Preface: I’ve asked the Ho‘ohana Community to share their best practices with me, as we tackle our Ho‘omau Kākou initiative on the 9 Key Concepts, and thanks to a project within my current work within Say Leadership Coaching I’ve been inspired recently to share one of my own with you: Assigning Homework.
Labor Day has come and gone, and school-goers, children and adults alike, are back on campus by now for the Fall semester. They shouldn’t be the only ones getting back into the discipline of doing homework—it should be a good practice in your workplace as well.
Approaches to giving homework constantly change in our schools, yet I highly doubt we will ever see it go away completely, for the primary objectives of practice and learning retention are good ones. The changes aimed at making it more meaningful and effective, and much less burdensome are great, for indeed, homework should elevate learning without making it a major bummer.
If there are teachers reading:
I am a big fan of flipping the old model most of us grew up with. The flip: old-style homework is actually done in the classroom, with you there to help students work through it when they need help, for you can do so much better than their parents can: We love our kids, and ache when we see them struggle, but we don’t have your teaching skills. With all the digital possibilities, and techno-habits kids prefer anyways, give them the lecture online for home viewing. Turn them onto resources like the Khan Academy and TED Talk videos. Have reading and other without-you-there assignments be the homework which is actually prework. I would imagine that this will give you less papers to grade as your solitary homework too!
Homework for the Workplace
The assignment of homework can facilitate the development of staff over and above their everyday work, so that the answers to questions like these get revealed in real-work, highly-relevant workplace scenarios:
—When are you expected to work with your manager on projects?
—Where does your individual ownership give way to partnership, and to the team dynamic?
—Over and above the day-to-day focus within the work which is done, what are the visionary, mission-driven possibilities elevated in the near future, and how do you engage with them?
—How do mavericks grow in your company? How are internal leaders identified and supported? How do your best ideas gain support, and then attain traction and velocity there?
These are the kinds of questions which every healthy workplace culture should have definitive answers for, answers which are aligned with the values that company stands for, particularly in the tertiary learning process. Your “definite answers” should be your past success stories; “This is how we’ve done it well…”
WORKPLACE HOMEWORK is the means by which assignments are made after any and all kinds of workplace training, with three specific objectives in mind:
1. The training must live on in workplace culture: It must be implemented and executed so there is continual improvement with standards, and with all-staff competency levels. Forward movement happens with immediacy and a positive expectancy. Initiative must be encouraged without regimented rule-making getting in the way. The follow-up message is clear: Training classes are never, ever a waste of time and energy.
2. The deliverables which result from training are participatory, where the initial class or workshop series was considered a launch: All stakeholders are involved, even those who hadn’t initially received the training, i.e. follow-up is Kākou, with the Language of We. For example, if the training was part of a problem-solving strategy, all who were effected by that problem must now participate in the strategy to solve it.
3. Staff steps up and takes ownership. Trainers and managers step back: Staff, particularly emerging internal leaders, get options they can sink their teeth into as they take the ball and run with it. Trainers and managers step back and let go, so they can focus on whatever comes next. They no longer own the training, however they continue to be the mentors, coaches and facilitators who lend support and encouragement.
So what does MWA Homework entail?
Mostly conversation. Conversation that includes everyone necessary, and expects tangible results—conversation which will lead to action.
As a MWA best practice, homework is largely about follow-up work done via crucial conversations. Homework assigned after training happens is successive, and the 3 objectives outlined above are achieved via debrief conversation, additional findings which inform good decision-making, enrolling others in compelling initiatives which result, and the making of fresh workplace agreements which lead to enhanced workplace standards of performance.
A mouthful, I know… Let’s take those one at a time: All are meant to bring people together in work which does not rest on its laurels, and takes nothing for granted—all work is on the table to be newly studied and explored, in a participatory way. Read those objectives above one more time before you read on.
Let’s say a training was just conducted with your staff on Customer Service—In SLC for example, our Services include a workshop on the 5 Elements of Ho‘okipa, the value of hospitality. We also offer a 2nd workshop on dealing with ‘challenging’ customers, which includes tips on problem solving with the customer relationship in mind. When we debrief the training with our clients, i.e. the managers charged with implementing the training, we give them some Train-the-Trainer tips, and teach them this process of successive homework:
HA1: Follow-up Conversation
Homework Assignment #1 is to have a follow-up conversation with everyone who attended the training, or should have—they missed it for some reason, and must be brought up to speed. You meet in smaller groups, often departmental, conducive to engaging conversation. What did they like, or not like about it? What questions came up for them, which they may not have had the opening to ask yet? What intrigued them most? What do they feel is adoptable and adaptable, and a good idea for the organization? Where would they like to start?
The deadline for completing this assignment should be no more than one week after the training. Often, the manager(s) charged with holding these meetings need to compile them, and debrief even further, to make decisions on what they will specifically tackle as a result, and their best-possible operational timelines.
Homework Assignment #2 is given next, with a new deadline.
