When I was a kid, my mom made me take piano lessons for a couple of years. I hated piano lessons. I had no desire to learn to play the piano. I was not motivated in any way to get better at playing piano. But, I was made to do it, nonetheless. I spent countless hours sitting at the piano “practicing’ my homework for my next lesson and seething with anger and resentment for having to go through the activity. I remember crying a lot out of frustration.
I have no fond memories of playing the piano. I understand completely why my mom made me do it. She wanted me to learn to read music and to stimulate my brain creatively. Terrific intentions and I wish I had been more open to those lessons. But, best intentions couldn’t make me want to learn the piano and I certainly didn’t. I learned the minimum I needed to get by, but that was it. Neither my mother or anyone else could will me to want to learn the piano. Ironically, I later became very interested in music and learned to play a couple of instruments (trumpet and guitar) and sing. And, I willingly took lots of lessons and I learned a lot.
The difference for me was that at some point I made the choice to learn and grow in music. And it wasn’t until I made the choice to grow that I began to flourish.
I’ve seen and participated in too many scenarios like this in our workplaces. A manager needs (or wants) and employee to learn a new skill or to grow in some important way so they create development plans, send the employee to training classes and maybe assign them a mentor. But, the employee doesn’t have any interest in learning or growing. So, they don’t. And, what’s worse, just like my piano lessons, not only are they not learning, they feel as though they are being tortured throughout the process. Good intentions, negative results.
The thing we overlook too often in our training, development and even succession planning efforts is that growth is first a choice before it’s a process or an opportunity. We can’t and don’t make people grow. They either chose to grow or they chose to stagnate–and you can’t make that choice for another person, not even your children. A different approach might be warranted.
Growing up on a farm, I have seen the trials and tribulations of running a farm up close. The farmer knows that a lot of the success of his farm depends not on him trying to make his crops grow, but rather to create the conditions that facilitate growth and make optimal growth possible. Farmers can control a lot of things. They control what kinds of seeds they plant, where they plant them, what kinds of chemicals they use, how often they tends to the fields, etc. What they can’t control are weather and other environmental conditions that impact the growth of the crops. Farmers are about playing probabilities. They do the things that make it most probable that their crops grow optimally which means they profit maximally.
As we think about how to develop talent within our organizations, it might be wise to study the approach of the farmer and adopt a different strategy. Instead of spending so much time trying to “manage” development and “manage” talent, what if we instead took the approach of cultivate talent in the same way that farmers do.
If we adopted this approach, there are some changes that would occur in our approach:
- We would be relentless in selecting the ride seeds to plant in the beginning so we would be incredibly selective in hiring.
- We would pull weeds as soon as they appeared because we know that weeds choke the growth of our crops. Employees who don’t fit or aren’t signed up either need to sign up or be gone.
- Development would be about creating opportunities everywhere for growth and learning and then letting the employees navigate and chose their own development.
- Growth would be rewarded and encouraged openly to attract more growth.
- Managers and talent professionals would monitor growth and apply changes or additional resources when it’s appropriate to maintain and foster optimal growth.
Growth is a choice made individually. Without this choice, the best development in the world can’t make someone grow. So, let’s stop trying to make people grow and instead work with those who have already committed. The work is a lot more fun and the likelihood of positive results much higher.