stretching-498256_640What to Do About Ted

I attended a week-long seminar called The Million Dollar Consulting® College. As a part of the seminar, small groups of world-class consultants worked on a variety of case studies, all based on real consulting engagements.

In one case, our client was the CEO of a large regional hospital. He engaged us because he couldn’t figure out why his team was not able to produce results. During meetings everyone seemed clear about what needed to be done, yet nothing actually got done. When we spoke with the members of the CEO’s team, they all pointed the finger of blame at Ted, the VP of HR. Ted, they said, sabotaged them at every turn.

When we interviewed Ted, he was hostile and aggressive. He felt that he was essentially running the show and admitted to sabotaging his teammates in an effort to make them look bad to the CEO.

Ted reported to Joe, who was the VP of Operations. About a year ago, Joe recruited Ted from another hospital at which they had worked together. While Joe acknowledged that Ted could be “hard headed and difficult to work with,” he liked the fact that “Ted got the job done.” Unfortunately, Ted’s results were nowhere to be seen in his current position. The plot thickened when we learned that Ted was married to the CEO’s daughter.

Faced with this conundrum, we thought we’d side-step the political minefield by recommending personal executive coaching to help Ted learn to play nice with others. We were wrong.

The answer was to have Ted stop reporting to Joe and start reporting to the CEO. It made complete sense. HR was the only non-operational function that reported in through Joe. The CEO, who was known to suffer no fools, fired Ted within six weeks.

Simple and Cheap

The moral of this story is that it is often the simplest, lowest cost solution that gets the job done. Unfortunately, I believe that looking for the simplest, lowest cost training solution isn’t done often enough. Maybe we feel that our business partners and internal customers will be disappointed if we hand them a job aid instead of a slickly produced online learning module. And yet, job aids may be the perfect solution. Not convinced?

A report on the results of using a simple surgical checklist was published in the January 14th online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. At first, surgeons thought the checklist was juvenile, but then the results rolled in. During the year of the study, the rate of major complications in operating rooms dropped by more than a third when the checklist was used. More importantly, deaths dropped by more than 40 percent after the checklist was introduced. Not bad for a lowly job aid.

Ideas For Job Aids

The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. One of my clients created a database where sales representatives could share tough sales situations and their successful responses. Another developed a series of flowcharts that showed not only what was done, but by whom and when, throughout a work pipeline that involved multiple handoffs between departments. Yet another created laminated cards that showed procedural steps. Still another developed a series of illustrations that showed what goodies to place where in the store’s pastry case.

The nice thing about job aids is that they are also usually quick, easy, and cheap to create. In addition, employees can refer to them in the course of doing their jobs. It’s not necessary to send employees to training, which makes job aids cheaper still. And, they can be more effective than having employees sit through a long-winded SME’s presentation, because they boil down the essentials and present them in an easily digestible manner.

My all-time favorite book on job aids is A Handbook of Job Aids by Allison Rossett & Jeannette Gautier-Downes. It is chock full of ideas for different types of job aids. This oldie but goody is available on

Just Right

Admittedly, job aids are not always the answer. However, given the shrinking of many company’s training budgets this year, it may be time to start asking a variation of the question I’ve started to ask my vet, “what is the simplest, cheapest thing we can do to solve this training problem?” This question can help identify the appropriate amount of effort and dollars to expend. We can always add more resources if the problem remains unsolved. And, we can avoid overspending on over-training. Like Goldilocks sampling the porridge, we want to figure out what’s “just right.”