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Push training vs. Pull training

In the 1980s there were some studies about what motivates programmers, based on Job Characteristics Theory.

You probably aren’t surprised to learn that a key motivating factor is “growth.”

This is more than just career growth – it’s improving tech skills, communication skills, leadership and management skills, and even understanding ourselves better.

You might even say that we engineers are addicted to growth – we appear to love it almost as much as coding itself.

Why then do so many programmers loathe “company training”?

I think it’s not because they are boring, but because they are often mandated.

Pretty much no one enjoys “mandatory training,” and they aren’t effective either.

After all, you might mandate training, but you can’t mandate learning.

But I think there are ways to help your folks, especially new tech managers, embrace training.

It feels like drowning at first.

New tech leads, team leads, and other manager types are going to face a lot of new situations in the first couple of months.

It’s overwhelming, frustrating, and feels like drinking from a firehose. I can still remember, and I’ll bet you can too.

So training in small groups, and setting aside time for “peer consulting” and “Q&A” allows them to move beyond theory to get help with real-life situations.

This might be the most valuable part of the training session for them – like throwing a lifeline to a drowning person.

Don’t scrimp on talking about the real world, and you’ll create training people want to attend.

Have a seasoned engineering manager lead it.

It doesn’t have to be an executive, VP, or director. In fact, the closer the learning leader is to to the learners, the easier it is to relate.

(I use the phrase “learning leader” for the people who lead training. I don’t like the word “trainer,” because we’re not dealing with dogs or dolphins. )

It’s important that the learning leader can relate to the learners as closely as possible. The relationship they build with each learner is vital to learning.

We can all remember a favorite teacher, probably one who believed in us, was a good listener, and cared about us as people.

This is all your learning leaders need to do.

Oh, and an experienced manager who leads training will ALWAYS learn something new. They’ll see situations and ideas from new perspectives and have an opportunity to connect in new ways.

You’ll break it if you force it

As much as I believe that every new manager should get training, I’m hesitant about mandated training.

Instead, I believe in offered training.

If turn it down, you’ve got a great chance to find out why.

Maybe they feel they don’t need to know what’s taught – which could be. So ask them to review the material.

Or, maybe they feel it won’t be valuable, so ask them to chat with past/current participants.

Or, maybe they feel it’s a sign of weakness, so tell them about the growth culture you’re trying to build.

I’m not saying they will always accept it, but I do think 99% of the time you won’t have to mandate it.

So, don’t start with mandating, start with offering.

Then deal with the 1% as individuals, working to understand their resistance.

Next steps

Soon I’ll tell you about a new training you can use with your Lead Programmers, Team Leads, Tech Leads, Lead Testers, etc. Those who split their time between engineering and leadership work have particular challenges.

If you’d like to learn more before then or be the first in line for it, write me back and let’s chat.

It’s not for everyone, but it might be for you.


About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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