Greg Long and Butler Newman

Authors and Consultants | GP Strategies Corporation

Top Performer Perspective: Human Interaction Skills

top-performer-perspective-human-interaction-skills

Image courtesy of pixabay

In 2015, Geoff Colvin wrote Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will. His ostensible purpose was to highlight those factors that are uniquely human—characteristics that will likely never be replicated by machines. But his underlying message about the skill sets uniquely employed by humans struck another chord with us.

It is those uniquely human skills, the skills of human interaction in particular, that weave a common thread through what we’ve observed as perspectives shared by top performers. Take another look at the list of top performer perspectives:

  • dreaming
  • humble
  • patient
  • resolute
  • dealing with bureaucracy
  • storytelling
  • team oriented
  • team alignment
  • trusting
  • technically competent
  • willingness to share

Notice that all of them—except being technically competent—share a couple of attributes. One, they transcend the technical aspects of getting the work done. Two, and most importantly, they describe how top performers think about themselves and relate to those around them in their work environment. Those top performers don’t view others as obstacles to getting their work done. Instead, they view people, whether above them, alongside them, or below them in the organizational hierarchy, as an integral part of the work itself. That’s important enough to repeat: people are not in the way of getting the work done, they are an integral part of the work itself.

With that acute understanding of the critical role that human interaction skills play in their success, we should not be surprised that top performers often focus on outcomes such as trusted advisor relationships, aligned teams, or similar people-oriented elements. The more we study the range of outcomes produced by top performers in varying roles and industries, the more we find the simple truth that human interaction skills are absolutely critical for top performer success.

Colvin realizes this as well and is voicing a clarion cry when he writes: “Businesses can’t even begin to get better until leaders acknowledge that these [human interaction] skills are the key to competitive advantage.”

The implication of that statement is enormous. Organizations have yet to awaken to the reality that faces them. We agree with Colvin. If they want to experience success within their modern workforce, organizations must wake up and begin to take proactive measures to improve their performers’ ability to become experts at human interaction skills.

Question to ponder:

  • Has your organization acknowledged the critical importance of human interaction skills?

Top Performer Perspective: The Hard Work

top-performer-perspective-the-hard-work

Image courtesy of pixabay

Last week we discussed how excellent technical performance is the price of admission to the game, as Harvey Coleman calls it. So if excellent technical performance only gets you into the game but is not sufficient to win the game, what is?

That is the key question.

Over the last weeks, we’ve highlighted several perspectives shared by top performers across roles and industries. Note that these are top performers in every sense of the word, not just from the technical prowess aspect. These people excel in their roles in ways that make them stand out objectively when evaluated by their ratings and subjectively when top management is asked to identify whom they would most like to clone. So these folks have not only paid the price of admission, they have cracked the code of what’s necessary to win the game.

Let’s look at the list of eleven perspectives we’ve discussed so far:

  • dreaming
  • humble
  • patient
  • resolute
  • dealing with bureaucracy
  • storytelling
  • team oriented
  • team alignment
  • trusting
  • technically competent
  • willingness to share

Only one of these perspectives is related to technical prowess on the job. That lines up amazingly well with Coleman’s assertion that only 10 percent of success results from being technically competent. Of course, that 10 percent is demanded, hence the notion of the price of admission.

The rest of the perspectives are related to the practice of human interaction skills: the ability to work with others, to build and leverage trusting relationships, and to develop methods to relate in a meaningful way to those around us.

Next week we’ll dig into this idea a little more based on Geoff Colvin’s book: Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will.

Question to ponder:

  • Do you specifically hire for, cultivate, and reward human interaction skills?

 

 

Top Performer Perspective: Reflections

top-performer-perspective-reflections

Image courtesy of pixabay

Several years ago, we were privileged to attend a workshop by Harvey Coleman, a former IBM engineer turned career coach. In his workshop, Coleman expanded on thoughts from his book: Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed. Some of his points were definitely counterintuitive, yet they rang true with us.

As we pause to reflect on commonalities of the various perspectives exhibited by top performers, let’s start with one of Coleman’s (very) counterintuitive assertions.

In his model of what it takes to get ahead—to advance in your career—Coleman states that only 10 percent of your career advancement is due to your technical competence. Let that sink in for a minute. Restated, fully 90 percent of your success depends on factors other than your technical accomplishments.

If you look more deeply into Coleman’s work, you’ll find that he is not making a case to ignore technical prowess. Indeed, he says that excellent technical know-how is what gets you into what he calls the game in the first place. Everyone is expected to deliver excellent technical performance—that’s the price of admission.

