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Managers: Please think like trainers

By Daniel Bobinski

Before I share a few stories, let me first state that my formal education is how to create training from scratch on any subject. A good training designer first identifies the expected results of a training, then the behaviors needed to get those results. From there, the designer identifies the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for someone to display the needed behaviors. Once all that is done, training is developed and delivered.

With that backdrop, let’s look at a few workplace stories.

Tom was a technical trainer for 20 years. He was respected by his company’s employees, as evidenced by how much they enjoyed his training. On class evaluations, Tom received the highest scores out of all the technical instructors in his company.

Sophie was a great waitress. How do I know? Many who had the pleasure of being served by Sophie would ask to be seated in her section on return visits. In fact, people talked about going to the restaurant so they could have, “The Sophie experience.”

And then there’s John, consistently his company’s number one salesperson. His customers loved him, and his company enjoyed great success because of John’s exceptional sales skills.

Tom, Sophie and John were all stellar employees. Why do I bring them up? Because each of them were promoted, but none of them performed well in their new positions.

This phenomenon is commonly referred to as, “The Peter Principle,” based on a 1969 book by the same name. Essentially, “The Peter Principle” states that employees promoted based on their current levels of success will eventually reach a level where they are no longer successful. Or, as the book put it, they get promoted to a place where they are incompetent.

Tom was an exceptional classroom trainer, but he didn’t understand how to create training from scratch nor how to manage other people. As a result, when he was promoted to a team that oversaw training development for his company, Tom felt like a cork in the ocean. It got so bad that the vice president overseeing the department gave Tom six months to “figure it out” or he’d be gone.

The situation was similar for Sophie. After her manager quit, the restaurant’s owner thought Sophie would be an inspirational replacement. He believed she would know how to train others to do what she did. Unfortunately, Sophie struggled in her managerial duties, including managing and motivating employees.

John’s sad tale is a story I’ve often told. When a company promotes its best salesperson to sales manager, the company has made two mistakes. First, they’ve lost their best salesperson, and second, they’ve hired a mediocre sales manager. This is because the skills required of a sales manager are quite different from that of a salesperson, and rare is the individual who can excel at both.

This article is for anyone who manages or oversees other people, and the message is this: managers and leaders must think like trainers who design training. Such a person identifies the objectives to be reached, the behaviors needed, and the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to get there.

Stated another way, managers and leaders must pay attention to the skills needed for success in each position they manage. Then, if someone in a position is not performing at needed levels, the manager or leader must identify what’s getting in the way of success and work to make it right.

For example, whenever a performance problem exists, several questions must be asked. Does the problem stem from outdated procedures or policies? Is the problem related to personnel, such as a personality clash? Or, does it stem from a lack of clear goals or a lack of capability?

In all cases, it’s the responsibility of the person in the supervisory capacity to either adjust policies or procedures, or equip people with the knowledge and skills they need to get a job done. By all means, avoid doing what Tom’s vice president did, telling Tom to, “figure it out.” With Tom being as experienced as he is, if he could have figured it out, he would have done so.

A well-written job description is valuable

For optimal performance management, supervisors and those they supervise should meet 1:1 every two or three months. The main purpose of such meetings should be to review the four or five most important and urgent projects for each person.

As basic as it sounds, a great place to start is with job descriptions, or JD’s for short. And yes, JD’s are valuable even at senior management levels. After 30 years of consulting in companies of all shapes and sizes, I’d say the most underused tool in business is job descriptions.

Unfortunately, even when JD’s do exist, they are often misused. As a general guideline, a well-written JD should identify between five and 15 duties, and each duty should have between five and 15 tasks. And, to be useful, they should be integral to performance management efforts.

Quarterly performance management meetings don’t need to be long. Half an hour is fine, and discussion should revolve around goals and identifying actions needed to get past obstacles to achieve those goals. Also, check to see if a person’s JD has changed. Why? Because JD’s serve as a focus for action, and a manager or leader should be coordinating his or her team so everyone is rowing in the right direction.

As we saw in Tom’s, Sophie’s and John’s stories, none of that happened.

In closing, let me offer some great questions to ask when performance problems exist.

Are the problems caused by other personnel? If not, are policies or procedures getting in the way? If not, do problems exist because someone doesn’t have needed knowledge or skills to do the work?

If a person needs training, funds may need to be authorized. Connections may need to be made. One of the most important principles for anyone who supervises others is this: Ensure the people working for you have what they need to do their jobs. It’s thinking like a training designer. What objectives do you need to reach? What conditions do you need to create so you get there?

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel on his office phone, (208) 375-7606, or through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.

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