Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"I won't need to work when I grow up because robots will do everything."

It is easy to fall back on the old, useless, and yet still spoken claim when trying to motivate our kids, "You need to study hard and get good grades so you can get into a good college and therefore get a good job." You can imagine how powerful this approach is to a 10 year old who thinks that the summer (2 weeks from now) is an eternity away.  How we can expect them to act now based on the benefits they will reap in 10 years?  While talking with my son the other night before bed after a particularly long evening of homework and headaches, I tried to answer his (fair) question, "Why do I have to learn science anyway?"  Here is the dialogue that followed.

I am constantly trying to get my kids to understand the long term reasons for studying, learning, and building good habits.  As a self-proclaimed adult and headhunter, I see everyday where people end up in their careers and it is obvious to me from the countless resumes and interviews that our kids will be better off if they get their acts together early on.  I realize of course that it is an uphill battle.  Kids at the toddler, elementary and even middle school level have a sense of time that seems to assume the world will no longer exist five days from the all important NOW.  School projects are put off because they are not due tomorrow. Why practice for soccer today if there is no game coming up in the next hour? Read? You mean like just for fun???

Dad: Well, someday you are going to have find a job so that you can take care of yourself and pay for food and rent.  Daddy does not live with Grandpa anymore does he?  
Son: No...
Dad: So, do you know what kind of job you  want to do when you get out of college?
Son: No...
Dad: That's OK, nobody knows at your age what they will be.  But that is why you have to learn a bunch of different things so that when you do decide what you want, you will have the knowledge you need.  Maybe it will be science, maybe math, maybe something else.
Son: But I am not really going to have to work when I grow up.
Dad: ...Huh?  Why is that?
Son: Because there will be robots that do everything for us.
Dad: I see (struggling to process) and who is going to make all these robots?
Son: I don't know.
Dad: And why should the person who works hard to make all these robots let you use them for free?
Son: .....
Dad: I guess you could always get a job polishing the robots and keeping them clean.  Son..?  Son?
Son: Zzzzzzzzzz

Maybe the answer is to work within the timeframe our kids define for us.  If the best they can do is think a week ahead then we need to adjust our expectations, incentives, reasoning to that more understandable block of time.  As they get older and mature that time sense will extend further and we can extend out as well.  A little pushing does not hurt and may help our kids to develop faster.  Instead of five years from now though we can talk about our expectations for the end of the month.  A stretch perhaps for a grade schooler but, as I am often saying to my kids, you won't get better without reaching beyond your limits.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sales, recruiting, and report cards

"We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest.  As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado.  Anybody want to see second prize?  Second prize is a set of steak knives.  Third prize is you're fired."
Blake (Alec Baldwin) throws out these lines in Glengarry Glen Ross when he is brought in to shake up an under performing real estate sales office.  This approach, yell and scream and throw out incentives for achieving revenue targets, will be all too familiar to those of us who have worked in sales organizations.  This is how it is done, right?  Sales people need to be motivated and establishing goals is what drives us all to achieve great things.  It sounds an awful lot like the conversations around our house when it comes to school and grades.

We're adding a little something to this month's homework incentive.  As you know, if you get all A's you can buy a new game for your Playstation.  If you get a B average then you can keep the games you already have but no new ones.  If you get an F then we are taking you out of that school and sending you to boarding school!

I am sure all the parents out there can attest to how well the carrot and the stick works when it comes to grades.  Not at all it seems.  To the management academics this will come as no surprise.  Demanding performance by focusing on the end result of a multi-step process is not productive.  As a recruiter, my end target is a revenue goal.  However, it is impossible for me to go out and strive for "revenue".  I have no direct control over the revenue.  What I can do though is set myself a goal to call 20 new potential candidates today.  Based on past experience, I know that calling 20 candidates a day will give me 1 person I can introduce to a client.  In a month that will come to 20 introductions which will lead to 15 interviews and at least one person getting hired.  Finally, we can then calculate the revenue totals.

My son has a vocabulary quiz every Wednesday.  He knows the words that will be on the quiz and my wife and I believe that there is no reason he should not get 100% every week on that quiz.  It is not that many words and the only excuse is that he did not study enough.  Demanding that he get a perfect score, like demanding that a salesperson achieve a certain revenue target, is the wrong approach.  Instead, breaking down that perfect score into the components that lead up to it makes for a better goal.  For this case, making flash cards and reviewing them nightly is simple, achievable and he has complete control over it.  When he achieves these daily goals he inevitably scores well on the quiz.

Control is the key to this approach. "You have to get all A's!" is too vague and distant.  Focusing on the day to day steps will lead to less stress and better results.  Don't do this all for your kids without explaining how it works though.  Talk through the process of getting an A (or whatever the ultimate goal) and teach them how to work backwards.  Being able to take a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and break it down into manageable, smaller milestones is a critical skill in the workplace.  Ultimately, this is what project management is and there are very few professions where it is not required to succeed.