Note that we’ve added a qualifier to Coleman’s assertion. We say technical performance rather than just performance. We think Coleman would agree with us that many other factors go into the notion of performance. But performers set themselves up for failure if they focus only on producing excellence in the technical aspects of their jobs. Whether those jobs are customer service, engineering, finance, or some other field, technical excellence is the price of admission. It’s expected.

Now the hard work begins.

 

Question to ponders:

  • How broad is your definition of performance? Do you overemphasize technical performance at the expense of other areas?

 

 

Top Performer Perspective: Observations

top-performer-perspective-observationsFor several weeks we’ve been discussing common perspectives we’ve observed in top performers. These top performers have come from around the globe and from multiple roles across different industries. While we want to share several more top performer perspectives, we thought it would be appropriate to take just a brief pause and note a couple of observations about the perspectives we’ve discussed.

Here’s the list so far:

  • dreaming
  • humble
  • patient
  • resolute
  • dealing with bureaucracy
  • storytelling
  • team oriented
  • team alignment
  • trusting
  • technically competent
  • willingness to share

Eleven perspectives, shared by almost all top performers. The important question as we reflect on this list is whether these perspectives are predictive or descriptive. In other words, does having these traits make one a top performer? Or do top performers develop these perspectives?

Actually, it’s probably a bit of both. We’ve generally found that people who share these perspectives tend to outperform others. However, we’ve also seen ample evidence that people who desire to become top performers are intentional about cultivating these perspectives. So, yes, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg discussion, but one worth pondering.

Next week we’ll share some specific commonalities between top performer perspectives that will create thought and introspection.

 

Questions to ponder:

  • What observations do you have about these top performer perspectives? What, if anything, do they have in common?

Top Performer Perspective: Team Alignment

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In his excellent book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni asserts that the first foundational dysfunction teams must face is the absence of trust. He discusses trust essentially as being confident in each person’s role and value to the team and being sure that each person is striving for the good of the team. We’ll add one nuance to Lencioni’s trust factors: ensuring everyone on the team is aligned toward the same purpose.

In a memorable project, the top performing team leaders in a high-stakes global sales role spent a significant percentage of their time focused on creating and sustaining team alignment. One place that was most evident was in client communications. The normal practice was to funnel all sensitive client communications through the team leader. This fairly standard procedure is designed to ensure the client always receives the right message in the right way without any confusion. But the top performing team leaders took a completely different perspective.

They first met with their team and aligned everyone to all aspects of the client situation, including goals, constraints, and preferred communications modes. Then, once the team was completely aligned, the members invited the client to communicate freely with anyone on the team at any time. That offer could be made with total confidence that all communications from the team to the client would be focused and purposeful. The result: more team bandwidth, more communications flow to each critical client, and stronger development of individual team members.

All this resulted from a focus on team alignment.

 

Questions to ponder:

  • Are your teams aligned toward common goals, both large and small?
  • Do your team leaders spend sufficient time focused on internal team alignment?

 

Top Performer Perspective: Willingness to Share

Image courtesy of pixabay

Image courtesy of pixabay

Many of the roles we’ve analyzed over the years have been highly competitive positions—roles where people not only try to exceed their own numbers and their bosses’ expectations but often compete with other members in the same role. In those types of environments, people could easily become a bit secretive, playing their cards close to their vests in order to maintain an edge over their competitors. After all, there are only so many promotions, only so many bonus dollars to go around.

At least that’s the common perception.

With top performers, we’ve found just the opposite. They are not only willing to share all they’ve learned, they seek out others they can mentor and help along the path toward excellence.

We’re not exactly sure about the motivation of top performers who are willing to share. Perhaps they follow the old Hewlett Packard mentality of telling competitors where you are so they won’t go where you’re going. Perhaps they believe in the adage that you never learn a subject as well as when you teach it to others. Or perhaps they simply are passionate about the job they are doing and desire that everyone be better equipped to help the organization succeed.

Whatever the case, we can attest to this simple fact: top performers are willing to share what they know to help others improve their own performance.

 

Question to ponders:

  • Are you willing to share? Or do you have a tendency to hoard information? Which do you value and reward?

 

Top Performer Perspective: Trust

Image courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fall means changing leaves with beautiful displays of color, crisp nights with a nip in the air, long walks in the cool evenings, and football! Ah, that great American tradition of watching college football on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon.

Why bring up football in our discussion of the perspectives shared by top performers? Simple, this week we want to discuss the perspective of trust. And there’s almost no better example of trust than that between a quarterback and the receivers.

