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The product line for which Sophie, a marketing manager, was responsible had had a tough year. Part of the problem was that the home improvement tools she marketed had been on the market so long that there didn’t seem much more that she could do to interest potential buyers.

Consequently, when she and the product manager came up with the idea to market the tools in grocery stores to housewives who had small repairs to do, Sophie looked forward to the planning meeting at which she would present the idea to senior management, including the potential sales figures.

Busy number crunching for the meeting, Sophie asked Irma to use the demographics she had developed to prepare graphics to go with her presentation, which would be on Monday at 10:00 A.M.

Because the presentation was a full week away, Irma, Sophie’s assistant, had plenty of time to do the work.

In the interim, Sophie was busy with numerous chores herself, in and out of meetings and knee-deep in paperwork for what was called by marketing managers “hell week” (or “planning,” as senior management called it).

Sophie didn’t think to ask Irma about her progress on the graphics. She had hoped to check with her on Friday afternoon, but a last-minute meeting with sales distracted her.

Need I tell you what happened on Monday? First thing that morning, Sophie went to Irma and asked her for the graphics. Irma looked at her and said, “I forgot.”

She pointed to the stacks of paper all around her workstation as explanation, became upset as she saw the grim look on Sophie’s face, and began to cry. Sophie just stared at her.

Without the graphics, she would have a much harder time getting the money she would need to position the product line in a whole new marketplace.

Who was to blame? Sophie, of course. Why? As Irma’s coach and supervisor, she didn’t do what she should have done: follow up.

Even before that, she should have clarified priorities when she gave Irma the assignment. By making clear that this wasn’t just another clerical assignment,

Sophie could have minimized the chance of such a situation happening. If Sophie had told Irma that the graphics were crucial to her presentation, it is possible that Irma, aware of their importance, would have put aside all the rest of her work to do the best job she could on the graphics.

At the time, all Irma knew was that Sophie needed some graphics prepared on the basis of a bunch of numbers she had given her; there was no reason to suspect that the job was more important than the correspondence and other tasks she had to do.

But Sophie could have ensured that the work was done on time by following up during the week to see what progress had been made on the assignment.

She could even have told Irma that she would need to see black and white proofs by Wednesday. By Thursday, she would want to look at the color proofs with any revisions. “By Friday,” she could have said, “the final charts should be done.”

 Record the learning points……………………………………………………………………………..

Follow-up is equally important when training an learner/employee in a new skill or procedure.

Once you have shown the learner/employee how to do the task, then had him explain the steps in the task in his own words, then asked him to do the work to show you his comprehension of it, and left the learner/employee with some written instructions to remand him about each step, you have only taken the first steps in ensuring that his learner/employee performs the new skill correctly.

You haven’t finished with training unless you come back about an hour later to see if the learner/employee is doing the work as you instructed.

If he isn’t, then you point to those steps in the process he is doing correctly before noting the mistakes he is making.

Otherwise, you will destroy the individual’s self-confidence in his ability to learn how to do the task.

Then you and the learner/employee go through the training process once again: You do the task, ask the learner/employee to explain how the job is done, then watch the learner/employee as he does the task correctly.

Done? Not quite. You should visit later in the day – say, a few hours later – to check again to see if the work is being done correctly. At the end of the day, you might also stop by to see about the learner/employee’s progress with the work. If all looks well, you can tell the learner/employee so and recognize his/her accomplishment. If there are still problems, you should discuss calmly and quietly the nature of the problem.

Let’s assume that all is well. Done? Not yet. Stop by the following week to be sure that all the steps in the process are being followed as they should be.

If it is imperative that each step be done as instructed, then you want to make that point clear to the learner/employee and make sure that he hasn’t developed some shortcuts that erode the quality of the final work.

If there continues to be a problem, you want to discover why.

Placing the blame

The first response of most of us when an learner/employee is having trouble completing a single task or performing the job as a whole is to assume that this person knows the nature of the problem and is capable of solving it. Of this isn’t the case.

Further, when we hold this view, we can build up resentment toward the learner/employee whom we begin to think is just doing the work wrong to make us look bad or to get our of a task or to get even for some slight.

It is usually better to begin with the assumption that the communications on our part were somehow inadequate. We didn’t make clear how important the work is, how this work is to be done, or how important this work is in relation to the other tasks to be done. Repetition of the instructions may help to clarify the cause of the problem.

Let’s get back to the learner/employee who doesn’t seem to be learning how to complete a task and whom we have instructed twice about the work. If the learner/employee is to do the task correctly, we have to find out the cause of his/her confusion.

If English is a second language, that may be behind the problem. If he/she lacks some basic information essential to doing the task, then you should go through these fundamentals before going over the steps in the task again.

Another source of problems can be the learner/employee’s own desire to do more; she may have introduced shortcuts in the process to impress us, but these may actually undermine the quality or quantity of the work.

Ignoring the problem

We’ve got so much work to do and so little time in which to get it done that it’s easy to take the course of least resistance and become blind to staff shortcuts or other less-than-perfect efforts.

Unfortunately, when we ignore these small problems, they can grow to the point that they are no longer coaching problems but are now issues for counseling.

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