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Monday, December 3, 2012

Overcoming Barriers, Just Listen

After completing a career coaching project with 50 high school seniors,  I put together a report for the client that explained many things about the coaching project, including barriers that students had in their way of achieving college and career success.  Here is the list of barriers:

  •  Lack of self awareness about strengths and interests, which limits confidence
  • Lack of knowledge about careers
  • Teenage pregnancy
  •  Not having passed all parts of the graduation exam
  • Students living in poverty (measured by students qualifying for free and reduced lunch)
  • Single parents households (one coach who coached 25 students only talked to 4 students that had both a mother and father figure present in the home).
  •  Lack of understanding about what it takes to get into college, for example, not taking the ACT, assuming the school of their choice has a major they want to pursue, knowing or thinking they could qualify for a Pell Grant, but having no idea how to obtain one, etc.
  • Lack of computer skills or limited access to computers at home needed to register for ACT and complete college applications.
  • Drug use.  At least one student appeared to be under the influence of some type of substance and one student told a coach that she believed 75% of her classmates were involved in drugs in some way.  While this may be an exaggeration by this student, it cannot be overlooked. 
With this list of barriers, you can see how it might be near impossible to even get to the point of the career coaching session which was actually talking about what they wanted to be when they "grow up".  Much of the time was spent focused on how to overcome the mountains in their path.

This got me to thinking about barriers people have in doing a quality job day in and day out at work.  While many of those who work for you may not have the same exhausting list of issues, everyone has a set of issues that they deal with that are difficult when they show up to work for you. 

Is it important to help them overcome these issues?  Yes.  Not that you need to become a full-time therapist as a leader (but you could pay to have an Employee Assistance Program- EAP to provide this service if needed), but you do need to realize what would prohibit your staff from doing a great job and help them to at least make the mountains they have in front of them hills.   When you help eliminate some of the barriers, you get a more focused employee who is able to produce results for your company.  

Here are some things I've seen companies do to help employees deal with personal barriers:

Provide classes like Financial Peace University to help employees with the stress of money related issues.
Provide an Employee Assistance Program that allows employees access to counselors specialized in areas such as marital counseling, substance abuse counseling, etc.  or, for smaller companies, provide time off to meet with such a counselor and help with making sure these services can be billed through health insurance plans
Provide wellness programs or healthy living incentives to reduce health-related issues.
Provide paid time off (or a personal leave or vacation plan that is flexible enough) so that employees can take time off for family related issues, whether it be time to attend the school play or time to care for a terminally ill relative.

What's most important? 

What's most important though, as a leader, is just simply listening.  I think we were able to uncover many of the barriers these teenagers faced simply because they had a devoted 45 minute to an hour time frame with an individual whose job for that time frame was just them, and most importantly, just listening to them.  So whether or not you can provide any of the above listed things to overcome personal barriers,  you can take time to listen.  And sometimes listening means hearing the things that aren't said.  Listening to your employees and establishing a level of trust through listening may lead you to understand obstacles that keep them from performing A+ work or you, then be able to start to help them fix it. 

How have you helped your employees eliminate personal obstacles that limit success? 

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