What I've Learned About Training and Development From a Baby

Andy Porter Andy Porter, Organizational Development, T+D

My daughter Abigail will be a year old next month.  To say time has flown by would be a massive understatement!  Like most new parents, I've learned a few things (mostly the hard way) along the way…

For example, most of the baby clothes that I seemed to like apparently are designed by people who don’t have kids.  We had this one outfit that was really cool until you realize that the snaps are on the back.  So let me get this straight.  When I have a crying, squirming, in need of diaper change baby I’m supposed to flip her over on her stomach take off the outfit, change her, then flip her back over and button up 9 snaps, in the middle of the night no less.  Uh no.  That outfit went straight to the trash.  At one point I also found myself in a conversation about the best way to use a breast pump I was picking up for my wife – with another dude.  Granted, he had on a white coat (pharmacist) but it was weird especially since he was really getting into the explanation complete with gestures to emphasize his points.  After about 5 minutes I couldn’t take it anymore – I stopped him and asked if he found it at all odd that two dudes were discussing how to use the breast pump without a woman in sight.  He said he didn’t and kept right on going.

For the record, I still felt like it was pretty weird.

What I didn't expect was to learn anything that would actually help me in my day job as an HR Pro but turns out I did.  Watching my daughter learn how to live life gave me some insights into why most training efforts fail.  Here's what she's taught me:

You Need an Opportunity to Practice and Fail: Seem obvious, right?  But the reality is the way most organizations deliver their training programs assumes the best way to learn is by reading materials and being told what/how to do something.  Conceptually, most concepts we train people on are easy to grasp.  For example, almost everyone would agree delivering timely performance feedback is critical.  But most of us avoid giving feedback because we don't want to look or say someth

ing stupid or gets us in trouble.  Why?  Because we haven't been given the chance to practice something over and over until we feel comfortable doing it on our own.  Nobody wants to be a failure yet we don't allow the time or space to let them fail and learn before going live!

You Need Consistent Role Models:  If there's one thing I've really learned to appreciate about parenting it's the importance of being consistently consistent.  Kids, even babies, appreciate predictability and consistency so they know not only what to expect but to see the appropriate behaviors in practice.  A lot of times organizations lack role models who consistently exhibit the behaviors we want to see from our employees.  If we go back to our first example on feedback, it's like having your boss stress the importance (and holding you accountable) for having feedback conversations but the last time you and your boss had a feedback conversation was in the late 90's.  So what happens?  You learn it really doesn't matter so you don't do it.

You Need a Willing Participant:  If a kid doesn't want to do something it doesn't matter how important the lesson may be or how much we want them to learn.  It ain't gonna happen.  In fact, pushing an unwilling participant too much may cost you more in the long run since they'll remember how much they hated being pushed.  I've been guilty of this behavior in my own company at times.  We've got an “important” HR initiative to implement yet we miss what's going on in the broader organizational context (could be quarter end, big conference coming up, etc).  We jam in a training session, force people to take time away from important initiatives and what happens?  You've created unwilling participants!

This is what I've learned so far.  I can only imagine what I'll learn in about 15 years (if I'm lucky) when she starts to date!

Are you a parent? What has your kid(s) taught you about your career?

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.