solve issues.
With all that said (maybe someday I will become more succinct – another lesson Dave tried to teach me), let me provide you with my keys to success – specifically in regard to creating self-reliant, empowered employees who demonstrate their accountability.
1. Set clear expectations – This should be a given, but it is important to reiterate. Do not assume that your employees know what you want or mean. Eventually they will learn your quirks and be able to read between the lines you create, but always go in assuming that they do not know what you expect. Be clear in your instructions, and get acknowledgement that they understand. What do you expect of them with regard to their jobs? What do you expect of them with regard to them requesting help? Do you have possibly unique expectations, such as how they should come, speak, and prepare for a meeting?
2. Encourage and ask questions – Encouragement is not praise. Encouragement is letting them know you have confidence that they can do it – whatever “it” may be. Encouragement can also be displayed by asking questions. Instead of fixing a problem or telling your employee the answer, encourage by asking questions that create guidance to the solution or answer. Also, make sure you are open to their ideas. This could almost be its own item, but I will include it here. Encourage creative problem solving and new ideas, and make sure you actually listen to them. Let them explain the idea completely, and remember, not everyone has the same presentation skills and communication skills you have, so it might take a little work and guidance from you to clearly understand their idea, but with practice comes perfection.
3. Share knowledge/education and provide tools – Make sure that the tools for success are available to them. Are there manuals? Could they find the solution on Google? Do they have access to the Internet? Are there training materials or online trainings they could review to understand the problem? As managers, we often get articles or have access to educational materials, seminars, trainings, or talks. Share them! This does not mean you have to pay for it. Someone that really wants to succeed and move forward will find a way to access the resources – scholarship or sponsorship? – or seek out the free ones when finances are not available. You are doing your part by keeping them informed of what is out there.
4. Provide coaching and feedback – This does not mean counseling. Let us get that straight right now. Counselings are an important management tool, and there will be times when you will have to counsel your employees. However, coaching and feedback should be consistent, constant, and should never be viewed as a discipline. Coaching and feedback does include constructive criticism, which may be hard for some employees to swallow. Constructive criticism might punch the ego, but it is not discipline. It is a tool to make us all better, and it is important. Coaching and feedback also includes praise – tell them what they did well – acknowledgement, and education/training. All of these are good things. When done right, coaching and feedback fosters an environment of growth and education, increases morale, and reduces counselings.
5. Be available – This does not mean hand hold. We have already discussed the importance of encouraging accountability by setting expectations, asking questions, providing tools, and with coaching and feedback. Now, you have to be available. They will need help at times utilizing the tools effectively. It will take time for them to understand how switch from dependence to independence. They may get 75% of the way to a solution and need help getting to the end, and ultimately, you are their boss. They still need your approval to move forward in many cases. Let them know you are there for them. It does not mean you have to be at their beck and call. When you are setting up expectations, you can define what the expectations are for meeting with you. Do they need to set a meeting? Can they drop in whenever they want? Do you prefer an IM first to see if you are free? Sure there might be emergencies, but generally, most things can wait, and so as long as you have set the expectations up front, you can be available to them without being too available.
Ultimately, the idea is to empower your staff, and then support them as they grow.