I have started playing badminton with my two youngest children. At this stage they are, let’s say, ‘enthusiastic’ rather than proficient - and certainly not as good as they are going to become one day. If we can all stay keen and keep practicing, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t become decent players.
It’s interesting seeing what motivates them when we play. My Daughter’s goal is to try and build the longest rally possible. She gets excited when she beats her last record, and immediately sets her next goal. My Son doesn’t care about long, tippy-tappy rallies; he wants to become ready for battle, and has started to practice mixing smashes with drop shots, even though he’s not that great at either just yet. His motivation is to make his Dad run around; to take him by surprise; to win a point.
They are competitive, of course, but in different ways. Yet it occurs to me that there is much that is similar in what they strive for - and much in this simple example that is directly transferable to the working world and how we interact with the teams and colleagues in our professional lives. These common threads are: achieving goals and self-esteem; feedback and communication; encouragement and praise.
Achieving goals and self-esteem
Both my Son and Daughter know where they want to get to, even if one’s goal is slightly more concrete than the other. They know what good looks like, and - more importantly - they know what it feels like too. It’s probably not the achieving of the goal that is paramount here, but rather how it makes them feel. When my Daughter beats her longest rally by just one shot she is over the moon; she smiles; she bounces. She wants to do it again; to beat it by two shots more, or three. If I can’t reach one of my Son’s drop shots, it’s the same story. That self-esteem is critical. Who doesn’t want to feel great?!
Feedback and communication
They know, of course, that they’re not that good at the game yet. My Daughter knows, instinctively, that she should be achieving much longer rallies; my Son knows that he should be getting more of his drop shots over the net - and that those that make it, should be so close as to make it impossible for me to return them. Because they’re not perfect yet, they need feedback. They need me to make suggestions about how to hold the racket, when to flick and when to power, when to hit overhead and when not. They need me to fire shots at them in different places, at different speeds and angles, in order to give them the experience and challenge to which they can respond and through which they learn - although they might not acknowledge this part just yet! If I did nothing, if there was no communication, no variation, then their improvement - solely by trial and error - would simply take much longer.
Encouragement and praise
And even though they’re not great yet, in order to feed that good feeling and self-esteem, they need to be encouraged. At this stage, they need praise for even the small things - for trying something, even if it is not executed perfectly. It keeps them enthusiastic, bouncing, looking ahead.
Why should the working world be any different? Why shouldn’t these simple considerations apply to the people in our teams, and our peers and bosses?
And of course they do.
Our professional challenge is in part born from the fact that we don’t know our people as well as we know our children, so recognising some of the key drivers is harder; in part, we are compromised by homogenous approaches to HR - through job definitions, appraisal regimes, lack of time, poor communication - which force a uniform engagement model upon us; and in part our problem comes from the fact that we may not be very good at all this people stuff anyway.
So surely, our goal as managers has to be to understand our people better:
- to work out what their individual professional goals are, what floats their boat, what makes them feel good - and then align that to what we / our business needs from them
- to work out how best to communicate with them, and what we can do to provide them with the feedback, challenge, and stretch that better equips them to be successful
- to work out when to give encouragement and praise - and what to give it for
And just maybe we should do this for ourselves too. Who knows, one day we might just be able to produce some decent badminton players!
About the author / copyright
Ian Gouge is widely experienced in business-driven Information Technology, culminating in significant achievements majoring on organisational and process change, and with a proven track record in turning around / re-engineering IT functions. He possesses in-depth experience of change, transformation, IT delivery, customer and supplier engagement, and a broad International exposure.
He is also the author of management books on the topics of IT strategy and project management, the impact on IT of e-business, and the IT organisation.
This material is copyright of Ian Gouge © 2015. All rights reserved. Any similarity to actual IT or business organisations is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
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