As a kid I collected a lot of baseball cards. I spent endless hours looking through them, comparing players’ stats, and checking the cards’ value. Recently I started thinking about baseball cards again, but this time for a slightly different reason.

In my time as a baseball coach I started thinking about my players and what their baseball card would look like. As a rookie, your card really only has vitals and maybe a brief background on the back (at least that is how it was in 1987). No games have been played. At that stage, all the player has is their training and preparation. It was our job as the coaching staff to structure the training and provide the preparation that would lead to the eventual stats. I have recently started thinking about my teams at work the same way.

Now granted- instead of hitting, pitching, and fielding we need skills like problem solving, presenting, and analyzing. But the exercise for the “coach” is similar. We need to figure out how to improve the skills that our employees need. Unfortunately our job as managers is a little more difficult than that of the baseball coach. A coach has a practice to teach and train and games to show the result. Oftentimes at work we are pressured for results and do not have a chance to practice.

In Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (affiliate link here), K. Anders Ericsson provides a few guidelines for improvement. He does not promise that the following list will guarantee that the development approach will result in elite performance, but he does suggest that it makes it far more likely.

  1. Does the task push the employee outside of their comfort zone to things that do not come easily?
  2. Is there an opportunity for immediate feedback and a plan for improvement?
  3. Is there a clear understanding of what constitutes elite performance at the task?
  4. Is the task designed to develop the skills that the elite performers possess?

This list gives us as managers some hints as to what our actual job is when it comes to employee development.

The last two points in Ericsson’s list give us an idea of what we need to do in order to be able to design the right tasks. We need to understand what skills, knowledge, and education are necessary for our employee to be an elite performer. We need to understand the jobs we manage well enough to be able to design tasks that are aimed at developing the skills that make an elite performer.

His first two points tell us how we are probably going to be spending a good portion of our days. At least early in this process, we have to be able to monitor progress to the point that we know how taxing the task is for any given employee and keep the difficulty level perfectly dialed in. While monitoring, we also need to either provide feedback on performance and how to improve it, or find an expert in their field that can.

If we can execute on all four points, over time our employees will move from rookies with non-existent stat lines, to successful veterans with years of experience and steadily improving stat lines. Who knows. Maybe you will develop a future Hall of Famer.

Posts in this series: Intro   Part 1: Comfort Zone   Part 2: Feedback   Part 3: Elite Performance