The British Olympic team was expected to win about fifteen gold medals and about thirty in total. Last count it was more like thirty or forty and more are expected. On the radio this morning they were asking questions about how this outstanding improvement was achieved.
The answer was money.
Yep, thats right, the British government setup a massive training program for all the Olympic grade athletes and funded it to the tune of about £500 million (USD$1 billion). This allowed the Sports Management to hire coaches, nutritionists, physiotherapists, etc etc etc, and put them into a fully dedicated program to locate, train, polish athletes that will win, and win big they have.
The athletes were also funded to have time to do training. By giving them financial support, athletes could spend more time performing a wider range of training activities. Athletes have also talked about access to better food, supplements, advice. I am sure you get the idea.
Technique, its all about technique, and some technology.
But specifically the greatest improvement was in technique. Most of the sports that the British Olympic team have made vast improvements have involved careful attention to technique and technology. Cycling, Swimming, Yachting, Shooting, Rowing are all sports where mental and physical technique are prime criteria. Add in the right technology with the best bike, swimming suit, boat and you have a winning formula.
These sports matter marginally less for physical capability, aptitude or some fluke of genetics (think track and field or marathon running), than the careful application of knowledge, science, training and discipline.
What can Network & IT Managers learn from this ?
Its pretty simple. If you want a team that outperforms, that can win and win big, then you need to create a program that provides a training facility (like the British Academy of Sport) and resources that support the program. Like any sports program, it should have the following, clearly defined goals:
- selection criteria
- success criteria
- resource allocation
- failure criteria process
Your guiding principles need to be based around knowledge, training and discipline.
Establish guidelines for selecting people to enter your training program. On what basis would you consider someone to commence CCIE Study ? Is Routing and Switching relevant to your team ? You could have a requirement for Security skills.
Olympic athletes have to compete and meet a minimum grade to get entry to the program. Once in the program, they are required to measure progress and demonstrate results. Then they must qualify for the Olympics.
Use these concepts to establish the selection criteria for your team members.
What is success ? What are the qualifying criteria to continue in the training program ?
In my case, I expect my staff to pass the Cisco exams for a given subject. Thus, if I send an individual to a Cisco BSCI course, I measure success when they pass the BCSI exam. If they don’t pass, I am not likely to select them to be on the team because they didn’t learn something.
What about asking the their peers if their knowledge has improved ? This would be roughly equivalent to a training or practice competition.
Give careful thought to allocation of training resources. Those people who are likely to give me results, are those I select to be on the training program. In this case I am looking for individuals who are:
- working in key areas
- show the ability to work hard
- demonstrate hunger
- have motivation
- have persistence
- have discipline
But you will have to take the time to consider the resources to give them. Training is a buying decision as serious as your next IT project. Textbooks, training courses, lab environments, VoD material, and even time off from work are possible, but which is going to suit this person AND the technology.
For example, there are almost no textbooks on Load Balancing and Application Delivery Controllers. It may be that the only way to learn is to build a lab, prepare a training plan and monitor progress.
Failure and Penalty Process
This is the hardest topic. When a sports person fails the qualification, the penalty is clear. But when my staff fail to complete my success criteria, I need to have a penalty. But modern Human Remorse systems make this hard to achieve.
Typically, I look for bonus plans and recognition to achieve this. If you can qualify, you will
- receive a bonus,
- be available for selection for the next phase
- be recognised for that achievement
If someone fails an exam, then they might pay for the second attempt. If they need more training, I will review that on a case by case basis, but it isn’t going to be easy to convince me that you are different from thousands of other mendicants. Special needs doesn’t wash in modern IT.
Commitment – it goes both ways
Now, I assume that you have already created a team of committed people. You can’t institute a training program that requires your athletes to commit several hours a day without providing incentives or a goal. Most importantly though, I believe that training requires a commitment from the individual and from the company.
The individual should be committing to:
- Study at night or weekends
- to use the resources that are available, to ask for those that are not
- accept the limitations of the program, and work around them
Not every program is perfect, but the individual needs to be flexible and open to getting a result.
But the company needs to make a commitment back to their people. In short, if you commit to offering a training program:
- make sure that your people go to the courses, force them if you have to, don’t accept excuses from yourself or from them.
- make the business understand that training breeds new capabilities, faster processes, better resolution times, lower cost designs or better features
- make sure you pay for what is necessary, don’t pay without checking its relevant. Blind training is worse than no training.
Is it realistic ? Maybe.
Olympic athletes are competing to win medals, recognition, enjoyment and their own personal success. Can Network staff can get this at work ? Absolutely, although corporate structures don’t normally work this way, it can be done if managers can think creatively.
As a manager, I need to to remember that for every Olympic athlete, there are at ten who didn’t make it, that failed to continue with the program. Not every member of my team is going to be a CCIE, or even CCNP. In fact, a team needs to consist of different people, with different skills, but that’s a blessay for another day.
You must be careful about the training process and ensure that people are taking training that is relevant. Not because the money may be wasted, but it can create poor opinion within the team.
Training – it works
You definitely will not see the results of training in a few weeks or months. But it won’t take more than a year and you will find your network works better in many ways. The thing I liked most was that my people get excited about working with me long term, they know that are opportunities. I like that they have to work for them, and “show me what they got”.
Try it out, the Olympic athlete’s training program for IT people. It works.