As children, learning to walk, talk or eat on our own for the first time, were happy milestones for us and for our parents who taught us these skills. It meant we were becoming less reliant on others and were moving towards self-sufficiency and independence. We were learning to stand on your own. Literally, baby steps in the beginning, they were still critical personal successes that would help define our growing sense of self.
But, one person who seems to have foregone the baby steps (thanks to his mom) and rocketed to standing on his own, is Richard Branson. To rid him of shyness, his mother stopped the car a few miles from their house and made him find his own way home across the fields. To get home, he would have to talk with people to find his way. It worked in turning around his shyness. When Branson was 12, his mother had him cycle 50 miles to a relative’s house all by himself. “My mom wanted to teach us to be independent…to experience the world on my own,” Branson says. Lessons from Richard Branson’s Mother
It sounds like extreme parenting but Branson’s accomplishments indicate otherwise. Branson developed an extreme confidence to do what he wanted to do, and relentless optimism about his ability to do them. Branson holds the record for the fastest trans-Atlantic crossing ever recorded by both boat and hot air balloon. In 1991, he crossed the Pacific Ocean, breaking all existing speed and distance records. Branson is as successful an entrepreneur as he is an adventurer. He built his $5 billion-dollar fortune from scratch. He certainly learned to stand on his own.
When we grow up and enter the work force to start a new job, we experience business practices called employee orientation and onboarding. While onboarding includes standard components such as paperwork, familiarization training and socialization into the company, it should not overlook methods and messages for new hires about becoming independent and standing on their own. These are the same lessons in independence and responsibility that parents teach their children. The onboarding process can intentionally do for new employees what parents naturally do for their children: help them learn and take responsibility, especially for their own success. This means building a team of leaders, not followers, who stand on their own. Who can parlay their ability to take initiative and own their actions into greater leadership roles within the company.
The retail giant Amazon understands this quite well. Like them or not, you can’t argue with their success in earning and keeping customer trust. As they put it, to be “Customer Obsessed.” It’s their first leadership principle, and it drives Amazon to create an intense learning environment and a leadership mindset with all their employees.
Amazon’s second leadership principle is Ownership. Employees are taught to act on behalf of the entire company and to never say, “That’s not my job.” This attitude starts at the top and carries through all the ranks of employees, including those who fulfill orders in Amazon warehouses and fulfillment centers. Amazon uses automation (screens, robots, scanners, and other technology) to quickly get employees up to speed. Trainees get hands on training as early as their first day on the job. Their automation systems empower employees to be independent and almost instantly productive.
Below are 4 practical methods to apply during onboarding and beyond that will help ensure your new hires stand on their own. (Remember, onboarding is not a one-time event, it’s a process that can take up to a year).
- Don’t tell employees what to do. If you want new hires to think, telling them what to do or what they are supposed to do, is not the best way to do it. Of course, you need to make job responsibilities clear to new employees and help them understand the impact their contribution has locally (with colleagues and with their department) and for the community (the company). But the act of telling them what to do can also signal that employees are absolved of responsibility and ownership. It can inhibit initiative and creativity. No micro-managing or constant prompting as to what to do next.
- Avoid the words “must” and “should”. When you give directives to a new employee, two words to especially avoid using is “must” and “should”. People are allergic to “must” and “should”. These make you feel like you’re back in kindergarten. Try the word “can”. Telling someone that they “can”, or asking if they “can”, rather than they “must” or “should”, preserves their self-interest and esteem. It immediately draws them into the process. It invites them to take ownership.
- Allow for mistakes. Employee mistakes are going to happen. When they do, make these an opportunity to learn and understand why something failed, then immediately move on to apply a correction. Your chances are much better this mistake isn’t going to happen again because something more than embarrassment happened. A lesson was learned. Don’t turn mistakes into a finger-pointing or demeaning event. Nothing helps employees assume responsibility and grow their confidence more than owning their mistakes without fear, being able to correct them, and then experiencing a positive outcome by the improved results.
- Hands on learning as quickly as possible. Put work into an employee’s hands as soon as possible and they will learn more quickly. They will also know you trust them and their abilities. Don’t make training an unengaging, “show and tell” experience. Make it hands-on. New hires need to sit in the driver’s seat to learn more deeply. This is what helps connect the dots. This will also help them begin to believe that “success is in my own hands, not someone else’s.”
We can’t borrow another person’s success. It comes from within when we stand on our own, when we create our own definition of success. It’s important that each new hire begins to own their success right from the start. Each success enables us to look at an achievement and say, “I did that.” It instills pride in who we are and what we can do. It helps us from onboarding and beyond, to develop the kind of employees that contribute more, innovate more and help move a company forward as leaders and not followers.