Thursday, October 22, 2009

When being slapdash can hurt your career growth

One of the things I feel privileged to have the opportunity to do as CEO is to counsel our managers on how to coach their employees. I'm long enough in the tooth now, and I've see enough different types of employees, that I can often get to the essence of what minor course correction is needed to help someone advance.

One of my managers brought me a classic case today. This is a case of a skill that you've honed is now getting in your way.

We have an employee who is very talented and very smart, but he's slapdash. People go to him for advice and product input. Customers talk to him about how to use the product - and then how to apply it to their problems. And he's quick in everything he does. I believe he's learned how to make decisions fast, crank work out fast and move onto the next thing - and it's a life skill to him.

However, he's now at the point where while 90% of his work is great, he's producing some work that affects customers and it's sloppy. The course correction that is needed is not unlike the advice I give my son every day - check your work!

The challenge is (which I can personally relate to) how to slow down enough to do the boring step of checking - for example that the memo you are writing is crisp, or the product feature you are specifying is right. The check can be as trivial as spelling and punctuation, it can be as complex as ensuring that a feature covers all cases that might come up.

The checking step is boring and there is little positive feedback for doing it, just negative feedback when it isn't done. And the very skill that served you well in college - how to get a mountain of work done in a short amount of time so there was time left to party - is exactly the skill that has to be moderated now.

I find in coaching that some of the most interesting growth spurts come when you can show someone that, as Sun Tsu said "your strength will become your greatest weakness" and help them overcome the flipside of their strength when it shows up. Then the employee is in control of when to use their learned skill, and when not to.

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