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Guidance and Training — Don’t Drop the Ball

Jul 12th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

My 10-year-old laid this on me last night as we were driving home from watching the movie 42: “Did you know there’s a new invention that can watch you while you’re hitting, physician and after every pitch it tells you exactly what you did wrong with your swing?”

My response: “Is this a joke?” I knew it was a joke. I could tell by the cadence of his phrasing. But he didn’t answer, stuff so I thought maybe this was some new app for a mobile device I hadn’t heard about.

So he repeats it, and I bite, because I think he legitimately heard about this device, and I admit that I haven’t heard of it, so he tells me what it is: “a dad.”

It was pretty funny, because he just finished his youth baseball season and the whole team was probably very tired of being told what they did wrong. Why do we do that with our kids? It’s hard enough for kids to separate being told what to do versus being told what not to do. My kid is so conditioned by coaches and others telling him what he did wrong that you could show him the proper form or technique for something, and he would interpret that as being told what he actually does is wrong. And he’s a pretty good baseball player. Imagine what the other kids are going through.

I did not coach this year, which was painful because, like every other parent, I know exactly what to do and exactly what the coaches are doing wrong, and they couldn’t care less. They have their own agenda: angering the parents. My main beef is that, after 30+ games and 50+ practices, if a 10-year-old makes an errant throw more than 25 percent of the time, criticizing his performance is unfair and pointless. He obviously has not been successfully taught the fundamental form and technique of throwing a baseball, which is 100 percent the coach’s fault. Which is why you spend the pre-season working on those fundamentals and then you keep coming back to them when you see a pattern of problems rather than jumping ahead to game situations that combine about 37 fundamental activities into 15 seconds of mayhem.

Youth baseball is a great metaphor for most organizations. It’s a complicated game that almost anyone can get good at if they get the right guidance and work hard. The right guidance includes both effective training and a simple, workable system that primes the player for success. How many of us run our business that way? How many of us give new hires the best possible opportunity to succeed rather than treating them like every day is a pop quiz on data that we haven’t provided to them? How many of us remove obstacles that are preventing our employees from achieving the results we expect, rather than building more obstacles on top of the ones already entrenched in our system?

At an impound company I managed, we provided parking permits to accounts to issue to residents or employees. The permits adhered to the vehicle’s window. We patrolled many accounts for permit violations, and giving them the permits to use made it easier for them to request this service, and it also standardized the type of permit that our drivers would look for at most properties. The problem, when I started working there, was that the permit we provided was an opaque red octagon design that was hard to see under optimal conditions. After several months it actually would fade to an opaque pink and then to clear. Try finding a clear permit adhered to a window — not a recipe for success. The drivers kept telling the sales department to change permits, but met with resistance. Management kept telling the drivers, “Just look harder.” After all, we’d already issued thousands, and we probably had thousands more in a box somewhere already purchased at $0.0000001 a piece. The problem is, anytime we towed a car with a permit that shouldn’t have been towed, we had to give it back, or tow it back, for free, obviously, because we had made the mistake. And the driver wouldn’t be paid commission for the tow since it was his mistake. And basically, he had just committed auto theft, so we were happy to limit the damage to wasted work. Finally, we got new permits — white reflective permits with the company name in dark blue letters. This cut down drastically on the bad tows. Imagine that.

That’s an example of a system problem. One driver managed to scrape the paint on two SUVs in one night with the “jump-rope” tow light cord technique, which is when you place the tow lights on the vehicle, walk back to the truck, pick up the end of the cord, and whip the cord around and up on top of the car. This usually creates enough pull on the first tow light to rotate it about 90 degrees, so that it not only gouges the paint, but then the only person who sees the left turn signal is the guy sitting in a Datsun pickup in the Taco Bell parking lot eating a Chalupa. Now, we could have just yelled at the driver to stop scratching the paint until we had to fire him, but what we did is ask him to demonstrate his technique (on an old junker), show him the damage that results, show him the proper technique of gently placing the cord at intervals onto the roof of the vehicle, then instruct him to demonstrate the learned technique. Problem solved.

If you don’t train people well, and if you don’t create systems that make it easy for them to succeed, then you prefer failure. It might be a subconscious preference, but it’s there. If you coach youth baseball, and if you have a kid who consistently drops the ball rather than catching it, and if you don’t pull that kid aside and work with him on his technique until he repeats the proper technique each time without thinking about it, then you prefer yelling at the kid for dropping the ball. Please. Who’s really dropping the ball?

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper