April 2011

My nine-year-old daughter is having trouble learning her multiplication tables.

My wife and I have employed several strategies to help her memorize the answers — flash cards, taking a “photograph” of the equations in her mind’s eye, rewards, finger counting and more. Sometimes any of these seem to work as she’ll run a streak of correct answers, but at any given moment, 8 x 7 will equal 42. Of course, that’s when it gets frustrating, more for us than I think her.

It’s situations like this that parenting becomes like managing, and I can’t help to think of what I’d do at work as a manager if a staff member were having trouble grasping an aspect of his or her job. We’ve all been though this. We’ve hired someone who showed promise and ability but when it came time for the employee to apply both, it just didn’t happen. But unlike our daughters and sons, we have a choice with how to deal with this — we can’t give up on them, but we can with our staff members.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with many other managers about this and there are two approaches that come up every time. One is the view that it’s almost always the manager’s fault when this happens, and the other is that it’s the employee’s. I’ve never heard it’s a little bit of both. So when do we give up? Or should we?

We know the time it takes to train and the work that can falter while that happens, so giving up puts you back to square one. Conversely, sticking by someone who may not pan out in the long-term is just as costly. My daughter’s troubles with multiplication have reinforced something I’ve known, but forgotten at times. It really is all about effort and the passion to learn. If it’s there, then anything is possible. And that makes the effort, time and yes, frustration worth it. If it’s not, then there may be nothing you can do to help.

We try to raise our children with discipline and determination, but we do not raise our staff. Those traits were either formed or not long before they ever got to us. And above all else, that’s what I endeavor to look for when I hire. Give me a person who cares but is not perfect over someone who appears perfect and thinks he or she is, any day. And then maybe I might not have to give up on someone, like I won’t do with my daughter. P

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