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Monday, July 20, 2015

...and Trish? Please stir my coffee.

Like many people these days I often opt for the drive-thru line rather than walking into the store. The 'convenience' factor plays a large part in the decision making process as does the illusion that the line actually moves faster outside than it does inside. For the does not. But regardless of those things I wait diligently in my car to pull up to that microscopic screen and raspy speaker to ask for food or drinks or whatever.
My order accuracy track record with most drive-thru lines is not good. In fact I would say without a second thought that my order is often anywhere from 'not quite what I ordered' to flat out wrong. Yet I still come back. Time and time again and I set myself up for disappointment every time. Now, I could try and psychoanalyze why I do this (much like most of you reading this) but that's not what this is really about. This post is about the importance of mastering a skill before you take on new skills. Allow me to elaborate.
Yesterday I was in line at Tim Horton's for a coffee. For those of you not familiar with what Tim Horton's is or who he was, click the link to read more. Needless to say, it's an addiction for most Canadians. There was a car in front of me at the speaker placing their order. As most of us do, knowing I was up next I turned down my radio so the person in the store could hear me when I ordered. This also meant I could hear the car in front of me ordering. Most of the order was mundane as orders tend to be, but then the driver said something that made my ears perk up. After ordering his coffee (one cream, one sugar) he said
....and Trish? Please stir my coffee.
And then he drove ahead.
I sat there for a heartbeat or two pondering that statement. Please stir my coffee? I mean....that should be obvious right? You add stuff to a coffee, then you stir it. It's that simple. I do it when I make a coffee at home. I bet you do too. Who did this guys think he was? Asking Trish to stir his coffee! I mean c'mon! But once that split second audacity passed, I thought of how many times I needed to stir my coffee after ordering it from this very same place. I thought of how many times my coffee; a simple pleasure, was marred but somebody's inability to perform a core function of their job. That's when that sentence hit me.
A few months back I had been at a conference in Chicago and during one of the breakout sessions the Speaker said something that seemed so obvious; so simple that I don't think it really resonated with me until sitting waiting for my coffee that day. In essence he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) '...we cannot teach people a new skill or ask them to perform a new task until we know that they have mastered the last skill or task.'
How often do we assign new tasks to our staff or set stretch goals for them to achieve? How often do they struggle to complete those tasks or reach those goals? Is it because they are incapable? In a word....Yes. If we expect our team to do something new and different and it requires them to use a set of predefined skills to accomplish that task shouldn't we ensure that they have mastered those predefined skills first? For example, if I ask my staff to create a pivot table in Excel then I need to be certain that they are competent with Excel on a basic level before expecting them to do more. Taking that simple fact for granted can easily lead to disappointment further down the road.
This Customer ordering his coffee recognized a gap in that Company's basic skills training. Through his own experiences he had come to understand that while the coffee was being made, it wasn't being made properly. He needed to reinforce the basics of the job; to ensure the coffee was stirred in order to get the best possible result. The person receiving that instruction (Trish) had more than likely been trained on how to make a cup of coffee. She was probably shown how to add cream and sugar and I'll go so far as to say she probably was even taught how to stir it. The issue here is not Trish (she was doing a bang-up job).
The issue was that not enough people understood or practiced the basics of the job so no matter how complex the order was; no matter how many times they made a coffee or tea, somewhere along the line they were forgetting an essential step. They were doing it incorrectly and Customers were driving away unhappy. They hadn't mastered the basics and there was a negative consequence because of that.
So the next time you give your team an assignment or you get back a less than optimal result on a project you delegated to them ask yourself whether they had the basics skills down to do the job properly. Ask yourself.....did they stir the coffee? 

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