Les Cowie has been a member of ATD since 2017. Here's his story in his own words.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
We emmigrated legally to the United States more than 20 years ago after a successful career of building two companies focused on video-based teaching of technical skills to people with limited education as a result of the harsh apartheid policies in South Africa. We also had a company that produced content for broadcast television networks. In the process, we learned about the use of the Pareto 20/80 principle as applied to jobs. Twenty percent of a job's activities get repeated 80 percent of the time, and 20 percent of job faults typically occur 80 percent of the time. We developed the 7 Step TM occupation analysis and content capture process and applied it with such success that companies we worked for that had been achieving less than 50 percent throughput per shift yielded almost 90 percent throughput per shift along with dramatic reductions in stoppages, damages, and costs. There were significant improvements in profitability. Since arriving in the United States I have applied these principles to developing learning programs in multiple industrial, commercial, government and nonprofit organizations while consulting for venture capital companies that have bought, built, and sold businesses.
My family enjoyed great high school and college educations in Atlanta, Georgia. Our eldest son, at age 24, was the producer of the original horror movie The Blair Witch Project. My daughter graduated as a mechanical engineer and now heads a large international team developing software applications for day-trading in international currencies and stock exchanges. My youngest son manages the software support team for that software. They've each had their turn at the American dream! Sadly, my wife, who helped me discover this technology, build the businesses, and raise our family, lost to the ravages of cancer more than a year ago.
We love this country. Now it’s time to give back. I've authored three books to pass on my knowledge and experience and provide consulting insight for companies that wish to innovate and grow
What are your personal and professional goals?
I wish to build and leave behind a legacy that will touch millions. My goal is to complete the development of a low-cost solution for filling the current 6.2 million technical job vacancies in the United States. We want to positively affect middle and high school populations, unemployed populations, and the 650,000 prison inmates we release each year in this country.
What’s the most valuable insight you’ve gained or experienced during your membership with ATD?
The opportunity to interact with individuals who truly have the interests of learners at heart and who are open to learning fresh approaches to solving occupational challenges.
Can you share any professional tips specific to talent development that you have picked up along the way?
Listen to the people performing the jobs. Ask the right questions. Understand the importance of what it takes for people to perform correctly and initiate changes for improvement. Recognize their personal goals and challenges.
Listen to young people. Millennials and younger generations are growing up encountering change so fast that they are developing coping and adjustment mechanisms we need to understand. We must build paths for change into all occupation learning programs.
Learn how best to use the Pareto 20/80 principle. Use it to take one bite of the elephant at a time. Job content can be delivered in phases. Teach how 80 percent happens only 20 percent of the time. In the meantime the 80 percent can be tackled by people with experience on the job so long as those in the 20 percent category know when to call for help from the “oldie.” After all, experience is only waiting around long enough for the low-frequency events to happen enough times for us to learn how to deal with them.
What common misconception do you see about talent development?
"It's been good enough until now, so why change things?" This saying is still prevalent today. You hear it from people who sweated and worked hard through their early years and feel they have “paid their dues.” They no longer have the passion and drive to quickly build the right solutions. It is the death knell for a learning development department.
Do you have any advice for people looking to further their careers?
Find mentors. Find a mentor who has an awesome success record in building innovative learning solutions. Older, experienced people have enormous value in shaping your thinking. At the same time, find a young, innovative mentor who can open your eyes to the changes happening in learning systems. Especially, if you are not fluent in building websites and using social media, find a mentor who can show you the way. Find a balance and you will find innovation and success.
How do you stay motivated?
The desire to build a worthwhile legacy drives me to start the day at four in the morning and strive to fill every hour with productive achievement.
How do you find meaning in your work?
Each "Thank you for what you did for me" is a blessing beyond belief.
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