When the receiver goes out for a pass, the quarterback has to throw the ball not to where the receiver is, and not even to a spot just in front of the receiver, but to the spot where he knows the receiver will eventually end up. Typically the receiver will “break” or change directions suddenly to get away from the other team’s defense. But the ball has to be thrown before the receiver breaks. If the receiver fails to make the proper turn at the proper time, the pass will be incomplete or worse, be intercepted by the opponents. The quarterback trusts the receiver to make the right moves and the receiver trusts that the ball will be there when it should be. Each player has to trust the other for the pass to be completed.

So it is with top performers. They realize they can’t do it all. They have to pass the ball to others and depend on them to do their share of the work. And then they have to be ready when it’s passed back later in the process. That demands trust—trust that each person will do his or her portion of the work at the right time and to the right standards.

Trust must be developed over time. One of the characteristics of top performers is that they invest the time necessary to build trust with those around them–trust that is required for the entire team to succeed.

 

Question to ponder:

  • How do you build and reward trust?

 

Top Performer Perspective: Team Oriented

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Students spend twelve, sixteen, or even more years being taught “do your own work” and “don’t look at anyone else’s paper.” So they graduate as solo performers and then head off to find their way in an increasingly team-based world.

Somewhere along the way, top performers have figured out that the winning formula almost always includes a team. They seem to be better at building teams, aligning teams toward common objectives, and working together to achieve those objectives.

It’s remarkable how many standout top performers excel at mastering team dynamics. One top performer in particular comes to mind. While studying the performance of top financial professionals in a global organization, we quickly realized that the best in the role were highly dependent upon leading and working with a team. The organization, however, designed and managed the role as one of an individual performer.

We didn’t realize just how impactful the team aspect was until we sent out the draft list of outcomes for review. Our standout top performer not only reviewed it but also pulled his team together for an all-day working session. The purpose of the session was to review his role outcomes with him. He wanted to make sure the outcomes correctly captured all the team dynamics and how the work was shared among the team members. After the team members finished reviewing the outcomes, they then spent time reviewing their own operating procedures against this model of excellence to see what improvements they could make to their already best-in-the-organization performance.

This makes us wonder why working successfully in teams is not emphasized more in our education system.

 

Question to ponder:

  • How do you encourage team collaboration?

Top Performer Perspective: Humble

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“I’ll be happy to review the document, but what I’m really going to do is read it to learn some new ideas from everyone else. There are some great things in there!”

We had just finished reviewing draft outcomes with several top performers in a key role of a large global company. Each of the top performers included in the review session had significantly contributed to our understanding of what defined role excellence. But the standout among the top performers was, in fact, the person quoted above.

A common perspective shared by top performers is humility. That humility shows up in several ways. First, these top performers think what they do is nothing special. They have usually figured out a particularly unique and powerful mental model of how to achieve role excellence, but they think everyone else has probably already figured out the same thing. Their mental model is so obvious to them, they think it must be obvious to others.

Second, they strive to always learn from others. Just like the top performer quoted, they believe they always have more to learn, more room to improve. So they listen, they learn, and they constantly improve. Thus the top performers become even better. Their humility is clearly a significant part of their excellence.

 

Question to ponder:

  • How do you recognize and reward your top performers’ humility?

 

Top Performer Perspective: Technically Competent

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

This particular top performer perspective is somewhat murkier than many of the others. It’s murky not because we don’t recognize and value it, but because it is so dependent upon the context of the role of the top performer.

We’re reminded of a presentation given by a senior executive some years ago. He talked about how, in his role, he was expected to be fluent in corporate finance, law, mergers and acquisitions, human resources, and a few other fields. What he said was a bit surprising but has been borne out by top performers in many roles. He said he knows enough about each field to know when to call someone who knows more. He also told us that the point at which he called in someone else varied from field to field but that there was no field in which he never needed help.

Too many times, we overemphasize the acquisition of expertise above all else. But perhaps a deeper principle applies. For any given role in any given field, an appropriate level of competence should be the target. Certainly a lawyer should know the law. But ask a criminal attorney about tax law and the best you should hope for is a good referral. Similarly, ask an engineer about structural integrity and, if the engineer is a mechanical engineer with a specialization in structures who is current on the earthquake building codes in California, then—well, you get the picture.

We should strive not to maximize but to optimize our technical expertise. In other words, we should seek to be technically competent.

Question to ponder:

  • Do you strive for ultimate expertise or demonstrated competence?

 

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