Tag Archives: practice

The Practice of Delegation

“I’m a little disappointed,” explained Ruben. “Disappointed in myself.”

“How so,” I asked.

“Since I was promoted to manager, everyone said I should delegate more stuff. So, I tried.”

“What have you tried?” I prompted.

“Well, I bought three books on delegating. I finished one and I am reading the second.”

“So, what’s changed, for you?”

“Nothing really. I mean, they are really good books, but I still do everything myself.”

“Ruben, delegation is a skill, a skill that can be learned. Every skill has two parts. The first part is technical knowledge. That’s the stuff you have been reading about in those books.”

“What’s the other part?” Ruben asked.

“The other part is practice. You actually have to get out there and practice. I really don’t care how much you know. I am interested in what you can do.”

Competence and Habits

“How are habits connected to competence?” I asked.

Muriel looked at me and remembered. It was a short trip down memory lane. “When I first became a manager,” she started, “I was awful. I thought I was such a hot shot, walking around telling everyone what to do. Within a couple of weeks, productivity in my department was at an all time low, and I couldn’t figure it out.

“So, I started asking questions. Instead of telling my team how to do the work more efficiently, I began asking them how they could do the work more efficiently. I didn’t do it very often, but when I did, remarkable things happened. Over time, I got better at asking questions. Practice. Practice makes permanent. Now, asking questions is a habit.”

“So, describe the competence connected to the habit?” I pressed.

“The competence is challenging my team. Challenging them to higher levels of performance, productivity, efficiency.”

“So, competence is about acquiring a new habit.”

Two Parts to a Skill, Knowledge is Only One

Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. Pre-register today. See you online. -Tom

“We were excited about this new hire,” Erica announced.

“Why all the excitement?” I asked.

“We were searching for just the right candidate, with experience on our software. We finally found one, he started last week,” she explained.

“So, why am I here?”

“We wondered if you could help us. Our new hire seems to know all the technical ins and outs of our software, but he can’t seem to solve even the simplest of problems with it.”

“How do you know he that he understands the software?” I probed.

“Well, he has two certifications in it, fundamentals and advanced. During the interview, he walked us through some of the software screens and he could explain what each of the menu items does. I was quite impressed,” Erica defended.

“So, he has the training, he can speak the language, you believe he has the skill. But there is still something missing. You know, skill comes in two parts. The first part is the technical knowledge. But the second part is practice. In the interview, did you ask questions about practice? Not, how does the software work, but what problems he solved using the software? How many problems he solved using the software? How big were the problems using the software? How different were the problems using the software? Did you have the candidate step you through some of the problems he solved?”

Skills Training, Necessary but Not Sufficient

“Look at this,” Phil exclaimed. “We just had the training on this last week. And I just pulled samples from the prototypes. Thank goodness this isn’t a production run. I ought to fire the whole lot of them.”

I winced. “Yes, I guess you could fire them, all eight of them. But then you would have to run the line yourself. I don’t know if you could keep up.”

“You know what I mean. I’m not going to fire anybody. I’m just frustrated. Maybe it’s our training department. Maybe we need to look at the training program.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “You know, when people acquire a skill, I mean really acquire a skill, it takes more than a training program.” Phil looked at me, like I was from Mars.

“When you were a kid, did you ever learn how to throw a ball?” I continued. Phil nodded. “So, someone showed you how to throw, and you threw one ball and then you were an expert?”

Phil laughed. He suddenly knew where I was going with this. “Of course not. I had to throw a hundred balls. I had to practice. My mom was my coach.”

“So, what do you think is missing from your training program?”

Phil’s eyes narrowed. His head began to nod. “Practice and coaching.” And with that, he scooped up the samples, turned on a dime and headed for the production floor.

I Don’t Care What the Candidate Knows

“I don’t understand,” Rachel quizzed. “When I interviewed this candidate for the position, he knew all the technical angles of the job. Now that I hired him, it’s like he is clueless.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“It’s the difference between talking a good game and actually playing the game,” she observed. “But when he talked about the job, he sounded like he had been doing this for years.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I repeated.

“Just knowing the job isn’t enough. You actually have to have done the job.”

“And your conclusion?” I nodded.

“Technical skill comes in two parts. One part is the technical knowledge. That is what I asked questions about. The other part of skill is practice. Execution takes practice. I didn’t ask interview questions about the practice part. How did the candidate practice the skill part? Frequency of practice? Depth of practice? Accuracy of practice? At the end of the day, I don’t care what the candidate knows, I care what the candidate can do.”

Skill Development is About Practice

“How different is this new department?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s different. The department I run now is full of technicians. This new role is all about merchandising and promotion. I will have to learn a lot,” Marsha replied.

“But, it sounds interesting to you?”

Marsha nodded. “Yes, it sounds interesting. More than that, I have always had an interest in marketing. I mean, I know I am in charge of a technical department, so this would be a challenge for me.”

“What will have to change?”

“There will be a learning curve, to get up to speed. There are lots of things I don’t know,” she admitted.

“Here’s the thing about any skill. There is always technical knowledge you need to know. But technical knowledge is learn-able. And, to get good at it, you have to practice. You may have an interest in marketing. You may have read a couple of books about it, but you have not practiced it. If you want to get good at it, you have to commit to practice.”

Candidates Talk the Talk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I’ve conducted interviews where we’ve asked behavioral questions, like “Please share a specific example in your last position where you led a team in accomplishing a specific task. Share what steps you took and any processes you put in place to be successful. What were any of your challenges?” These questions did help us see how the candidate thinks and leads and whether s/he’s innovative. But in the end, we have had some candidates who are really great at interviewing and talking the talk but when they get in the position they are not effective. So, are there any other questions or exercises we should use in interviews to further test the veracity of the candidate and their experience?

It’s all about the work. I see three possible problems.

Failure to Identify the Level of Work
The biggest mistake most companies make is underestimating the level of work. I see this over and over, so much so, that I finally wrote a book about it, Hiring Talent, Decoding Levels of Work in the Behavioral Interview. There is a level of problem solving and a level of decision making in every role. Here is my fast list of problem solving levels –

  • Level I – Trial and error
  • Level II – Experience, best practices
  • Level III – Root cause or comparative analysis
  • Level IV – Systems analysis, reinforcing and balancing systems
  • Level V – Internal systems and external systems analysis

Your candidate may have solved a problem in a former role, but what was the level of work required to solve the problem?

Failure to Get Specific
The manager-once-removed and the hiring manager have to spend time to truly think through the work. If the critical role requirement is to be the leader of a group of 13 software engineers, the interviewer has to listen for details, like how many people on the team? Full-time managerial role or limited project length? Match the details in the candidate’s experience with the details in the critical role requirements.

Failure to Practice
Most managers don’t get enough practice. They don’t interview candidates often enough to get good at it, and are seldom trained to conduct effective interviews. The candidates they face have been coached by headhunters, trained through role play, and are intent on beating the manager in a game of cat and mouse. Practice, practice, practice.