HA2: Finders Keepers
“additional findings which inform good decision-making”
Homework Assignment #2 is the fact-finding mission relevant to the decisions reached after Assignment #1. Were obstacles or any concerns brought up in the debrief conversations, and do they need to be addressed? The objective here is to study the work as it presently happens, look for specific opportunities inserting the new training, and to make sure there are no “Yeah, but(s)” as you proceed.
Related Reading: Managing Basics—Study the Work, and Banish your Possibility Robbers.
Again, this homework entails collaborative conversation as well. The best managers are supportive finders, not those who dole out quick answers. They treat decisions as catalysts for whatever work can happen next, and don’t consider their decisions to be pronouncements. They value trying, and they value doing, because they foster the workplace environment of Ho‘ohana: People Who Do Good Work.
Delegation may already be kicking in here in the manager’s objective to “step back” and this process of Finding can often happen simultaneously to fresh relationship-building, and the partnership of “enrolling others in compelling initiatives which result” which comes next.
A deadline is again important here, to keep energy levels high, and to send the message that “follow-up is indeed happening!”—and with a sense of urgency to boot.
“enrolling others in compelling initiatives which result”
Homework Assignment #3 is two-fold:
First, it is about assembling a committee or task force as a new team, a group charged with taking this off the manager’s plate, and onto theirs. A new team might not be necessary, and it’s just a matter of moving down the chain of command in organizational structure.
Tip: Going through this successive homework process with a key training initiative is an excellent time to create an internal group of company Trainers if you do not yet have one.
Second, comes enrolling everyone else into the initiative being staged for execution. This is aimed at a complete understanding of your “Who”—who will be involved, and who will be affected?
Customer Service initiatives are a good example: Who is the customer? Are there different customer profiles to be addressed? Is there one initiative for internal customers (each other, all staff), and another for external customers (customers, clients, patients, patrons, vendors, suppliers, other community partners)? Is another deadline necessary here to be sure efforts are aligned in lock step, and no one feels left out?
HA4: Fresh Agreement
“the making of fresh workplace agreements”
Hopefully, you’re on a roll here, but please do not neglect to address this, as your next Homework Assignment, #4. “The making of fresh workplace agreements” is so important.
People often need time for individual planning, and for crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s before they wholeheartedly commit to new action. They clean their plates, and intentionally make space for your initiative. You have to give them this time, understanding and consideration, yet you also must give them another deadline—one everyone will honor.
Related Reading: Your Responsibilities—Kuleana Joy or Clutter?
In the instance of something like Customer Service, elevated service should be getting delivered as soon as training had happened, and the Partnership step above should entail a whole lot of catching success and celebrating your customer service stars and value ambassadors. However with other initiatives, those requiring systems and processes integration, you may need to have a launch date, pilot project, or other “go date” so no one is caught unaware or less than ready.
HA5: Elevated Competency
“enhanced workplace standards of performance”
I coach managers to adopt a relentlessly dedicated respect for competency as one of their primary missions—the continuous improvement of staff competency is their job, and it’s the target of all training, whether for skill-building, increased intellectual capital, or performance standards.
Therefore, it’s good to articulate and quantify your training as a new standard, or newly revised benchmark for your company and workplace: When you say, “We did it!” or “We’re doing it, and we’re doing it well!” What do you mean, exactly? Is there a specific way you can add it to your insider’s language and Language of Intention?
“When we say, Speak with Aloha, we mean, Get the values of Aloha into your language and all your communications. Talk the talk.”
—Managing with Aloha’s Lexicon Morphology, and the Conceptual Index we have created as our Resource.
This can often mean embracing the word ‘standard’ as a good thing, and moving beyond thinking a standard is a rule. It’s better to think of it as part of a checklist, and as a necessary ‘element’ of what you do. In some instances, step-by-step execution is critical, yet in others, like Customer Service, increased competency means there’s more flow involved… more repeating, more back-and-forth conversation, more pausing for listening and responding.
Remember: Follow-through is the manager’s super power.
… and utilizing the assignment of meaningful, process-improving, relationship-building, competency-lifting homework is the way you follow-through with training. Add it to your best practices.
—Make Follow-through your Superpower!
Whether you call it Follow-up or Follow-through, great managers get it done as their Ho‘ohanohano signature of distinction.
—Debrief to Recharge your Aloha Spirit
Our discussion here has focused on group and team debriefings, and this article talks about the goodness of the debriefing practice on an individual level.
More on Training in the Archives:
— Your In-house Training: Do it!
— When the Student is Ready, the Teacher will Appear. “Whatever it is you want to do, find the person who does it best. Then see if they will teach you.”
MWA Best Practices will be a new series here on the blog, written in complement to my Series 3 for Ke Ola Magazine, Ho‘omau Kākou. Watch this space for more best practices in managing with leading, or better yet, subscribe to the weekly letter of the Ho‘ohana Community for alerts.