A frequent request I receive from HR professionals requesting executive coaching for managers is, “How can we develop better team leaders so that they can improve performance?” Ironically, while most organizations prioritize learning and development only about 1 out of 10 are prepared to address it and most don’t realize the degree to which an existing L&D platform can be contrary to moving the overall organization forward. Ideally, a robust learning and development strategy should be the foundation of performance and empower employees to drive better business results, elevate employee satisfaction, future-proof the business, enhance employee experience, and increase retention. However, it’s hard to realize those notable goals by starting out with a negative: Talent Gap Analysis.
Identifying skills shortages is well and good for remediating employees who are performing below expectations. However, it does not address the bigger opportunity to convert very good performers into great ones and thereby move teams and companies into the realm of superlative results. While focusing on skills shortfalls is intended to get employees to the baseline of meeting expectations, strong performers do not need to better understand what they’re doing wrong. From an executive coaching perspective, front line managers need to learn how to recognize what exceptional employees are doing well and build on those competencies. That’s where a manager can have the greatest individual and team impact and where organizations can realize their greatest potential for growth.
My own roots in performance management go back to having been a singer-songwriter performing at NYC’s hottest clubs and venues like CBGBs, DownTime, and the C-Note, and south to Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, one of the world’s preeminent listening rooms. My appearances brought me to the attention of London Records when Vice-President of A&R Walt Maguire heard me performing at Malachy’s II in NYC and signed me as a songwriter. From there I spent 10-years during the height of the British Wave as a producer, A&R scout, and engineer. I had the opportunity to work with some very cool artists, including The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones, Al Green, Van Morrison, David Bowie, Genesis, John Mayall with Eric Clapton, John Miles, ZZ Top, 10cc, and many others. I had the thrill of producing legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner, Texas band Greezy Wheels of Austin Music Hall of Fame notoriety, and chart-topping singer songwriter Leslie Pearl.
My years at London Records working with solo artists and groups were the foundation of bringing out the best in performers while satisfying the 4th largest recording industry giant’s need for continuous commercial success. What I learned and mastered in the studio about focused practice, continuous learning, honing your craft, knowing your audience, and persevering despite obstacles I creatively translated into the corporate world where I:
· Led MCI Telecommunication’s regional mega sales centers in NY, TX, AZ, CO, and IA growing MCI into the 2nd long-distance provider in the U.S.
· Drove a 55% upgrade penetration increase, 18% revenue lift, and broke all PPV records for Cablevision of Connecticut negating SNET’s attempted entry into the cable TV market.
· Navigated DSL.net to exceed its monthly and quarterly sales targets consistently across a 3-year period.
· Increased net revenues 38% in less than 9-months for Grand Circle Travel, a global enterprise committed to changing people’s lives by offering high-impact travel experiences.
· Led two professional UHL sports teams to profitability in a single season and directed the first sports event to sell-out the Richmond Coliseum by producing “Battle of the Bands Over Ice” securing major sponsors including VH-1 Save the Music, Harley-Davidson, and Sam Ash Music.
Let’s look at the 70:20:10 model used by designers of company L&D strategies and infuse it with my experience in the music business:
1. 70% of employees learn their skills through their daily jobs.
2. 20% obtain their skills and knowledge through their peers and colleagues.
3. 10% of all learning happens through formal training sessions.
In the recording studio the members of the bands I worked with during my years with London Records were already self-taught or had taken formal music lessons (the 10% of 70:20:10) and obtained their early music skills by playing in garage bands or jamming with friends (the 20% of 70:20:10). By the time I signed them and began producing them they were continuing to learn the 70% of the 70:20:10 on the road touring and performing. My focus was not on what these artists had missed in their first guitar lessons or the shortcomings of those makeshift living room performances with their friends from down the street. Rather, my focus was on what was strong in their music abilities right now at this moment in time and what we needed to do to take them to their highest performance level possible, wow their target audience, sell records, and create a demand for personal appearances.
For many organizations, that 10% of learning that occurs in formal training sessions, especially initial training, is not just about content, such as company culture, product knowledge, employer mission, core values and culture, benefits, policies & procedures, and the like. More significantly, it sets the tone for performance expectations and defines a “good” employee based upon which side of the “meeting expectations” line they’re on. These expectations get reinforced in front line leadership training and then translated into how teams and individuals are managed. While the organization is doing its due diligence ensuring that expectations are formally communicated, so strong can the message be that “it’s all about making the numbers or you’re out” that the formal 10% training overshadows the other 90%. Managers become ingrained with looking for what employees are doing wrong such that great performance is overlooked and stellar performers don’t get the recognition or attention they need to get to the next level. That’s when the grass starts to look greener and negatively impacts retention. Imagine me producing a lead guitarist of a successful band and saying, “Take 7 is the one! Great performance! But let’s focus on what you did wrong in takes 1 through 6.” Yet, that’s exactly what managers do because the hidden mantra of so many organizations is to find out what where even the best employees are falling short and fix it.
To be an effective performance manager means getting out of the “high priority interrupt” mentality from the computer world in which processing is interrupted to fix a programming problem. Employees aren’t machines programmed to meet certain external criteria. They are human beings with unique skills in a constant state of learning who, when coached with positive attention and strength building, will deliver amazing results. The focus needs to be on paying attention so that when employees do something out of the box outrageously good, we can take that moment to tell them about it and discover and reinforce when she or he is at their best. Of course, there will be times when an employee screws something up and the manager needs to correct it. But that’s not coaching. It’s remediating. And remediating doesn’t build great organizations. Fixing mistakes only prevents failure. Greatness comes from paying deliberate attention to catching people doing great things and helping them excel even farther. Everybody has the potential to be an organizational rock star.