Deep performance analysis can uncover hidden expertise and provide a laser-like focus for developing and deploying talent.
To develop employee expertise in today's fast-paced and competitive market, learning and development must take a laser-like approach. L&D can ill afford to apply broad brush strokes in the form of a single curriculum or generic training to address all competency needs.
Mercer Consulting conducted studies of front-line sales managers. In these studies, Mercer found that 47 percent of senior sales leaders indicated that their sales managers were operating suboptimally, at a level below capability. These suboptimally performing sales managers experienced a lower percentage of salespeople achieving quota, an inability to recruit, higher turnover and a greater cost of sales.
Interestingly, Mercer found that these suboptimal results were most often produced by an emphasis on competencies that most would assume would lead to high performance. Organizations focused on product, industry knowledge and selling skills instead of the essential drivers of sales rep performance, which Mercer concluded were the engagement and subsequent coaching of the sales rep.
An Expert Model To create a laser-like approach for learning development, expert performance analysis can enhance an existing competency model so that the model is honed, tailored and compressed for faster action.
Two previous works contribute to the development of the expert performance process, both of which are essential to raising the capabilities and improving the learning of organizational employees. In August 1994, American Psychologist published an article by K. Anders Ericsson and Neil Chamess titled "Expert Performance: Its Structure and Acquisition," which explains the process by which individuals become expert performers. In it, Ericsson summarized that anyone can become an expert performer given sufficient optimized deliberate practice. So if one can capture exactly what one needs to practice, an organization can rapidly create more expertise.
Unfortunately, expert performance often resists discovery. High performers often cannot access the beliefs, strategies and behaviors that create their own stellar results. This expertise is often so deeply embedded in unconscious habit that external observation or even straightforward questions cannot pry it loose.
Fortunately, neurolinguistic programming (NLP) modeling provides a powerful tool to uncover the sufficient optimized deliberate practice suggested by Ericsson and Chamess. As explained in the work of NLP developers David Gordon and Robert Dilts, NLP modeling can uncover and explain the expertise of top performers. Beyond uncovering behaviors, NLP modeling uncovers beliefs and motivations that are invaluable for hiring and succession plans. Consequently, those employees who match the beliefs and motivations of top performers will grow their expertise most rapidly.
Deriving his work from anthropologist Gregory Bateson, Dilts produced a model of automotive manufacturer Fiat's organizational structure. He subsequently produced a theory or model of expertise. The model proceeds through three platforms:
Beliefs. All experts operate from a grounding of their core beliefs and motivations. The Center for Expert Performance and Expert Sales Manager research has found that most individuals, when asked, "What is important to you in your work?" will respond with three or four core beliefs. For example, high-performing sales managers cite the importance of the development and training of their reports.
Strategies. Beliefs contribute directly to the next level, strategies. Strategies represent how experts think to turn their beliefs into reality. Most experts invent comprehensive and powerful strategies that flow directly from these beliefs. Flowing from the second belief example cited above—the ability to impact direct reports to exceed quota—expert performers create powerful influence strategies.
Behaviors. Finally, the lower level of the model pertains to the thousands and thousands of behaviors that are the outward observable activities that result from the beliefs and strategies of expert performers. Obviously teaching all behaviors would be a far too daunting activity and would add considerable time to the creation of expertise. The application of this model is most effective when one hires candidates who have the beliefs and motivations of expert performers, teaches these high potentials the strategies of expertise and measures and observes behaviors. The greatest increases in performance occur when expert performance strategies are taught to those who already have beliefs and motivations similar to those of the experts.
Do companies need something more than competencies? For many organizations, installation and use of competencies is less than optimal and they fail to add as much value as they could. By adding expert performance, one can focus on the 20 percent of the competencies that give 80 percent of the bottom-line results.