This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast. In this episode hosts Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson tackle soft skills, specifically leadership, as research shows senior executives are currently spending just 3% of their workday thinking about the future.
Bob Mosher (BM): I am ecstatic today to be joined by my dear
friend and mentor and business colleague, Dr. Con Gottfredson to talk soft
skills and leadership. One of the most common myths we get about performance
support is, “Oh. It’s procedural. Oh, yeah. We see all this procedural stuff.
The old days of embedded technology and software. I get it. I can see why an
EPSS would be helpful there. But there’s no way that performance support can be
helpful with supporting soft skills.”
Let’s run at this one in a powerful way because it is ridiculous that we
have that misunderstanding. Where do you think that comes from, Con?
Con Gottfredson (CG): Well, I think many people’s initial thought
about performance support is that it is a job aid that helps you do something.
But goodness gracious, leadership is anything but soft. And we do know that
leaders have tactical work that they have to do and that’s crucial for us to
understand, because that work can be documented as tasks. They are just
principle-based tasks, not procedural.
BM: Well, and I think this is where leadership
training falls short. Just look at how many competency-based leadership
programs there are—it’s not that we don’t agree that leaders have competencies—but
the problem is that for such an important role, for such a crucial training
program to any organization, this is one that I think leaves its learners
lacking, or wanting maybe more than any other program. Leaders exhibit
competencies through performance. Through behavior.
CG: Right! I can’t imagine a leader walking out
of a course on being approachable and then going, “Okay, I’m going to be
approachable right now.” Being approachable has to do with how you are in the
context of the work that you do. Just like all the other competencies out
there, they are applied in the doing part of leadership, not in
BM: “Soft skill” implies “soft and squishy” by
its nature. “Soft skill” implies that, to your point, it’s not a hard skill. Let’s
get away from “soft skills” because we don’t call the other area “hard skills.”
The other area is—I get it—procedural based. Why can’t we call leadership
CG: Right! And frankly, leaders also do
procedural work. And sometimes there is a task that is both procedural and
principle based. So, from a world of instructional design and all of that, it
doesn’t break apart so clean as “Ah! This is a soft skill and this is a hard
skill!” No. It’s, “We do it all.”
BM: You know what, Con? Because we don’t
understand the workflow of a leader in a lot of organizations, one thing we
hear a lot is that they get mired in the procedural stuff and they never do get
When they go to leadership trainings, it’s about the cerebral stuff. It’s
about the principles they should be exhibiting. It’s about the competencies
they should internalize and do. But then they go back to their desks and they
get caught up in forms and feedback, in scheduling and hiring, and so on because
the organization hasn’t separated processes and procedures of being a leader
from the values and competencies they hope they exhibit. And they make them do
this huge, quantum cognitive leap between the principles of leadership and the
reality of leading in the workflow. And so, our RWA fits here, Doesn’t it?
Rapid Workflow Analysis fits in this context.
CG: Well, frankly, most of the work that we do
for our clients is in “soft skills”, in that principle based work. There are
very few projects that we work on that there isn’t principle-based support. And
I think people have not had a lot of experience in developing the instructions
for applying principles in accomplishing work. And that’s where it gets a
I remember a project. We had done a Rapid Workflow Analysis. We had mapped
the workflow. And we had these principle-based tasks. And the team that I was
working with said, “There are no steps!”
And I said, “Well, okay. Suppose I’m brand-new and you’re going to train me
in this, what’s the first thing that I do?” And they told me. And I said,
“That’s a step!”
And then I said, “After I’ve done this, what next?” And they said, “Well,
you would do this.” And I go, “That’s a step! It’s a principle-based step.” And
they got it.
BM: Let’s broaden this a bit before we go deeper.
Sales training. Principle based.
BM: A lot of soft skills on how to handle
objections, how to make your pitch. And the reality is, just maybe, Con, a lot
of sales reps fail at becoming good sales folks because we don’t take the
principles of selling and lay them out in a tactical way in which they can take
those and put them into a sales process—in a way that’s meaningful and deliberate
CG: Yeah, and you know, Bob, for new leaders,
they are especially in need of tactical help so that they can lift themselves
above that, as experienced leaders are able to do. Most experienced leaders
have figured out the tactical stuff. They’ve learned how to delegate. They’ve
figured that out and are therefore able to free up higher order processing and
thinking that leaders need to have the time to do. That’s where all leaders
need to be, and we need to help them be able to step away from this more
tactical work with a digital coach—an EPSS.
BM: Tell me more about this journey of
competencies. They have roamed the leadership landscape forever. There are organizations
that sell them. There are organizations that have competency models. And
again—I want to make sure we’re careful here. We’re not saying that we do not
feel that leadership is not backed by, and supported by, competencies.
Candidly, any job is supported by competencies.
CG: Absolutely! They certainly need to be
taught. There’s nothing wrong with teaching those attributes, or those
competencies, and focusing in and helping them learn how to express those and
so forth. But, they also need context. They need to be able to take those
competencies and in the context of their work be reminded of those competencies
to have them reinforced in the context of where they make sense.
Every project that we have worked with where there are competencies
involved, we identify the tactical work that the leader does and then we map
them to the competencies. And that informs us as we write and develop the
steps, the principle-based steps of any given task associated with leadership.
Because we tie to those competencies. We want to reference them. And then, if
they are struggling—they have a “quick check.”
This is when you get that feeling of, “Well, that didn’t go well.”
You then pull up a “quick check” and move through it and I identify where you
went wrong. That ties me to the competency, or the competencies, associated and
then I’m able to go in with performance support and access and remind myself of
BM: Let’s be sure that we review what you just
said because this is a critical part and another myth of performance support.
And that is—unless it’s embedded in the moment, pops up on my screen, appears
on my mobile, or embeds in software at the moment of application—if it can’t
meet that immediate need, then it’s not performance support.
We’ve learned through the help of another colleague, Allison Rossett, that
the journey to support is not one of only immediacy in the moment.
Because adults can process, plan, and also remediate—there really are three
phases of where performance support steps in—particularly in leadership.
BM: There’s the “Planning Before.” Minutes
before a performance appraisal. These types of things that we know are
scheduled and will happen, such as an end of year review.
Of course, there’s “During” if that’s possible. But often leadership is
face time. It’s very “in the moment.” There’s an intimacy to it where
performance support may not be applicable.
But “After,” in remediation, when a moment goes bad, or you did something just
okay and you want to get better—it’s here where the digital coach comes into
play. Just after that moment ends and I walk away, my ability to refresh,
associate, remediate, and get better the next time I do it is powerful. So
“Before,” some “During,” but also “After” are places where things like a
digital coach and performance support can support those in leadership in a
CG: Yeah! And Bob, what you just described is a
continuous improvement plan. If I can plan and go in and then do it, and then
check myself against that, and then find the feedback and the remediation that
I need, I’m on a journey of continually improving.
BM: So, performance support. Soft skills.
There’s potential here.
CG: More than potential. It’s what we need.
There is so much waste going on because we stop short of application. We train
leaders in these wonderful principles, these crucial principles of leadership,
and then we leave it to them to figure out how to implement that in their
day-to-day work. And we can’t do that. We shouldn’t do that.
We have an opportunity here to extend what it is that we do in the name of
developing leaders into the flow of work; to allow them to be able to know
where and when they can apply those principles or those attributes that we’ve
identified as crucial in the leadership process.
BM: I couldn’t have said it better and I’m not
going to try!
Listen to the
full episode for Bob and Con’s full conversation on developing leaders in the
flow of work.
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