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Management Training is not Sports Training

Imagine you’re a sports coach who can only train each of your athletes for 3 days every 6 months, and you have no direct access to any athlete for the rest of the year. Would you train those athletes the same way Phil Jackson trained the Chicago Bulls or the LA Lakers? Or imagine you’re a great schoolteacher, who has just 6 days a year with each class of pupils. Would you use the same approach that even your most inspiring schoolteacher or university professor used?

Sportsmen are usually in competitive action for less than 2 hours a week. The bulk of their time is spent practising, making adjustments, and mastering skills well away from the field of competition. Students are learning full time for months or years, understanding principles and slowly building a foundation before starting a lifetime’s vocations. A typical manager has around 6 days of training each year, and needs to use that training in real life, skillfully, straight away. This is a completely different challenge, and those few training days need to be used really well.

Here are some ways management training can make those precious days of training really count.

  • We focus only on the few things that help us best improve. None of us can absorb more than a handful of new things in a day, and then integrate them into our way of operating. If we try to do more, then we’re drinking from a fire hose; so we need to be wise about choosing the few critical things we learn and practise
  • We learn skills that work well, straight away. Elegant principles and beautiful insights are never the final step. Every beautiful insight needs to be turned into an effective approach that Martha can apply skillfully on Monday
  • We start mastering our new skills well before we leave training. Understanding something is not the same as knowing how to apply it skillfully. We need guided practice, to recognise how to use a new skill well, before we use it in anger
  • We get prompts to improve our expertise in the 98% of our time that we are not in training. This can mean anything from simple practice reminders to incorporating 3 or 4 approaches into a team playbook

We can learn lots of things from great sports coaches and brilliant teachers, but management training is a very different prospect, and in many ways a much more difficult one. We think we’ve got good management training when we can make the absolute most of a handful of days, to help someone get much better, straight away, at skills that really matter.

SMART Goals Sound Good but Miss the Benefit

Goal setting can be an outstanding way of improving performance if it’s done well. If I were to boil down the years of studies about good goal setting to just two critical things to get absolutely right, those things would be difficulty and feedback:

  • Goals should be just at the edge of your ability: just difficult enough that if you concentrate hard you’ll hit them, but on an off day you won’t
  • You get continual, very specific feedback about how you’re doing, which tells you what you need to adjust to get in the performance sweet spot

Let’s consider what happens when we don’t bother about difficulty and feedback. Imagine a tennis lesson to improve your return of serve. How much will you improve if your coach serves 130mph bombs past your ears? Or if he dollies it over the net to you? How will you know how to adjust your return if you can’t tell whether it’s difficult for your opponent to hit back again, or if your coach says nothing?

These two things: task difficulty and feedback, are the heart of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s superbly well researched conditions for getting into a state of peak experience, or “Flow”. Other research, on goal feedback, shows that if you don’t get feedback then you get no benefit at all from goal setting.

Now let’s look at the SMART goals acronym, the popular wisdom on good goal setting. There are different words that each different letter of SMART can stand for, which is a bit of a worry in itself, but let’s take a common definition: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. To be fair, these can all be useful characteristics of goals in the right circumstances, and have decent evidence to back them up. So they’re not wrong, but they miss our two critical characteristics of difficulty and feedback. SMART only skirts around goal difficulty. SMART doesn’t even mention feedback, and without feedback you might as well not bother.

SMART goals also miss plenty of other very important characteristics of goals: using learning and process goals in the short term; having performance goals that are entirely within your control; commitment to goals; repositioning goals upwards or downwards when they become too easy or difficult; and taking breaks from goals entirely.

So my advice is to beware snappy acronyms and use what works: set goal difficulty just at the edge of your ability, and get continual feedback to help you adjust and learn. Everything else is important but secondary.

Kardelen Launches Its MBA

Kardelen has launched its MBA, training a group of 10 Senior Consultants, 3 Associate Directors and 2 Directors at Sports Industry Agency of the Year, Two Circles. The MBA comprises 7 individual courses, and the group will take one course every 2 months.

We spread the course into separate sessions to give participants time to bed in each course’s skillset before introducing the next one. This approach has some other practical advantages: we don’t take a whole senior team away from client work for days at a time; and the participants can come to each session refreshed and hungry for an energetic day of learning and practice.

Because an entire peer group and senior team are taking the course, we have also been able to work with Two Circles to integrate the skills and practices from each course into its operating playbook.

We offer this course for all clients, and will publicise details soon.

Accredited Distance Learning Courses

Kardelen has developed 2 of its courses for distance learning: Managing Teams for High Performance and Managing Individuals for High Performance.

We have worked closely on developing the distance learning with Premier Training International, the UK’s leading training company in health and fitness, and with Active IQ, the UK’s largest health and fitness awarding body. The courses will form the core of the health and fitness sector’s new level 3 qualifications in management and leadership, and will be complemented by more of our courses in October and November.

Kardelen and Premier will launch their suite of management and leadership distance learning courses in the health and fitness sector in the next few months. Kardelen will offer a growing range of courses as distance learning in all sectors.

