Posts Tagged ‘teach a man to fish’

Schoolboy Struggling with Math Problems

Change is life. And if you are a change agent, you are a teacher, an educator. Because helping a person gain an understanding of a concept is the best way to open the door for them to actually endorse and execute on a concept.

We don’t often think of ourselves this way. Sure we throw around ideas like teach a man to fish but do we really think through what it means to really educate people on how to change. We throw a few presentations around, maybe send people to a couple trainings. They got it, right?

Sometimes they get it right away. Usually they don’t. And they don’t get it right away not because they are failing but because it takes time and repetition to get it.

I think we tend to underestimate how long it takes to assimilate new ideas. Once we become experts it is so easy to forget just how much effort went into it.

It reminds me of times I worked for a cousin of mine who was an experienced general contractor. He would say go do this, it’s easy. I would say, yes, it’s easy if you’ve done it a hundred times. Anything is easy if you know how to do it.

So you need to be a teacher. I almost said mentor. But in this case I don’t mean mentor because that’s something different. The goals are as important and you should certainly be one but it’s a different role and so a topic for a different time.

You need to educate. Though you may not be running a classroom the skills and efforts that go into teaching an effective class certainly apply.

Think of it as a combination between giving lessons and being a tutor.

The lesson part is about looking at what skills and knowledge your project needs to be successful. You may need to talk about the change process in general, you may need to talk about the whys and whats of the goals and vision of the project, you may need to teach about the process methodology, you may need to talk about success variable, etc.

Think about is as creating a lesson plan. What are all the lessons this person needs to learn to make it through this class/project successfully. Notice here I didn’t say the project had to be a success, but that the person has learning success through the project.

Patience. That’s another skill you’re going to need. The demands of the project will always want you to go faster than the education is occurring. You’ll have to stand as strong as you can in defense of the need to not push past the awareness points.

It’s like if you really didn’t get algebra and you are forced on to calculus. There’s a pretty good chance you will never get calculus. You won’t get it not because you are stupid but because the framework to understand was never finished. It will crumple.

There are a lot resources out there for creating lessons and teaching tools. Learn about these. They will come in handy because everyone will have their own way of learning. It will be your job to figure out what methods work best based on your pupil and the subject matter.





And the winner is… Both.

They are equally important to the objective. They are not, however, equal when it comes to which comes first. The Art of Sensitivity should always come first.

It’s similar to the old saying you only get one chance to make a first impression. Now that first impression is important but it’s also the ongoing impressions you make as you interact with your customer, especially when you are acting as a change agent.

People are extra sensitive when they are being asked to change. While there are varying degrees of sensitivity and defensiveness, they are always there.  You can preface it with as many non-blaming catch phrases as you want, they will still be sensitive. It’s a normal, natural behavior. And the cues they pick up on that may rankle their sensitivity can be subtle.

And they are watching you closely for any sign to be wary. Anything you say or do to them, to their bosses or to unrelated parties is fair game for inspection.

No matter how careful you are someone will put up their defenses. So how do you minimize that?

Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Check your ego at the door. Your customer already knows you’re there because you’re good at what you do. People can smell feelings of superiority for blocks. I know this is hard for engineers since it’s important for people to know you are good otherwise you can’t get work. But you tell their bosses that, not the people you are working with. If you have to fake not having a big ego, then at least do it with a genuine attempt. Otherwise faking it just comes across as condescension and we all know how helpful that is.


  • Put yourself in their shoes. This is age old advice. And sound. Try to remember the last time someone came into your world to “help” you. I’ve had consultants come into my world and start spewing their expertise at me like I was entirely ignorant. Did they actually think I was ignorant? Not sure. Didn’t matter. The fact they didn’t bother to get to know me and the situation before impressing my with their knowledge is irrelevant.  They were insensitive and uninterested in me or the situation. I don’t care how right they may have ended up being. They lost me. Seek to understand before being understood.


  • Don’t do things to your customers. Don’t tell them how “your” going to help fix things. Teach a man to fish. Because if they don’t understand they can’t change. And if they don’t change behaviors, you haven’t fixed anything. Educate them. They will recognize the difference. And if people are impatient about this approach (probably their bosses) then you need to educate them too.


Our mantra should be: Be sensitive. Observe. Understand.