Who is the best in the world at your job? Have you ever even thought about that? What makes them better than everyone else? Is it their skills, abilities, knowledge, effort, or all of the above?

Today we are going to take a relatively quick look at the third point in creating a development plan.

Is there a clear understanding of what constitutes elite performance at the task?

So far we have looked at comfort zones and feedback and their role in development, but neither of those told you a lot about what exactly you are training an employee to do. I think it is relatively obvious that what type of training you do depends a lot on your end goal.

Let’s take distance running as an example, because I think more of us could start that today as opposed to trying to become a major league shortstop. There are a few different goals you could set:

  • Run a mile
  • Run a mile in under 8 minutes
  • Run a 5k
  • Run a 5k in under 30 minutes
  • Run a 10k/marathon/ultra-marathon
  • Run each of those in some amount of time
  • Win an event in your chosen distance
  • Qualify for the Boston marathon
  • Win the Olympic 5k, 10k, or marathon

Do you think you would train differently based on the different goals? Almost certainly. You would still be out running, but for each goal the amount, distances, speeds, and even diet will be different. Knowing your goal keeps you on track, and not pushing too hard, or going too easy.

Now let’s make this task a hair more difficult. What if you didn’t know what a good marathon time was? You could spend years training to get your time down to four hours just to find out you don’t even qualify for Boston, when you were hoping to go to the Olympics. That sure seems like it might have been a lot of effort that landed you well shy of your goal.

Luckily for us, we already know what world record times are, what we need to do to qualify for Boston, and we even have easy access to tons of detailed guides for improvement. Our job at work can be a little more difficult. Who is the world’s best project manager, engineer, doctor, lawyer or scientist? What skills or knowledge do they have that makes them better? How do we know if we are pushing someone too far or not far enough? There seem to be a lot more questions than answers. So what can we do to start coming up with a few answers of our own?

As a manager you can start by talking with your employees of differing expertise levels to start getting an understanding of what truly differentiates them.  For example, an expert project manager may be able to see more possible paths a project could take and develop a more robust risk mitigation plan than a more junior PM. They may also be better at developing top level requirements from customer meetings, gaining team buy-in, and communicating issues with upper management, all of which contribute to better metrics in cost, schedule, and performance. Understanding what the key drivers are for both employee differentiation and business success is key.

Talking with other experts in the field and seeing what they think differentiates them from their peers could also provide some insight, although a bit more biased. Additional reading from trade publications, general business magazines or books may also provide additional context. Combining your own observations with input from experts and reading materials will give a much fuller picture.

So at this point you theoretically know what elite performance looks like, you know you want your employees to be in an ideal learning zone (not in their comfort or danger zones), and you know that you need to provide meaningful feedback. The next step is the big one- designing tasks to accomplish all of those goals. Next time.

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