Trench Instructors Are Effective When Mixing It Up With Employees

Written by Jay Forte | Apr 10, 2012 3:17:25 PM

About a month ago, I gave up my office and set up in the cubicles with the rest of my employees.

My move probably surprised some people. After all, getting a private office is one of the trappings of being in management. But I wanted to get closer to our workers so I could understand their job and their workday — both what they were doing successfully as well as what they were struggling with. “Hiding” in my office kept me too disconnected from the things that mattered to my employees.

Certainly I miss the privacy of my office and the ability to closer the door and think, but I’ve exchanged that for the ability to build a stronger connection with my people — being a “trench instructor.”  And I think all in all, my employees appreciate this new approach.

Here are some of the things that have happened since I moved out of my office and into my employees’ space:

Employee discussions turned into learning events

When two employees are sharing ideas about how to handle a client, I can step in and help guide their discussion to make sure it stays productive, respectful, and solutions-based. And in a department full of strong personalities, it wasn’t uncommon in the past for such discussions to turn into raised voices and unproductive arguments. But by having an instructor there to help frame these kinds of conversations, employees are learning to keep the discussion focused on the topic and behaviors, not personalities. That’s practical, on-the-spot learning.

Watching for and celebrating successes

Too often in the past, great ideas went unnoticed — nobody ever drew attention to them or learned from them.  In fact, most organizations I know of spend more time focusing on employees’ failures than successes; both are teachable events. But now, by being closer to the team, I get to catch employees doing great things, and I post them on our “Brag Board.” For instance, recently I saw a senior sales employee join on a call with a junior sales person to help fill in some missing details, and he helped close an excellent account. It was a great moment: The senior employee shared some great ideas; the junior employee learned something about how to handle a tough client situation; and the organization earned a new client. A success on all fronts. Now workers are posting their own comments to the Brad Board.

Computer problems are identified as they happen

Computer problems are typically either a system issue, which can be fixed, or a training problem. By being more immediately available, I can help handle training issues right away, or I can record it and go over it during our weekly team meeting. Either way, the problem gets noticed right away, and employees feel like they’re being heard and having their problems taken seriously.

Workers ... work

Employees who in the past may have spent a bit too much time texting or chatting (and I do have some of these), have stopped the habit. Call it intimidation, or call it learning, I see a change in behavior.

Meetings became more effective

We meet each week to share some of the changes or challenges we see in the workplace and how to improve them. Now, we’re talking about actual, real-life events, statistics, and measurements to help guide our learning. The team seems to be more focused. Our workplace is quickly becoming a learning environment.

Some people think management is all about meetings, bonuses, and fancy office space. To be a successful intellectual-age manager requires being in the trenches with your team, clearing obstacles, educating in the moment, and inspiring each team member to contribute at his or her best level. The goal of management is to transform human capital into financial capital. And you can’t do that by hiding in an office, teaching off a standard curriculum and not knowing what really happens in the workplace.

See also: Training Managers? Teach Leaders It’s Not About Them Anymore.

Jay Forte is a nationally ranked thought leader and President of Humanetrics. Jay guides organizations — their leaders and managers — in how to attract, hire and retain today’s best talent. He is the author of Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition and The Greatness Zone – Know Yourself, Find Your Fit, Transform The World. Jay is a member of SHRM, ASTD, the National Speakers Association and the Florida Speakers Association. Follow him on Twitter.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user star5112.