I read this article today: ‘What teens get about the Internet that parents don’t’. I have to admit that I bookmarked it because I immediately thought, “oh great, I bet I can turn this into a useful allegory involving tech-resistant senior local government as Mum and Dad, and the geeky early adopters as sulky but ultimately vindicated teenagers.”
Having read it, it deals with the way that young people use online resources to get information about a skill they want to acquire, like playing a musical instrument. So maybe not so relevant to the workplace? Ah, well … I’m sure you can see where this is going. If not, bear with me. It’s usually worth it.
In several quoted examples, the process went like this; child wants to learn to play an instrument. Helicopter parent springs into action online to find the nearest peripatetic music teacher, music club or school able to offer tuition on said instrument. Parent then agonises over which existing activity in already-crowded extracurricular schedule will have to be dropped to make room for tuition. Parent then finds child already playing recognisable tunes on the instrument having spent less than an hour sourcing free downloads of tabs, chords or instruction videos from one of hundreds of reputable, legal sites.
(I personally know a large cohort of self-taught teenage musicians whose ability, range and stagecraft would put many professional bands to shame, so I know this is no urban legend. This really happens and it really works.)
Ok, so where’s the link to my world of work? How does this relate to the local government office or front line? This is how.
Employee identifies a skills gap. Project management, team leadership, macramé, whatever. Something they could use to be more effective.
Employee raises skills gap at appraisal or feedback session.
Manager has 3 choices. Internal training, external training or no training. Is there room in the budget? Does the internal function offer a suitable course? Can the employee be spared from their usual duties? What will external training cost? Who else might be interested? Maybe we should host the session here to save money. Should we offer lunch? And so on.
Before you know where you are, there’s a mountain of paperwork being raised to conduct a feasibility study or raise purchase orders or a commissioning/tendering exercise. All of which are vulnerable to being quashed further up the food chain due to budget concerns, lack of a business case or potential conflict with some other longer established or higher profile undertaking.
So you may or may not get your training course, and it could take months for it to materialise.
Or … You go to your search engine of choice and type “project management tools”. Because actually, all you want to know is if there’s a template for a critical path analysis. Or “team roles” will give you a questionnaire you can use to see how your people complement each other, and what gaps you might need to address. “macramé for beginners” will yield a pattern for ugly and pointless gifts to gladden the hearts of neglected maiden aunts everywhere.*
And within an hour you have the tools you need to satisfy your curiosity, smooth a bump in progress and move you on to the next thing you need to master. Parents – oops, managers – don’t even need to be involved, certainly not to the point where they have to worry about any part of it. Teenagers get this. Those of us who haven’t really got entirely behind the whole ‘growing up’ and ‘chain of command’ thing get this. Now all we have to do is convince the grown ups that we don’t need this learning curve to be micromanaged back to a straight line.
*Disclaimer -‘ugly and pointless’ refers only to the things I have ever tried to make, which always came with a real risk that I would be an integral part of the gift having managed to tie my own thumbs together with the final few knots.