Fans of the old TV show M*A*S*H will remember Radar O'Reilly, the affable young corporal with an almost otherworldly ability to anticipate needs and provide answers before anyone even got around to asking.
I thought of Radar this summer when I had the pleasure of working with a 14-year-old named John. I take personal reward in introducing young minds to our industry, and I had hired John to help me paint a rental property I own. In my efforts to teach him a bit about painting and safety, John proved to be almost Radar-like in his knack for anticipating what came next and how to get ready — often before I had the chance to direct him.
Was this skill natural or learned? I don't know about Radar, but I decided that it was both for John — and probably for most other people as well. Because John had learned to anticipate, and had benefited from doing so, it became second-nature to keep doing it.
I think there's an important lesson here for remodelers. My hope is that you'll learn to nurture “the anticipating gene” not only in aspiring apprentices at your company, but in all your employees, including managers. If we apply the lessons we learn to the same or similar activities later, we become adept at anticipating challenges and opportunities, and thus enhancing outcomes.
COACH AND MENTOR In your role as a coach, explain things to employees. Provide instructions not just for what they should do, but why they should do it in the way that you want. Explain how the activity fits into the big picture — of the business or just the project at hand. Encourage them to ask clarifying questions. Verify their understanding by asking qualifying questions and checking in as they proceed.
When I owned my remodeling company, employees sometimes called me with questions after I had left for the day. I would ask them to explain their challenge and to suggest a solution. Most of the time, their solution was good. I would credit them for having had the answer before they even called, and, usually, I would tell them to go for it.
After a few such conversations, they stopped calling me. They had always been conscientious; now they also had the confidence of knowing that I trusted them to do the right thing.
In your role as mentor, your primary concern should be to make your employees feel safe — in asking questions, trying new things, and making mistakes. When they do make mistakes, help them process what happened and why, so they'll see their mistakes as valuable learning opportunities. Reward them with support, recognition, and praise.
I remember mentoring two of my key employees on financial reports. I would ask questions to help them see how I looked at the reports and why. What did the numbers really mean? What warnings were they sending? As they learned to ask these questions themselves, they started not only e-mailing me the required reports, but also providing the answers to the questions they knew I would ask — as well as questions I might not have asked. Their insights complemented mine, which was one of my goals as a mentor.