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You can learn a lot about management from potty training your child

A good manager is clear on what’s expected, gives feedback, encourages, develops and rewards.

Eoghan McDermott

YOU’D BE SURPRISED by how much you can learn about good management from toilet training your child.

Over Christmas my wife and I decided that our two-year-old son was going to leave the nappy behind him. This, as you can imagine, is not what you dream of doing over your holidays, but it is a necessary piece of the parenting gig.

It took a bit of planning – when, where, how. A fair bit of Googling and reading “best ways to toilet train boys” and then a lot of watching, and waiting. And mopping.

But there was more to it than that. A lot of it revolved around communication and in fact mirrors what managers need to learn to do.

(It might be worth noting here that I’m not for one minute suggesting that people should be treated like two year olds, however, there are a number of common principles).

A good manager is clear on what’s expected, gives feedback (positive and/or constructive), encourages, develops and rewards.

shutterstock_240408835 Source: Shutterstock/bilderpool

The American research-based management-consulting firm Gallup found that bad management costs US companies upwards of $500 billion annually. Too often people get promoted to management positions without the skills to do the job.

For example, great sales people get promoted to sales managers; superb accountants and lawyers get promoted to partner. But the skills to be a great ‘whatever’ are different to what’s needed to be a great manager.

It seems obvious that companies should only promote or hire managers who are able to manage and are good at telling their people how they’re doing – but they don’t. A good manager is clear on what’s expected, gives feedback (positive and/or constructive), encourages, develops and rewards. And if they don’t, their department or company may go down the toilet.

We knew we had to be absolutely clear on what was expected.

Do it in the potty. Not in your pants.

Speaking of the toilet, the first thing we needed to do was to decide our training methods. For example, was it going to be what the learning and development people refer to as a “blended learning approach” of perhaps “show and tell” combined with the obvious need of “learning by doing”. Or just straight up “learning by doing”.

“Chalk and talk” wasn’t going to fly here. We ourselves had a lot of on-the-job learning from some hiccups two years previously training our daughter. We knew we had to be absolutely clear on what was expected.

‘Do it in the potty. Not in your pants. If you need Mammy or Daddy, just ask’. However, in the workplace there is often a lack of clarity between boss and staffer around what “good” actually looks like and what the person is being measured on.

For a manager, and a staff member, to know what good looks like, good has to be defined. No more than a parent with their child, otherwise the iPad ends up drenched.

The next thing that’s needed is encouragement. No matter how bright the child is, the likelihood of them cottoning on immediately is low. We had to give feedback, ideally immediately after the fact. “Well done, that’s exactly how to do it”, “Good man, yourself”.

Or if needs be a bit of constructive criticism. “Maybe next time you’ll do it in the potty and not in your pants behind the couch”.

Unfortunately, effective feedback doesn’t always happen in companies. One reason could be that the manager doesn’t know how to give it. Or even worse, they just don’t notice.

shutterstock_263495984 Source: Shutterstock/Pressmaster

Feedback should be given regularly, informally and formally, and dealing with specifics. Not just once a year at often contrived performance review meetings.

Micromanagement shows a lack of trust in a person, and disempowers them.

John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s pizza, said “what gets measured, gets done, what gets rewarded gets repeated”. Sigmund Freud advised that parents should praise and reward their children when toilet training. My wife and I have learned the hard way over the last few weeks that you can’t get complacent – keep encouraging and developing, and the odd reward.

Since the crash, it’s been difficult for organisations to give pay increases or bonuses to their staff, however, they need to get creative and make their people feel appreciated – whether that’s nights out, or supporting them through further education.

There is one crucial element that is different – micromanagement. We were micromanagers. Essentially, we had to watch our child like a hawk to make sure he didn’t piddle on the polished floor, or wherever he wanted to. We had to be control freaks. Watching staff like a hawk, wanting updates on everything, discouraging them to make decisions is hugely frustrating, demoralising and demotivating for them.

Unnecessary micromanagement shows a lack of trust in a person, and disempowers them.

In its simplest form, good management is ensuring people do what they’re paid for and supposed to do, and most importantly that they’re happy doing it. The Harvard Business Review said that great managers set expectations, motivate and develop.

You could read the same thing in Potty Training for Dummies.

Eoghan McDermott is a Director of The Communications Clinic and is Head of Training and Careers there. @EoghanMcDermott

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