Teaching is a gift you give not only to others, but also to yourself. You give and you receive, you teach and you learn.
― Andrea Goeglein
When I became president of the medical device company I was a part of for eight years, I already had a decade of Lean experience. I knew what fundamentals needed to be put in place, what systems needed improvement, and what knowledge needed to be transferred. Or so I thought.
Instead of ordering that this or that program be implemented, I decided to help the team identify problems and point them to potential solutions. Taking too much time to find production supplies? Perhaps a Lean concept known as 5S should be considered. They would go and learn about it, and I would coach them on implementation. The team embraced that style, learned, and implemented. I shared my knowledge and experience, but a funny thing happened along the way: the team also taught me some new methods they had developed – and a little about teaching itself.
In the end there were still a couple of concepts I needed to dictate, one being the morning stand up meeting. Learning on their own that adding a new meeting, daily no less, would be beneficial was just too great a chasm. But in creating the meeting I also let them know exactly why it was being done, why it was important to me, and the results to be expected.
People want to learn, and it’s a measure of your respect for them – and their brains – that you provide opportunities for them to learn. I’ve seen far too many organizations believe it is too expensive to send employees to conferences, workshops, and other events. Yes it costs money, but those folks come back motivated and wanting to improve! That isn’t worth a couple grand? If you seriously can’t recapture the investment of a conference or workshop, you aren’t asking enough of your team.
I sent quite a few people each year to events, choosing people that had demonstrated a passion for learning as well as some that I thought could – if they were appropriately motivated and respected. In each case I asked them to come back with three to five ideas that we should implement now, and three to five that were pretty cool and we should keep on the list for the future. They presented these ideas to our leadership team as a group. It was then up to us to evaluate and implement them. Difficult, but they easily, easily paid for the trips, many times over. Properly nurtured, those folks also became forceful proponents for improvement.
Sharing your knowledge and experience doesn’t just have to be within your organization. One of the most rewarding activities was the blog I started over ten years ago. My posts have ranged across many topics, some far outside of Lean, but the response I’ve received has been tremendous. I’ve also met some incredible people who have become very valuable friends and colleagues – and now even business partners. The effort has also improved my writing ability and helped me organize my thoughts, which I guess eventually even lead to this book!
I’ve also learned a lot about recruiting over the years. I’ve had several failures where professionals with great experience and resumes ended up not being the right fit. I have learned that the best predictor of executive success, more than experience, education, references, or personality, is the ability to share and teach new knowledge. More specifically, a craving for new knowledge, the capability to distill the knowledge, and an ability to effectively share the knowledge. Those individuals are few and far between, but incredibly valuable and they can radically change an organization.
To respect people you must recognize and leverage the potential value of people’s brains. To optimize that value you must share your experience, skills, and knowledge. Sharing is respecting.