Inspire Team Members To Leap

Last week we looked at the fifth step to building transformational teams. That being amplifying your team’s mastery. Today we are going to look at the 6th step: Inspire Team Members To Leap. Or in particular how your masters make the leap to new learning curves?

A learning curve can be compared to the seasons of the year: a new beginning sprouting in spring, the tipping point reached with rapid growth and productivity for summer, the graceful slowdown of fall, and the inevitable yielding to the frozen winter at the very top of the curve.

Without a subsequent spring – a new curve for growth to begin again – employees get stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario, in which they repeat the same snowy day over and over again. Many highly proficient workers are living a version of Bill Murray’s endlessly repeated day. You have a choice: You can leave them in place and watch them suffer a gradual, even precipitous, decline in productivity; you can watch them abruptly depart for a warmer professional climate. Or, you can find a new learning curve for them to climb.

Taking charge around the who, what, when, where and how of these leaps is critical. Should your people proactively lobby for a jump to a new curve when they reach the top? Yes. But remember, it’s a lot harder for them to come to you and say “I’m at the top of my curve, I need to try something new” than you think it is. The boss holds most of the cards in this situation, and an employee may feel that asking to jump is tantamount to asking for a push into unemployment. You hold the power: Is the top of the curve a place where people decide to leave because they know there’s nothing more? Is it a spot where they outlive their usefulness and become organizational deadweight? Or is it the launching pad for even greater effectiveness?

If you haven’t already, it’s time to sit down with your high-performing employee and work with them to figure out their next move. During the employee’s ascent up the present curve, you have gathered and analysed data as part of the discovery-driven process of transformation. You’ve used this data to calibrate performance and maximize their success throughout the sweet spot. At the high end of the curve, this discovery achieved critical mass and has been utilized to congratulate them on what they have achieved and what they want to learn and do in the future.

Now that you’ve determined your employee has or is about to top out on their learning curve, it’s time to come to their AID.

Review what your employee has accomplished. Recognise them for it and give them the opportunity to bask in their accomplishments and celebrate. Now evaluate what has happened because they were in the role. What abilities – both their acquired skills and their native gifts, or superpowers – helped them excel? How and why have they succeeded? Applaud them for their performance.

Talk openly with your star performer about the concept of the S-shaped learning curve. Explain that when mastery is reached, they will be on the brink of a new opportunity. Work with them to identify opportunities in-house that they might be interested in pursuing. What is the reasonable next step that aligns with the experience that they have gained? What are the goals they have in mind? What kind of challenges do you think, and do they think, would keep them innovating and producing? Make a commitment to help them jump to a new curve within 6-9 months. Let them know that soon their restless brain will be at the bottom of a new curve with lots of room for growth. Ask them to commit in return to a strong finish in their current role.

Facilitating the jump to a new curve can feel risky; managers face the prospect of a giant hole on their team and a consequent loss of productivity. But they will face this prospect anyway if their talent roams away in search of greater pastures. When you put the interests of your employees first, you serve your own best interests. Deliver on the promise inherent in your relationship: they’ve given their all toward the team’s success. Now help them jump to a new curve where they can continue to succeed. The central challenge is trust.

Now, let’s flip it a bit. Instead of thinking about pushing against, just think push. Like pushing people to jump to a new learning curve. When you hoard talent, you pull in, you take. When you develop people, you push them – and you – forward. What you give, you will eventually get back. It doesn’t have to be a big jump forward. It could be lateral, backward or even a big shake up.

Because CEO’s, and C-suiters in general, are people too and subject to boredom, if you don’t transform yourself, someone is likely to do it for you. Marshall Goldsmith, who has coached more than 150 CEO’s, advises clients, “It’s better to stay one year too short than one day too long. Don’t overstay your welcome. As a CEO, set a certain time, make your contribution and leave. Don’t hang on. And be developing your successor…Leave with style and dignity, and leave on your terms…You’re a CEO ten years? You’re throwing the dice.”


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