One of my skills is that I’m pretty good in math. Notice I wrote, “pretty good.” When I was in middle school I wanted to be an astronomer and I remember being interested in the formula for gravity. Of course I later learned that if you want to be an astronomer you can’t just be “pretty good” in math, you have to be outstanding…among the very best.
“Doing Math” by itself is an example of a skill. Whether you or I choose to develop this skill, now that’s another matter. Apparently I didn’t have enough desire to develop this skill because I’m just an amateur astronomer these days.
Last week I watched a manager try to deal with a team member whose skills were still under-developed. The team member’s condition had devolved to the point where he had a bad attitude and was having a negative impact on the team. The manager was getting frustrated and the team member was more so. I knew this was heading toward a bad break-up; and afterwards I knew the team member would have bad things to say about both the manager and our company.
I could tell we hadn’t managed the “skills” discussion very well. When we focus on the skills, and not the person, we will usually have a much better chance of an amicable outcome.
Knowledge means the person understands concepts, policies, and procedures to do the job. Attitude, which I have written about in prior Blog posts, refers to things like the person’s motivation.
Skills, on the other hand, are the physical and mental activities needed to do the job and they can usually be improved with practice and feedback. If you have certain natural “talents,” performing some skills may be easier for you than the next person. If you have the desire to obtain a skill without a natural talent to grease the way, usually you can develop it with practice, feedback, and repetition. There are other folks, however, who neither have the natural talent nor the desire to learn a skill. It is this group that is the most challenging.
While we often invest a great deal in training to help individuals improve their skills, we sometimes forget that it’s really the individual’s choice whether or not they do. Helping them see this point is critical to successful coaching.
Telephone Sales Example
One of the positions available in our organization is one where the person focuses on telephone sales to companies. Three of the skills required to do this job successfully are: 1) Research companies; 2) Make telephone calls to locate and speak with decision-makers; and 3) Enter accurate information into a web-based database. We have found that people who go into this position fall into one of the three groups I described – have natural talent for learning these skills, don’t have talent but work hard to develop them, or have neither the talent nor the desire to learn.
Steps for Skill-Coaching
As a leader it is always good for you to remind everyone that being competent in the skills required of the job is one of the core elements of being a valued team member. If you aren’t competent, your teammates won’t respect you. One skill leaders need is to effectively develop the skill capacity of your team, one person at a time. This requires you to:
- Determine the required skills to do a specific job;
- Know how to measure whether a person has the skills or not;
- Provide training to the person to learn or improve skills;
- Evaluate a person’s ability to perform skills and give feedback;
- If a gap exists, help person discover whether they have the “desire” to do the skills;
- Coach person –
a. If they have desire, help them develop their skill-strengthening plan;
b. If they don’t have desire, help them figure-out their exit plan.
I find average and below-average leaders avoid steps 5 and 6 because they view it as unpleasant conflict. Yet when you do these steps effectively, the individual has a better sense of who they are and, in the end, have more respect for you and the organization.
In my next Blog post (“Part 2”) I will write about how to Coach someone through Steps 5 and 6.