This is the sixth and final article in a series of cross posts from TMS Online, Talent Management Solutions’ web based repository of HR and talent management related tools and resources for the small to mid-market organization. These writings are intended for a business audience, but the content relates well to endurance multisport as well. Follow this link for more information about TMS Online and Talent Management Solutions.
Successful leaders don’t focus solely on raising performance up from inadequate to adequate, they also seek out ways to develop employees and ready them for greater challenges and responsibilities down the road. You know what they say—if you expect to be promoted, be sure you have someone ready to take over your position. So how do you make sure you can afford to move up by coaching your team to do greater things?
Steps to Developing Performance Excellence
There are clear and necessary steps through which every individual must travel to improve performance. As a leader, your role is to assist your employees through these steps and make them accountable for hitting the milestones.
1. Identify knowledge/skill/ability gaps.
- Define the new knowledge, skill, or ability that is to be achieved.
- Make a list of the areas where information, training, and/or practice are needed.
2. Communicate gaps to the employee.
- Be sure that both you and the employee have the same understanding on current performance level and the new expectations.
- Define target performance in terms of measurable and observable behaviors (see TMS Competency Model).
3. Develop a plan to close gaps.
- Determine what method of deliberate practice is best suited to address the gap at hand.
- Consider how the employee learns best: classroom instruction, hands on practice, observing others, self study, etc.
- Consider what motivates the employee to push themselves with effort.
- Discuss how to measure progress.
- Set milestones and timelines.
4. Execute your plan.
- Begin training and practice schedule.
- Observe and measure progress.
- Provide feedback to build confidence and encourage effort.
5. Measure the results.
- Observe actual performance of a new skill or application of new information.
- Get the employee’s opinion on their personal confidence.
- Determine if more training or practice is needed – OR –
- Adapt the plan to better suit changing needs – OR -
- Confirm success of learning and applying the new skill or ability.
Stages to Developmental Mastery
Now that you’ve seen the steps, it’s important to appreciate that every individual goes through predictable stages when learning and developing skills. Depending on the individual’s starting point or natural abilities and depending on the complexity of skill or competency, the stages may pass rapidly or could take a significant amount of time. Below are the stages described using the ability to drive a car—something most of us are familiar with.
1. Unconscious Incompetence – There is a time early in our lives where we don’t know that driving a car is something we could ever do. This is a case of not knowing what we don’t know.
2. Conscious Incompetence – Later in our childhood, we recognize that our parents know how to drive a car and eventually we will learn to do so as well. We know what we don’t know.
3. Conscious Competence – When we’re just learning to drive and every little thing takes tremendous focus, we can easily be overwhelmed if we end up in challenging traffic or weather conditions. We can do the skill, but it takes focus and effort.
4. Unconscious Competence – Eventually, the focused attention needed to drive gives way to the ability to get ourselves from point A to point B while thinking of other things. We can do the skill and don’t even have to think about it any more.
5. Unconscious Mastery – There are those of us who might race cars for a living, be stunt drivers or otherwise have exceptional defensive driving skills to a degree that could be described as mastery. However, while these master drivers can perform amazing driving feats, they generally won’t be able to tell you exactly how they do so.
6. Conscious Mastery – These are the driving masters who can not only perform exceptionally, but also teach others to become masters as well.
It’s important to remember that we don’t necessarily progress to mastery in everything we do. For example, unless you’re an accountant, few of us will achieve mastery in completing a 1040 tax form. The same is going to be true for any developmental area you coach an employee toward. Mastery may not need to be your end goal.
Another important thing to remember is that when someone is at the conscious competence stage, the coach and employee should not feel frustrated by the need to go through this stage. By continuing the deliberate practice and exercising a little patience, the new skills get easier to consistently produce. Remember that this is still progress and celebrate that!
Difficulties in Coaching
Manager’s commitment to the process. Descending into your employee’s world once a month with a “rah-rah”, “go-get-em” session in between long stretches of unavailability is not coaching, even for the most independent of your employees. You have to commit to being engaged at each of the steps discussed above. Some steps require more attention from you than others, but each step is important.
Lack of self-awareness. Before your employee can agree to work towards improvement, there needs to be some agreement that there’s a problem in the first place. Often, an open and honest conversation about skills and competencies where you think your employee could improve their options for career growth is all that is required to move the individual from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. Don’t ever get caught in the drama of trying to rescue someone who doesn’t want your help. Spend your energy more productively with those who welcome your assistance.
Some things you just can’t change. Some competencies are easy to change, some take some more work and others are virtually impossible to impact in any perceptible way. (See Competencies – A Reality Check for a comprehensive list of all TMS Competencies and their changeability ratings.) Obviously, your time is best spent developing those competencies that have a reasonable chance for modification.
Being a counselor instead of a coach. Every manager has had times where you wonder if your office would be better equipped if it had a psychologist’s couch. Although seemingly unavoidable when you work with human beings, when does your understanding ear develop into a situation that’s best left to counseling professionals? There’s no hard and fast rule here, but if you’re hearing the same non-business issues over and over from the same individual, and these issues are leading to real business problems, a gentle suggestion that your employee turn to an expert for assistance might be warranted. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), the easy answer is to get your employee in touch with those professionals. Remember that you aren’t a trained psychologist, so hesitate before you give out advice on matters best left to those trained to handle them.
Having the bandwidth. Skill development requires both time and effort. Employees who are stretched to the edges of their capacity with the level of problem solving required in their current workload won’t have the extra time and energy necessary to successfully navigate the performance improvement process to develop new skills. There might be, however, the opportunity to improve efficiency and effectiveness within an employee’s currently challenging workload by honing a relevant specific skill. This is not to be confused with a situation where an employee has their days tied up with high volumes of unchallenging work. A long term condition of under-challenged and over-busy is a recipe for burn out and turnover. Don’t let your key talent walk out on you due to confusion about the difference between work volume and level of challenge.
There is such a thing as too high maintenance. As much as you might like to help everyone along, you will inevitably find some employees that need more encouragement and attention than what is realistic in the workplace. In these cases, it may work wonders to re-deploy and restructure their work to better match their capacity. Sometimes, however, this can’t realistically be accomplished without negatively impacting the business. In these cases, you might be better off letting them go and finding a better fit. See Addressing Performance Problems.
In these times of rapid change, if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backward. Now you have the steps to developing performance excellence within your team, you know what stages of development to expect and some tips on handling common coaching difficulties to keep your team moving forward. Also be sure to check out the Attributes of a Master Coach to see how you can improve your capacity to develop your team, because the teams that win have Master Coaches and we’re sure you want a winning team!