Using Hypotheses to Become a Better Thinker

Using hypotheses can help us become clearer thinkers, save us time, and help us communicate succinctly. We can use them wherever we’re not sure and care enough about getting to a good answer. They’re at the heart of scientific problem solving, and have been used by great thinkers since before our boy Aristotle. Wherever I’ve trained the use of hypotheses, people find it a refreshing and mind opening approach. I hope it’s worthy of your attention.

Let me say what I mean by stating a hypothesis. All we are saying is: “This is what I suppose given what I know right now.” That’s all. It’s our first venture at an answer, and acts as a starting point in getting to a good solution. We could be supposing anything from “Miranda will be the best leader for the company” to “evolution explains everything.”

Our hypothesis is a working answer that we hold gently and challenge hard. By stating this working answer, and making it tangible, we give ourselves something concrete to test with thinking and evidence. Our job is to challenge it: “Does it cover things completely? Is it consistent with observations? Does it make sense logically? Is it unequivocal with no room for misunderstanding? Is it simple enough to be obvious? Can I think of any exceptions that hole my beautiful hypothesis below the water line?” As we challenge our working answer with evidence and clear thinking, we expect it to change, just like the detective’s naive first guess in an episode of CSI. If we’re really hungry investigators or expansive thinkers, we’re rarely happy until our first guess has been challenged and changed at least a couple of times.

As we go through this process, our hypothesis slowly solidifies into a thesis; our supposition turns into our position on the matter. In some cases, we might even get to the verifiable truth: “It was Professor Plum whodunit,” or, “This business will be profitable.” Often, we’ll never know the truth but will run with our best thesis: “John will be the best Governor,” or, “profit share is the right incentive scheme.”

Starting by stating what I suppose has a host of advantages over just asking questions or musing distractedly. It forces me to be concrete about what I think, which highlights weaknesses and makes my thinking better. It turns my perspective into one of a humble investigator who welcomes challenge, as opposed to a blustering know-it-all or a vague wonderer. It gives me a focus for my investigative efforts. It enables me at any stage to be explicit about my current position on the matter, being overt about where I’m confident and where I’m unsure. I can communicate my position at any time, so that other people can understand, challenge and contribute.

Using a hypothesis has drawbacks, typically because of using it badly. The biggest is that we get attached to our hypotheses and slip into trying to prove them. We’re all guilty of this, though it’s an even easier trap to fall into if we don’t think by hypothesis, and so don’t welcome self-challenge or new insight.

Hypotheses are essential to the scientific problem solving that guided Newton and the analytical rhetoric that guided Madison and Martin Luther King. Everyone that learns the skill becomes a better thinker. If you use hypotheses, you’ve got exalted company in Aristotle, Cicero, every mechanic or plumber who actually fixes your problem, every great fictional detective and, I suppose, some real ones too.

Why We Set Up Kardelen Training

We set up Kardelen Training for 3 simple reasons:

  • we’re convinced that training can be a superbly valuable, enduring investment, as long as the right skills are trained in the right way;
  • our method of training – practice and mastery of essential skills – results in consistently strong improvements in performance, but is rare in the corporate world in the subjects we train;
  • selfishly, we love working with smart people who are taking time to master new skills and develop their abilities.
Good Training is an Outstanding Investment

We want to spend our time doing something that gets results; and the facts are relentless about how training the right skills in leadership, management and self development increases both performance and satisfaction. Training in intelligent goal setting creates reliable single and double digit performance improvements. People trained in sound leadership skills strongly outperform their control group peers. Leadership teams trained to develop inspiring but well-rounded missions financially outperform those without.

We see results like these ourselves from the first day we train, as our participants begin to apply and master the skills we teach. Participants’ companies start to see the benefits of those skills the day they get back to work.

We Only Train Skills That Work in a Way That Works

From the outset of Kardelen, we plan only to train skills that we know improve performance. We believe the burden of proof is on us as a training provider to find out what genuinely gets real world results, so we do the background work to know that with confidence. We review studies on what does and does not improve performance, we run our own surveys, and we see the results of our own training.

This is why we train effective goal setting, which is one of the most compelling areas of performance improvement, but we don’t train SMART goals or stretch goals, which miss critical steps. It is why we train how to set inspiring visions and coherent missions, which have excellent records of success when done well, but we don’t train strategic tools, which have a typically negative effect on the performances of companies that apply them. We will continue to grow the subjects we train, but we will only train what works.

We also only want to train with a method that works. We believe that teaching insightful concepts is important, but we believe that most of the challenge and benefit from training comes from applying those concepts skilfully in real life. This is why we describe our work as skills training. We introduce a small number of new skills, and spend the bulk of our time practising those skills in progressively difficult circumstances relevant to our participants.

We know our training is better if it’s enjoyable. Our participants are more engaged, open to learning, and keen to test out new skills if they’re having fun, so we make it fun.

We don’t plan to train every important management and leadership skill. We only want train subjects where we think we have something distinctively good to add. There are plenty of experienced people doing excellent training in technical subjects, like finance, systems and operational improvements.   We have nothing new or distinctive to offer in these subjects, so we leave them to the people who are already doing an excellent job.

We Like Working with Smart People Who Want to Get Better

The main reason we set up Kardelen, though, is that we love to work with smart people who want to improve and who want their teams to flourish. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with these people, as they get stuck in, practising and mastering essential skills, and integrating those skills their daily way of operating.