What are the most underrated skills most employees lack from the perspective of a COO?

Don’t ask to be trained.

The one thing I never want to hear, but have heard as much as anything over the years, is that an employee doesn’t know how to do something.  Great, google it, find a book–but don’t take three other employees off their jobs to write a curriculum to train you.  “Training” is for corporations to document that they’ve trained you, mostly when their insurance company or licensure requires it.  Sometimes it exists so companies can reinforce a mystique that they’re like no other place you’ve ever seen or you have to do things their way to fit in.  But successful people don’t have a voice in their heads telling them what’s “possible,” or what they “can” do, so saying “I haven’t done that before” or “I’m not trained in that” sounds to them like “I refuse to put any thought into this job.”  I personally remember the profound flattery I felt when a boss told me to write him a simple software program by next Tuesday (I having never taken a programming class.)  And whenever I tell that story, someone in the room always pipes up about how they wouldn’t have taken it and how I should have asserted my rights (rather than write the darned program!)  But those guys don’t go far because your bosses don’t empathize with them.  Remember the guy you once hired who said “I don’t use computers”?  And you ended up fearing for your own job for having just assumed, based on everyone you hang out with, that they’d be fine–or could just pick it up in 20 minutes?  Remember the “I’m an accountant; I don’t do finance” guy?  Successful people sure never refer to their job descriptions or titles as defense for why they shouldn’t learn.  (So it’s natural that you wouldn’t have predicted their answer.)

In a pedagogical sense, training should only start when you have maxed out your own ability to do something without training.  You learned Photoshop by messing around–then and only then you took a class to teach you advanced tricks (and fix some bad habits).  Remember Driver’s Ed?  Sitting in a classroom when you were fifteen, talkingabout how to drive?  And you didn’t get anything out of it because you could barely picture the dashboard of a car, let alone project yourself into situations that had no visceral apperception in your life!  In California when I was 15 that class was 40 hours and by law had to come before sitting one minute behind the wheel of a car.  Can you think of a more inefficient system?  But that’s how most training is–a PowerPoint explaining software you’ve never seen before, in a format that would be hugely effective if you had just spent a few hours screwing around with the program–but no, the policy is your discovery has to be a subset of the curriculum.

So for those of you who are looking for a job, please mention that you are “comfortable with ambiguity” and “don’t need to wait for training before I hit the ground running.”  (Only say these things if you’ve done what it takes to make them true.)  If they have a training program, you’ll still get your training, but they’ll see you as a self-starter.  Because I guarantee one of the leading causes of your interviewer not having hired someone a month earlier is their own fear of the training commitment involved.  They’re busy people, and they’d simply rather be overworked than have to figure out how to get you up to speed.  If you present yourself as one who is willing to soft-skill the first 80% and thus make their training dollars effective, they will see that as a giant bonus for them.

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