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Why Those Who ‘Do’ Should Also Teach

Ian Bremmer, Ph.D

(LinkedIn Pulse) – If you’re expanding your business, it means you’re doing something right. It also means you’ll need to hire and train new people quickly to keep the momentum going.

To that end, we at Eurasia Group have designed a formal political risk training program that all our new employees go through together, as a group, from interns to directors. While we devised this program because of the particular challenges we face staffing a political risk consultancy, the lessons we’ve learned can be applied across many industries.

Our hires come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds. That’s one of our greatest strengths, but it poses particular problems for training purposes. When people finish law or business school, their employers know they have a minimum common core skillset to work with. The only thing our hires have in common is that they’re brilliant people hungry to better understand the world and how it works.

So we decided to approach our orientation sessions in an interactive classroom setting more like a seminar and less like a lecture. That fosters the feeling that new people are here because they share the same intellectual interests, not simply because they have the same boss paying their salaries. We also take great pains to use material from the real world in our discussions. A focus on theory doesn’t teach people to approach projects the way we want them to. Whenever you have the opportunity, it’s best to avoid the abstractions and go practical.

Taking the classroom tack also allows us to build a common culture within our organization, top to bottom. That lets us focus less on developing specific skills and more on developing a common sense of purpose. We are a firm that’s highly focused—some would say obsessed—with our company culture. Within that culture, there is no room for partisanship or personal ideology; our value-add is that we provide unbiased political assessments. We help clients understand not what should happen but what will happen. People who work for us may have strong political views, but politics stop at the water’s edge of our analysis. We’re not left, right or center at EG; we are political scientists first and foremost. And good analysis comes from across the political spectrum. Our training program is designed to get that message across, and it works. Explain this ethos to each individual and it might take hold. Detail it for everyone at once, and you’re more likely to get the result you want.

But as important as our training program is for new hires, it’s even more important for our long-term employees. We have a total of 19 training sessions that span a couple of months, and staff from different parts of the firm are responsible for running the different sessions. This is by design. Teaching forces you to ask yourself what you really do. The common phrase “those who can’t do, teach” is both a gross simplification and demeaning to those who teach. And let’s be honest—if you “do” something but can’t teach it, then you’re probably not “doing” it as well as you should. Teaching forces all of us to take a step back and assess what we know, what we need to know, and what’s most important going forward. Even the most experienced among us benefits from putting things in perspective from time to time. Teaching does that.

Training brings people together in a common project. Everyone benefits and the company culture is the better for it. That’s good for the pride we take in our organization and good for the bottom line.

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