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TEACH, DON’T PREACH Making Lessons Stick

I told him what to do and how to do it—and he still screwed it up!” Whenever I hear this complaint, I agree that someone indeed screwed up. The culprit, however, was usually the guy doing the venting? You can’t just throw information at people and expect them to process it the same way you do. Nobody shares your precise experiences and frame of reference, so a few links in their chain of understanding may be missing. How do you get them to understand? Stated gastronomically: Digesting and assimilating raw infor[1]mation requires a committed chef to chop it into bite-size chunks and sauté it in encouragement.

Teaching is as simple as the Confucius Checklist. But seat-of-the-panthers usually abandon it after the first step, oblivious that barking orders on the run wastes more time than it saves. Each step takes them a quarter of the way toward learning what you know.

  1. Tell him.
  2. Show him.
  3. Watch him do it and offer feedback.
  4. Watch him do it again.

Say you’re coaching an employee to field calls. Start by reviewing the protocols point by point. Next, take a call yourself and handle it with your usual aplomb. After hanging up, smile and ask him to take a stab. Watch closely. When he finishes his call, critique his performance: “Nice job, Larry. You were polite and friendly, the qualities we look for. A couple of minor things. Remember to offer your name before, ‘How can I help you?’ Try not to hem and haw so much. Project confidence. All right, let’s try it again.” Watch and listen once more. If he nails it, give him the thumbs-up and move on to the next student.

Last word

The Confucius Checklist is grounded in a basic truth—information turns into knowledge when we understand how it applies to us, and knowledge turns into wisdom when we absorb it and act on it. This process has inspired leaders for twenty-five hundred years, ever since Confucius.

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