Development Lessons from Blackbirds

Last year I wrote a blog called Business Lessons from Blackbirds (HR blog post), having spent time watching a lone father raise his two blackbird chicks in our garden. This year we have been blessed with all manner of birds in our garden but again the blackbirds have dominated. This spring we had both parents to raise their chicks and having successfully raised one batch of chicks already they have nested again and are in the process of raising family number 2. I await the day when these chicks leave the nest with the same excitement I have awaited the other babies that have been brought up in our garden: blackbirds, greenfinches and robins to name but a few.

It has certainly been easier for Daddy Blackbird this year, having Mum around to share the burden. Last year when Dad was on his own it struck me how much the chicks learned from watching their father. They watched him peck around the garden and from time to time they would practise what he was doing. Most of the time it is fair to say they were there with their mouths open in the early days, just waiting for him to feed them but they soon started to learn from his behaviour. This meant that one chick, the braver of the two, actually left the garden quite quickly and was able to fend for himself. He was somewhere close I think where Dad could keep an eye on him but the chick was using his new found skills for his own survival. That made me think about learning, which is something all managers and team leaders should do and should encourage their teams to do. We learn so much from watching others and listening to what is said. How much time do managers spend teaching their staff to be able to do more? It takes a huge amount of time to properly train people to do their jobs so nowhere near enough I suspect as we are all so busy doing what we do at work. Is learning encouraged by senior managers? Do they give their managers and team leaders time to train their team members to survive and thrive in a changing world?

Watching the blackbirds made me think again about how rewarding it has been for me to see my three young proteges at CHaRM all go on to achieve much greater things than I could offer them as a small business. All three did their foundation level professional training with us and one started with me as an apprentice, so to see them all active now on Linked In as fully fledged HR and Learning and Development profesionals is wonderful. Although I wasn't able to retain them because they needed to fly off to experience the wider world, I know that, because of my interventions, they are all set up for life with good career opportunities ahead of them.

What would have happened to the blackbirds, and my young professionals, if Daddy Blackbird and I had not spent time training them to survive in the wider world? In the case of the blackbirds they would have died, and in the case of my young professionals, they would have left extremely dissatisfied with me as their employer, which would have damaged my reputation. We know a business owner who cannot trust or delegate to anyone, believing that the only person who can make things happen is him. He never gives anyone proper time to talk things through with him and his way of dealing with objections is simply to talk louder. I know his organisation would be much richer; financially, emotionally and psychologically if he would only spend proper time with his managers and really listen to what they need from him. It is easy for the blackbirds, they only have one real objective in life, which is to raise their chicks, where in business it is much more complex, but the focus that the blackbirds give to teaching their chicks, then watching them carefully as they grow and begin to try out their new found skills should be a lesson for us all.

One thing that has been really noticeable this year with the blackbirds is the way they have protected the area around their nest and most of our garden, even to the point of dive-bombing a pigeon who was straying too close to the edge of the patio. They chase away any bird that is within a certain area of their nest, which has been quite a challenge as I have been encouraging birds of every type to our garden and providing enough food for everyone to eat. Their behaviour has got me thinking about how well businesses are protecting their talent. According to the Office for National Statistics, 42% of people are looking to move jobs since the pandemic started because they are unhappy with their current employer or the current state of their working life. (With the MD we know, 3 of his 5 five managers have left already this year.) It is easy for employers not to worry about protecting and retaining their talent in a recession because good jobs are hard to come by, but a lot of businesses have flourished during the pandemic by changing their product range or their services to support the cause. That means that they will be on the look out for talented individuals to help drive their businesses forward. Businesses that don't want to lose their best talent should learn from the blackbirds and make sure they protect those they don't want to lose. Enable your best people to thrive and develop their skills so that they could leave the garden if they wanted to, but ward off all threats by making sure that they don't want to leave you because they are getting the time, experience and personal development they need from you.