Vail Daily column: Developing performance | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Developing performance

Chuck Wachendorfer
Valley Voices

Chuck Wachendorfer

A common refrain we hear from executives and business owners of growing organizations is "I/we only want to hire the best people." This well-intentioned standard of keeping the selection bar high all too often comes with the unintended consequence of neglecting employee development. The conscious, or perhaps unconscious, thinking is that if we hire top talent then we don't need to worry much about training them.

Several years ago, we began working with a large, very successful organization whose growth was slowing and was experiencing unusually high new hire turnover within its executive ranks. After several months reviewing their selection and onboarding processes, we noticed that, once onboard, the amount of time spent training their newly hired executives was close to zero. In fact, the common wisdom that prevailed throughout was the new executive "would call us if they had questions or needed help." Now, in the firm's defense, they were hiring well credentialed people with successful, often decades long, track records within the same industry.

Pattern Emerges

Stepping back, it became apparent that a pattern was emerging. After about nine months of little to no contact outside the monthly team meeting, the new leader's performance would begin to suffer. At that point, the leading, supervising executive made a very soft inquiry about needing support or resources with an even softer reminder of the company's annual goals. From there, performance would continue to suffer until HR was left with no other choice but to put the new hire on a "performance plan" (nice term for action plan). This "performance plan" left the leading executive in the new hire's office nearly every day, involved in almost every activity. Alas, too much time passes to "save" the new hire and they are "encouraged" to resign or quit on their own.

Developing People

Know this: While people selection matters, it doesn't impact performance as much as people development. The best leaders understand that developing people is their job and not a task that can be delegated or ignored. At its basic level, development is about how to do the job well. However, the best development builds from the basic level and also includes developing someone's ability to think and make good decisions.

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Development begins with identifying the task. To reiterate, it is not identifying the job or the responsibility but the task. Breaking it down, most jobs involve four to five responsibilities; most responsibilities include six or more tasks. All told, a job could include 25-30 key tasks that, in order to achieve success, must be done well. Much like driving to a place you've never been, you must identify your route to successfully reach your destination. The same is true in the workplace, you must know your tasks on your route to job success.

Three Parts of Development Process

After identifying the task, development follows a three-part DOC process:

• Demonstrate.

• Observe.

• Confirm.

Demonstration involves the leader successfully demonstrating the task for the follower a minimum of three to five times. This stage gives the observer/follower a chance to ask clarifying questions, gain context and confidence.

After demonstration, we move to the second stage, observation. Observation is the chance for the follower to successfully demonstrate what they've learned and practice while being supported by the leader. During the observation phase, the leader provides feedback on things done well and discusses areas of improvement. Observation continues until we know the follower can successfully complete the task on their own.

Lastly, we move to the final stage of confirmation. Confirmation involves the leader periodically observing and confirming the follower's performance. Often in the confirmation stage, we find that people drift from the process, drop or forget steps or, in the best case, may have even improved the process itself.

We're all busy and it's easy to focus on the "must-dos" of the day. The same is true for many well-intended leaders who embrace the common, errant belief that they "don't have time for all this development stuff." Instead, they find their days filled with important and urgent, time demanding tasks that need immediate attention. These leaders are constantly fighting a never-ending fire fueled by urgency. Sure, there's plenty of advanced rationalization to support concentrating on what's right in front of you – things that need your attention now. Yet, there are several unintended consequences of this reactive focus:

• Getting a leader's attention requires starting a fire.

• Nobody wants to be a leader because all they do is fight fires.

• Leadership satisfaction is at an all-time low because all they deal with are problems.

We're all leaders somewhere — whether at home or on the job. As a leader, are you spending your time fighting fires or are you optimizing performance by building and developing?

Chuck Wachendorfer is a partner and president-distribution for Think2Perform, a consulting firm designed to help businesses and individuals achieve sustained optimal performance. He can be reached at 970-926-0841 or cwachendorfer@think2perform.com. Think2Perform is a proud partner of the Vail Chamber & Business Association. They offer a series of Breakthrough for Business workshops throughout the year, helping local businesses achieve their best practices. To learn more visit http://www.vailchamber.org.