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Thursday Insight - Horsing Around

Thursday Insight - Horsing Around



Living where I do, there comes a week every year when the constant whirr of helicopters overhead, road closures and signs outside all the local pubs offering their legendary pre-race breakfasts can mean only one thing: the Cheltenham Festival, with its world-famous Gold Cup race, has rolled into town once more.

As I write, the sky is full of helicopters ferrying jockeys and spectators to the racecourse. Others are walking past my door, beautifully attired, excitedly chatting about the day ahead.

And suddenly, I was reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with a professional horse racing trainer.

What he said was quite simple: “When I take a racehorse to a new track, after just 6 laps of that track it knows exactly where it is going; that route is fixed in the horse’s mind and it will follow that course without question.”

I remember thinking, “Wow! I wish it was that easy to get humans to head in the same direction!” But then a thought occurred to me, “Yikes! What if they change the layout of the racecourse?” 

So, I asked him and he said: “Oh that’s easy! We just teach them the new layout, the same way we taught them the first.”

“Surely that confuses the horses?” I asked. “No” he said, “They just know that this is the new way to do it and stick to it.”
   
My initial reaction was to think “Wow! Wouldn’t we all like a team that was that adaptive to changing their behaviour?”, but it was pretty clear that, he was underplaying his role in this process. He had years of experience, and you could see that this, along with trust and rapport built up between him and the horses, played a big part in this ‘simple’ process.

What can we, as managers, learn from this?

1. When we need someone to improve or change their performance, we need to identify whether the issue is down to a lack of skill, will or a combination of both. Our horse trainer knew that when faced with a new track, it was the horse’s skill that needed addressing and focused the training on this. Our study guide Managing Performances: Desire and Ability will will help you identify where your issues are. 

2. To encourage the employee, we need to know what motivates them and explain how they will benefit from changing their approach. Why not spend some time thinking about What Motivates My Team?

3. Don’t shy away from Difficult Conversations; the problem won’t go away if you don’t tackle it. Think about our horse trainer; what would happen if he took his horse to a racecourse that the horse didn’t know and simply expected the horse to get around in first place? 
   
4. Learn to give effective feedback to your team members. AID is great tool to learn. When you are confident with your feedback skills, why not show them Why Feedback Matters.

5. Give people clear objectives that you want them to achieve; make sure that they are truly SMART. As Sam’s Tale demonstrates, it makes a massive difference to the outcome when they are.

6. Finally, keep working with the team member until you know the behaviours are properly embedded. Unfortunately, unlike horses, this will be more complex than running around a racecourse 6 times. But your persistence in encouraging them, supporting them, noticing the improvements and saying well done will have a huge impact on the likelihood of success.
   
Have a great week!

March 16 2017 Frances Ferguson
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Frances Ferguson




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