Tell Them How to Turn on The Radio

I was recently chatting with my colleague, Jack, about how each of our teams were adapting to the new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system our company implemented six months ago. Most users are doing remarkably well in using the new technology in their daily work; however, as is the case with any large-scale change or training initiative, some are still struggling to gain competence with basic tasks.

Jack relayed a story about when he worked for a defense contractor years ago. He was tasked with writing a user manual for a new military radio his company was designing. Upon finishing the manual, Jack submitted it to his manager for review. His manager looked it over and said, “This looks pretty good Jack, but you missed one really important thing.” “What did I miss?” asked Jack. The manager replied, “You forgot to tell them how to turn on the radio.”

Even though Jack thought something as simple as turning on the radio should be self-evident, his manager’s comment was a reminder that, when people are learning something new, they need step-by-step directions.

Over the last 40 years of assessing the leadership styles of the millions of managers who have taken Ken Blanchard’s SLII© leadership training program, our data shows that 54% of managers primarily use a Coaching style. The Coaching style is comprised of high amounts of supportive behaviors, but low amounts of directive behavior. Coaching is a match if the team member already has a moderate or high level of competence on the goal or task but needs support in gaining confidence or commitment to move forward. Coaching is not a match for a team member who has little to no competence on the goal or task. That individual needs a Directive style of leadership. He/she needs to know the how, what, why, and when of performing the task. He/she needs specific step-by-step directions or tools such as a checklist or a user manual. If you mismatch your leadership style by Coaching when you need to be Directing, you’ll cause the team member to flounder and become frustrated.

Providing high amounts of direction is often challenging for managers. They don’t want to appear overly bossy, come across as micromanaging, or insult the intelligence of their team member. So, it’s easy for leaders to under-manage when training a new employee. If you have a new team member who is just learning the basics of doing the job or learning a new technology, you need to use a Directive style of leadership. You need to remember to tell the person how to turn on the radio.

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