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ATD Blog

From Trickle to Torrent: The Power of Drips

Monday, May 3, 2021
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Drip, Drip, Dripping

“I am like a drop of water on a rock. After drip, drip, dripping in the same place, I begin to leave a mark, and I leave my mark in many people’s hearts.” So says Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú in describing her approach to inspiring civil action in Guatemala.

Managers who want to leave a mark on their workforce can benefit from Menchú’s model because it is equally as effective in transforming employees as it is in transforming societies. Sprinkle drops of information, ideas, and inspiration over time to promote professional growth.

Facing the Flood

Modern managers face a flood of challenges when attempting to train their employees:

  • Accelerated workloads leave little time for employees to attend traditional training programs.
  • Reductions in training and travel budgets afford managers significantly fewer resources to invest in training.
  • Personal commitments (such as child- and elder care) preclude employees from being absent from home.
  • Health concerns make employees hesitant to attend in-person venues until pandemic risks recede.

Concurrently, many employees are no longer content with the prolonged or prescriptive training programs of the past. Instead, they thirst for learning tailored to their unique needs and interests. They want information that is professionally enhancing, easily digestible, immediately applicable, and delivered just in time.

Boulders, Rocks, and Pebbles

To overcome these challenges, consider providing training drip by drip. “Drips” are short messages periodically sent to employees to enhance their understanding of a subject and encourage them to exercise its associated behaviors.

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Each drip is a clear, concise, self-contained message. Designed to simultaneously instruct and inspire, a drip is composed of text and corresponding image(s). It consists of three components:

  • One “Boulder”: An interesting statement that summarizes a leadership or management concept.
  • Two to Three “Rocks”: Explanatory statements that expound on the key components of the concept.
  • Four to Five “Pebbles”: Tips, tools, and techniques for translating the concept into impactful action.

Trickle to Torrent

The impact of a drip is immediate and cumulative for employees individually and collectively:

  • Drips respect individual needs by offering employees the opportunity to read the messages deemed most interesting and beneficial to them. They acknowledge the competing commitments that vie for their time and allow employees to learn in a more convenient manner.
  • Drips encourage employees to share comments, thus creating a learning community.
  • Drips promote immediate implementation of the concept, enabling employees to exercise new behaviors in pursuit of improved performance.

If, like Menchú, managers wish to leave a mark in many people’s hearts they can do so drip by drip. They can meet their employees’ need for practical knowledge without drowning them in information. Unsure? Test the concept by sharing the drip below. But be prepared for the deluge of positive feedback that is sure to follow.


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LEAD LIKE A PIRATE
Avast ye, hearties! In the early 18th century, the notorious pirate Edward Teach (also known as Blackbeard) sailed the coast of North America, seizing merchant vessels. Although he terrorized the British colonies, he never terrorized his crew. In a time when most vessels operated as cruel dictatorships, pirates practiced democratic self-governance. Whereas other sailors were ruled by the lash, pirates enjoyed an unprecedented level of power, parity, and autonomy.

Before each voyage, the pirates drafted “articles”: a constitution defining the crew’s rights and duties, the handling of disputes, and the division of rewards. The captain and crew then determined where to sail and which ships to seize. Even at sea, sailors could raise concerns without fear of reprisal—except in battle when the captain took command and no one sailor ruled the others. As a result of this egalitarian spirit, pirates ruled the seas, and captured sailors often chose to jump ship to join the pirate crew.

Do you lead like a pirate? Does your crew know what is expected of them? Do they have a voice in the decisions and the allocation of resources and rewards? Would other sailors voluntarily join your ship, or would they prefer to be marooned at sea?

To become a bold buccaneer:

  • Periodically re-examine your ship’s norms, especially when new members join the crew. Discuss what your you believe and how you, individually and collectively, will act.
  • Afford your crew a voice in key decisions regarding the direction of the organization.
  • Empower your crew to self-govern whenever possible. Let the people with the problem resolve the it.
  • Encourage constructive dissent early in decision making and establish multiple channels to address complaints before they foment mutiny.
  • Share the bounty equitably and celebrate your victories often.

So, before your ship sets sail again, implement one action to instill the pirate spirit in your crew. It may make the difference between being a success and being shark bait! Aarrgghh!


About the Author

Michael Belcher is faculty at the Federal Executive Institute. Contact him at [email protected] 

He joined the Federal Executive Institute (FEI) faculty in May 2013. Capitalizing on 35 years of service in the public and private sectors, he teaches leadership, organizational development, change management, inter-organizational collaboration, and strategic planning to senior-level government officials attending the Leadership for a Democratic Society Program. Concurrently, he is a performance coach and manages FEI’s Health and Wellness Program.

Prior to joining FEI, Michael served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 28 years, ultimately earning the rank of Colonel. His last assignment was as the Director of the Marine Corps War College, MCB Quantico, VA. After retiring, Michael accepted a position as Vice President, Defense Strategy and Operations, for MetroStar Systems, Inc., a commercial IT services and solutions firm.

Michael holds M.S. degrees from the Naval Post-Graduate School and the National Defense University. He is also certified as an Associated Certified Coach, Conflict Management Consultant, StandOut Advantage Facilitator, and Emotional Intelligence Consultant.

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