There are a lot of employers complaining right now because they can’t find good employees.  They talk about how people are missing even basic communication and problem solving skills.  

In many ways, I understand this perspective.  We are hearing stories on the job market that didn’t used to happen such as:

  • Candidates who bring friends with them to interviews
  • Candidates who start texting during an interview
  • New employees who don’t have a clue how to talk to customers
  • Employees who stop working when even small problems arise (and don’t say anything)
  • New hires in prominent positions (even executive positions!) who no-call and/or no-show on the first day

These scenarios are a culmination of generational differences, workforce shortages, and the talent war. However, we cannot always blame external factors. While there are some poor employees out there, there are also some poor managers.

Most managers receive minimal training on how to manage people effectively.  The result is that they manage people in a way that fails to develop problem solving and communication skills and even mutes existing skills.   This concept is outlined in the book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman.  It highlights a study that proves bad managers diminish the skills and even the effective intelligence of employees.  Here is an example of how it works.

An employee presents a manager with a problem or question.  The manager solves the problem or answers the question and later complains about why the employee was unable to do it themselves.  The problem is that by solving the issue themselves and answering the questions asked of the employees, they are create a habit for the employee to rely on the manager versus develop their own skillset.

Good managers don’t solve problem, but rather nurture their people and support them to help them become problem solvers. 

It all reminds me of a time when my son, Jeff, was younger.  We were eating at home one night when I asked him to get some carrots out of the refrigerator.  He went to the fridge, opened the door, and asked, “where are the carrots?”.  

I’m going to pause my story for a second to bring up a few facts to this story.  My son is incredibly smart.  Second, our refrigerator is very typical, so I would bet you can guess where the carrots are.  Lastly, carrots are a bright orange color that can easily be found.  

Why can’t my highly intelligent son find bright orange carrots stored in a box in a clear drawer labeled VEGETABLES?  

It’s because at dinner time, my wife and I had gotten into the habit of serving our kids.  From the time they were little, we would get them anything they wanted.   If they wanted more milk, we would get up and get the milk.  Want more ketchup?  We’ll get that for them.  We effectively trained them to be dependent during dinner time!

A simple question brings me to my main point of this article.  Is it more helpful for me to complain about my kids lack of carrot finding skills or is it more helpful to think about how I might have contributed to the situation?

I decided that the latter was more useful.  I told Jeff that he had a problem.  I told him that he wouldn’t be able to eat dinner until he found those carrots.  Jeff looked at me a little surprised, then turned his attention back to the refrigerator.  His huge brain fired up like the first time you start a lawnmower after a long winter.  I swear I saw smoke come out of his ears. 

It took him three seconds to find the carrots.

I took the carrot lesson to the next level and we started making our kids solve their own issues at dinner.  Today, not only can my son find the carrots, he can cook his own meals.  

I get a little worked up when I hear the words “skills gap” because it’s simply not useful to blame employees when so many managers (including myself!) can do better by allowing our employees to make mistakes and challenging them to solve problems and expecting them to communicate more effectively.   Instead of complaining, it is more productive to coach, train, and hold employees accountable to solving their own problems.  

In other words, the real skills gap might not belong to the employees, but rather to managers. 


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