Over the last few weeks, there’s been quite the reaction to an article that ran in the Wall Street Journal – Why Chinese Mothers are Superior by Amy Chua, aka the Tiger Mom. Tiger Mom has taken a beating in the media for her parenting style, which is essentially boot camp to prepare her kids for life. I’m really not interested in how she or anyone else chooses to raise their children. That’s your own business. But if you take a step back and look at what Amy’s describing and swap her kids out for employees, it’s really a training and development program. And if you look at recent global math and science test scores, there’s some evidence to suggest her approach could be pretty effective. Now that’s interesting to me.
Let’s face it – how most companies train and develop their employees is crap. The approach is haphazard and the training elements are often irrelevant to the business. It’s no wonder that with the first sign of budget constraints, training and development is one of first areas to be cut. Now, if Tiger Mom were running training and development for your company, you can be sure this wouldn’t happen. Here’s what the Tiger Mom taught me:
- Getting really good at something is freakin’ hard and takes A LOT of practice. According to Chua “Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America.” I remember reading Outliers and Gladwell saying it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to really master something. And those first several thousand hours probably suck. In the corporate world, we don’t devote anywhere near this type of time for our employees to pratice becoming better at their craft. It’s assumed that once you join a company, that’s it. You never need to really practice again. But if we want to beat our competition, maybe we should rethink how much time we devote to practice.
- Nothing is fun until you’re really good at it. This is why I really hate having training participants fill out a feedback form with those stupid smiley faces immediately following a training course. Because if I were really pushing my employees to learn something new they wouldn’t be having any fun at all. They’d be trying something new and challenging and it would be totally awkward because they would be pushed out of their comfort zone. Who would give that experience a good rating? But you know what? It might really be good for them. I bet many a good training program has been killed because it pushed people more than they might have wanted to be pushed.
- Practice builds character. It turns out that going through the process of pushing ourselves to master a new skill and overcome significant challenges has the side benefit of making us more resilient and more capable of working through difficult situations. In the HR world it’s like the first time you were really able to coach someone through a difficult challenge successfully. Now the next time you’re faced with a similar or more difficult situation, you’re more willing to take it on.
So there you have it. And you better believe that once Tiger Mom is done raising her kids, I’m going to hire her to run my training and development.
Best quote so far as I’ve been pitching these proposals: “So this means that managers are going to have to work a lot harder.” Yes! But hopfeully harder on things that really matter. The reception so far has been suprisingly positive. As you’re reading this post I am presenting to our Board… more to come.
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.