In 2004, I stumbled upon a book by Robert Kiyosaki entitled Cash Flow Quadrant. It really changed the way I looked at what I was doing. I thought we were building a great business, but after reading Kiyosaki’s book I realized we were just creating a job for ourselves. The difference between a job and a business is one of the concepts addressed by Ranching for Profit. There we learned that we do not really have a business until we hire our first employee. Once I changed my thinking and realized that to build our operation we required employees, our operation began to grow quickly. When someone else was doing a lot of the day to day chores, I had time to find more grass to lease and more cattle to graze. In addition, my wife was able to go to college and fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. At 42 years old it was a pretty courageous undertaking!
Hiring an employee requires another set of skills, and they don’t involve livestock or grass. To be successful, we need to acquire the skills to manage and train people. Luckily for me I had a great teacher in my first rig manager, Duane Carol. Under his tutelage I began to formally figure out how to train and inspire the people I hire. My strategy to develop people is the focus of this article. Let’s start with an example of what I mean.
The other day one of my hired hands asked how she should set the gates up in the corral as we prepared to vaccinate a herd of replacement heifers. In response I asked, “What do you think?” This began a discussion, or really a lament from her, that she needs to start thinking for herself and using the tools she is learning to make decisions. I assured her what she is experiencing is the same for most young people. Getting people to think for themselves was one of the hardest things I had to do when training new guys on the rigs. It hasn’t changed much since I had my first crew 24yrs ago! What has changed, though, is the formal approach I now take to training people.
Duane, my first rig manager, had a saying, “Teach the guy below you to do your job so you can learn the job above you.” He tried to instill that thinking in all his guys and he was pretty successful. He developed a lot of drillers and rig managers over the course of his career. The cool thing about his method is that it built continuity into the system. If someone was missing for some reason, there was another person trained and ready to fill that position.
In 2010 I read General Rick Hillier’s book ‘Leadership: 50 Points of Wisdom for Today’s Leader. From his thoughts in that book I developed my training program even further. General Hillier talked about the idea of building continuity into the system the same way Duane professed, “Train the guy below you…” General Hillier also talked about keeping your eyes open for the special person who shows up every now and again. Once you identify that person, put most of your energy into that person because they will become your superstar. Even further, he believes that if you put six of these ‘superstars’ together, they can lead a battalion of 1,000 soldiers! From these two sources, I developed the ‘Tell Me. Show Me. Watch Me.’ method of training.
The first step, ‘Tell Me’, involves explaining the how & why as well as the do’s & don’ts. The why is very important because it gives the new person context of the task in relation to the bigger operation.
Step two, ‘Show Me’, is simply demonstrating how to perform the task. There are some tasks that must be done a certain way for safety reasons, while others are just the way I do it. For the latter tasks, I make a point to let them know that this is the way I do it. Once they are comfortable with the task they may figure out a way that works better for them. To me the result is more important than how it was accomplished.
Finally, the ‘Watch Me’ step. Here I just shut up and observe. It can be a very difficult thing to do because we have a strong desire to jump in and give advice when someone is making a mistake. The goal is to get the new person thinking and making decisions. When that is the goal, they need to make mistakes, identify those mistakes, and correct them. It doesn’t work if someone else is doing all the correcting! It really helped me remember to keep my mouth shut once I had signs made up that boldly stated ‘Tell Me. Show Me. Watch Me’.
There are probably a number of people reading this asking ‘what happens if the trainee is making a catastrophic mistake?’ Then of course you need to step in, but really, how often does that happen? Not very!
Not every person hired will become a superstar. Some are not really engaged. Some are just lazy. That’s fine and it doesn’t make them a bad person. It just means that they are not what I am looking for. The sooner I find that out, the sooner I can make room for someone I do want on my team. As my Polish grandfather would say, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!” so I like to start with silk. That being said, sometimes we miss someone with great potential because we are not being a good boss. In my experience there are as many poor bosses as there are poor employees.
As a young person is developing, they may become nervous and maybe even scared of tasks I give them. I understand being scared because I still do things that scare the heck out of me…. just ask my horses! (lol) When a person is feeling less then confident, I reassure them that I won’t put them in a situation that if they mess up, it will be a catastrophe. Further, mistakes are part of life and learning. Finally, they should remember that they have the tools to figure out what to do when things go south. Each step we take, each hurdle we overcome, we become more competent as a person and a worker.
I get a thrill out of seeing young people grow and develop their expertise, confidence, and independence. It warms the cockles of my heart when a young person’s talents start to shine through. I know I have done a good job when a young person corrects me after I say or do something stupid. My pride may be hurt a little, but that heals pretty quickly. (lol)
Finally, I know there is always talk about the poor work ethic of the new generation. For some that may be true and I know we have hired our share. However, there are a lot of highly motivated, conscientious, hard-working young people looking for an opportunity. In fact we just hired two this fall!