Friday, May 12, 2006

Basic Training for Everyone

Two thoughts merged the other day and each illustrated the importance of mastering the basics.

In addition to my consulting practice, I teach a class on business law at a community college. It's fun and is taught entirely on-line. The students have a sizable amount of reading and are required to send in research papers. The on-line option works well for them, many of whom are working full-time. Some are in remote locations around the nation and even the world.

I set aside time in the evening to complete grading. Recently, one test paper stood out. It wasn't the best work by any means and that was the point. From messages and other papers, I knew that this student had greater knowledge of the subject than his test essay answers revealed. His problem is that he doesn't know how to write essay answers. He is a bright person who needs help with a basic skill.

Shift now to the U.S. military, the most respected institution in the United States. The military, like its counterparts elsewhere in the world, teaches the basics. Few enlistees know how to shoot a rifle or take out a machine gun nest, so the military takes everyone - regardless of the level of prior knowledge - through basic training. Enlistees are viewed as blank slates. Other skills will eventually emerge, but initially you're the same as everybody else and learning the basics is not a stigma.

My point is that the military's success in transforming raw civilians into soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines rests in no small part on its willingness to ensure that everyone learns and follows the basics. If your organization does the same thing, it is an exception. Most organizations encounter huge problems because large portions of their workforces have not mastered the basics. They have people who don't know how to listen, lead, or make decisions. They have teams that fall apart as soon as they are assembled because none of the members know a lick about teamwork. Usually, the workshops that are offered on basic topics are voluntary and so only the most die-hard improvement buffs sign up. The rest would rather fail than appear to be unsophisticated.

I gave the student's essays a fair and honest grade and advised him to get with the tutoring people for assistance on writing essay answers. One session could make a big difference in his academic career and his life. Was that insulting? I hope he didn't take it that way, but I was spurred by the realization of how many times in my life I have wished that someone had spoken to me about the basics.

The need is so obvious, it is overlooked.


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