by Bill, Management, Meeting Goals

Learning and the 'Need for Speed'

1 Comment 11 September 2008

Vince YoungIn pondering, arguing over, and eventually deciding on the title for our most recent book, Contented Cows MOOve Faster, we were searching for something that conveyed one of the foremost needs of the early 21st century… the need for speed. Whether one is engaged in the world of education, commerce, health care, sports, you name it, the pressure to perform, and perform right now is immense.

That’s fine, but people don’t always hit the ground running, and running in the right direction, at the proper cadence. There is often a certain amount of orientation, preparation, training if you will, that is a necessary precursor to hitting stride. As we continue to ramp up our performance expectations, we simply must do a better job of preparing people to succeed. Having reflected on this a bit of late, I’m convinced we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Two cases in point:

Thirty-two months ago, two of college football’s brightest prospects, Matt Leinart (USC) and Vince Young (Texas) squared off in one of the more heralded BCS championship games. Each subsequently entered the NFL, Leinart with the Arizona Cardinals, and Young the Tennessee Titans. In both cases, the clear expectation of teams and fans alike was that these uber-talented players would instantly adapt to the speed and complexity of the NFL game and make contributions as outsized as their paychecks. Now entering their third season, both players are struggling mightily. The wily veteran, Kurt Warner, has replaced Leinart as a starter, and though the Young – led Titans are winning, he’s nursing more than a sore knee after being lustily booed by Titans fans.

Sports columnist, Tim Cowlishaw did an interesting piece on this in the September 11 Dallas Morning News.   One of the conclusions that Cowlishaw came to is that, in their own way, each team needs to dial back its expectations a bit, and increase the support shown for  two still very new, very young, gifted players.

On a more pedestrian level, I stopped yesterday for a few items at a nearby grocery. As is so often the case these days, upon reaching the checkout, my options were clear:  Stand in line for 10 minutes, or check myself out. With no pressing urge to socialize, and not exactly blessed with an abundance of patience, I opted for the latter.

Though I have shopped in this particular store a good bit, I wasn’t as familiar with their self-serve system as the one at their across the street rival. No problem. Upon entering the self-checkout area, I noticed one of the regular checkers, a lady named Debra, manning the “help the dummies” station. When I placed two unmarked potatoes on the scanner and paused momentarily to look at the on-screen instructions, Debra instantly swung into action, rushed over, elbowed me aside, and said, “you’ve got to enter the codes for these items” as she punched in the 4 digit universal code for Idaho bakers. After pointing out that there was no little coded sticker on the spuds, to wit I had no way of knowing what the code was, I thanked Debra, who returned to her station.

Next up were two equally unmarked tomatoes. Once more, as I put the items on the scanner and glanced at the on-screen menu, Debra hustled over and again started feverishly punching codes into the machine. With absolutely no one in line behind me, and thus an opportunity for a little social experimentation, I said, “Hang on a second, Debra… what are you doing? Where am I supposed to get the code from? Isn’t there another way to do this?” Wishing perhaps to show off her mastery of fruit and vegetable codes that she must have learned in school along with multiplication tables, Debra again insisted that I needed to enter the correct numeric code, rather than let the machine do its thing.

Just as my annoyance level began to ratchet up a notch, a store supervisor magically appeared, and uttered the words, “I’m sorry, she (Debra) is getting some on the job training right now.”  I started to remark that it seemed that I was the one getting the training, but as quickly as she had appeared, the supervisor was gone. After subsequent identical (I am NOT making this up) experiences with two more food items, I swiped my credit card thru the reader, grabbed the bags of groceries, and bolted for the door.

What Debra was getting wasn’t training at all, but something more akin to a public hemorrhoidectomy. Having successfully gone through her regular checkout lane before, I had firsthand knowledge that this lady is quite proficient as a checker. But when it came to overseeing the self-checkout operation, someone had basically thrown her in the pool and said, “swim.”

My point is this: If we’re not going to lower our expectations about the speed at which people reach peak performance levels (and we’re not), then it stands to reason that our training and orientation (onboarding) methods must keep pace with those expectations. To wit, here are three simple reminders:

1.    Though it is likely not an issue with the likes of Debra, Vince Young, or Matt Leinart, one of the major learning “bridges” that must be crossed in our own workplaces has to do with making sure that our people understand, really understand how and why their work matters. Otherwise, all the methods training in the world will be for naught.
2.    In case you haven’t noticed, owing to concerns about their safety, security, health, finances, and the like, people are wrapped way too tight these days. Accordingly, if you want to create memorable impressions, build some fun into the equation. That is particularly the case with learning scenarios. In fact, that’s a point we emphasized in partnering recently with CRM Learning in the production of a management training video based on the aforementioned Contented Cows book. Having just read the final script, I’m happy to report that they’ve succeeded beyond our expectations. Sometime in January, you’ll get the chance to enjoy it and put it to use in your organization.
3.    Be very deliberate and thoughtful about your choice of training delivery methods and sources. Debra’s supervisor clearly subscribes to Mark Twain’s theory that, “a person who carries a cat home by the tail learns 10 times as much as one who only watches.” (Please, no PETA protests.) Indeed OJT has its place, but often there is a need for some adult supervision. Be very choosy about who that human trainer is. There is a big difference in learning under the tutelage of someone who is the very best at what they do, as opposed to someone who is merely available. Similarly, high tech distance learning can shrink the globe and put tremendous amounts of knowledge at our fingertips. Witness the fact that one can “learn to fly” at a computer screen without ever leaving the comfort of home. Yet, I don’t know about you, but I prefer to ride with someone who I know has actually had to deal with an engine fire-warning siren in the midst of a takeoff roll.

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard, and their work, please visit their website at



- who has written 228 posts on Contented Cows.

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1 comment

  1. Tia says:

    BWwwhahahahaaa….I’ll be laughing about “public hemorrhoidectomy” all day! Point made :-)

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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