Over time, people have heard me speak to or have read this quote and asked, “What does ‘somewhere between’ mean?” It’s a great question, and one that alludes to a collaborative moment in which two leaders agreed to their most important objective: Developing Others.
Chef Scott was fond of saying we were “in the Development Business”, his subtle reminder that to be considered for a Next Level position, you must have first developed a replacement for your current role.
My contribution was that training someone to competence is only part of the equation. Our ambition was to establish a Development Culture, wherein the pursuit of individual aspirations aligned intuitively with business objectives.
This filtered down to a simple equation: Learning and development efforts generate awareness, that when nurtured and supported by Learning Leaders, and allowed to foster through experiential application, impact behavior and performance.
Which sounded great at first, I mean, look how many 25 cent words I fit into those last two statements. When I was finished admiring my words, Chef Scott had his own one-word follow-up question:
A Proper Approach to Learning
The ambition is to increase retention through intention.
By generating a climate of collaborative accountability, learning participants benefit from advance awareness of the intended value of a learning opportunity. In this model, leaders and learning participants agree to engage:
Before the Learning Opportunity – to discuss expectations, creating a proactive emotional connection to the outcome.
This is as simple as a leader asking, “What are you expecting to learn?”, then providing additional guidance as necessary based on their participant’s response. Framing the intended value in advance will help to maintain focus and attention throughout the learning experience.
After the Learning Opportunity – to review key takeaways, discuss the “how-what”: How will you apply what you have learned moving forward? This drives home the original intention.
Then commit to follow-up review and discussion as appropriate to measure retention . . . through application.
A spirit of collaboration throughout the cycle of learning influences behavior and has a greater chance of producing results. Participants understand how the learning relates to their world. They ask informed questions related to practical application and to clarify comprehension, recognizing that upon their return, their leader will be waiting to discuss and respond.
Learning represents change, whether it applies to changing jobs, roles, behavior, or influencing performance. Realize that left on their own, your talent will rely on previous experience and habits to discover the path of least resistance. Not in a malicious way, more as a means of surviving a change process, maintaining balance, and seeking a sense of place.
One method in which Learning Leaders curate learning is by investing a patient appreciation for previous experience, especially as it applies to changes in technology. Old habits and customary approaches to efficiency can be difficult to overcome.
Perhaps even more relevant is when welcoming new talent to the team. Although hearing “In my previous position” may grate on your last nerve, there is considerable value in having a fresh perspective of a familiar landscape. Ultimately, though, seeking a new normal is paramount.
If old habits or beliefs begin to influence present behavior, inhibiting growth by contradicting your standards, procedures, or brand values, corrective feedback is required.
Provide corrective feedback that is firm and works to reinforce standards. Invest a moment in describing how performance relates to the expectations of your customer. Review that innovation and intuition have their place, but the overall consistency of product delivery promotes loyalty.
Tall Tim Example: We had hired a cook whose talent was destined for our Fine Dining restaurant. Fortunately for the team, he accepted a position within our casual restaurant until the next position opened.
That casual restaurant featured a nightly Blue Plate Special, over-sized dinners at a family friendly price. One example was Roast Turkey, served with a generous portion of mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread stuffing and steamed green beans. All made from scratch and presented on an oval plate that when served, looked like you had cycled through the Thanksgiving Buffet twice.
What was presented in the expo window that evening was a masterpiece. First, it was served on a round plate. Next, the turkey was stacked around a double-decker centerpiece of mashed potatoes piled on top of stuffing. The gravy had been thinned with white wine and sat like a reflective pool around the turkey. The green beans were sautéed in bacon fat, with bits of crumpled bacon now taunting us as a desired, but forbidden garnish.
“I thought I’d dress things up a bit” was the cook’s justification.
While the aroma had us drifting toward a state of partial nirvana, I reminded him this was not the standard presentation. It was delicious, it was beautiful, it was a clear indication of his talent and potential . . . it was not what the customer at Table #83 was expecting. Consistent execution supported both the brand and product that the restaurant represented.
But those green beans were heavenly.
Connect Learning to a Higher Purpose
Remember standards are not suggestions, they are the skeletal framework around which your beautiful brand and amazing culture are built. This applies across Generations, across skill levels, and across years of experience. Simple.
Be firm, be fair, and be consistent when enforcing standards.
Society today has embraced the concepts of being critiqued and evaluated. People will respond positively, given that it is coming from a position of fairness and consistency.
If I could add one more “be” to the mix . . . be aware of what the standards are. It sounds simple, but it is difficult to maintain collaborative accountability if there is not an overall awareness of what standard performance looks, sounds, or feels like.
Tall Tim Example: We’ll stay in the Food & Beverage discipline for the moment, and describe feedback provided by the new Supervisor of a luxury resort’s Pool Café. She had been in position for about three months and was participating in a classroom program that signified the formal end of New Talent On-Boarding.
When asked to identify another member of the team that inspired her, she gleefully offered one of the servers she had shadowed. Please bear in mind this café also provided service to the several hundred pool chairs and assortment of cabanas that encircled the pool.
“He’s amazing!” she proclaimed, “So engaging with the guests, and he never writes anything down. He just commits it to memory. It’s incredible, I hope someday I’ll be able to do that.”
After class, I asked her to describe the standards of service that apply to her outlet. Within her accurate recital was the standard that orders were to be written on the appropriate form, prior to being entered into the system.
When I inquired as to the purpose behind that standard, she was once again accurate in highlighting (a) to reduce mistakes, (b) ensure food runners could deliver items to appropriate guests seamlessly (c) to make the guest feel they were being served by the entire team, not just one individual.
I then asked if she had provided corrective feedback to the server, she said she had not.
“I was too impressed with his ability to remember that much information.”
Talent is impressive. Talent being used within a system of standards, to achieve an elevated level of performance, is even more impressive.
Learning Leaders are aware of the difference.
Be A Roll-Out Role Model
Learning Leaders are not just cognizant, they are fully cognizant of their responsibility to role model expected behaviors and performance. Facial expressions, gestures, posture, verbiage, grooming standards, everything is subject to the scrutiny of those looking to you for guidance.
This also applies to behaviors and standards of performance generated through learning opportunities. Embrace that your team will be looking for validation in your behavior and performance.
You may find experience fluctuating between being a learning participant and being a learning leader. Organizations will undergo adjustments and re-alignments that may seem questionable or curious from your perspective. This comes with the territory of being a leader and you will look to your senior leaders for validation and guidance.
Recall our patient appreciation for change, give yourself a moment, then cross the threshold into a new normal.
Tall Tim Example: A popular Brand introduced a refined Brand Identity. This would seem business as usual, except that this was the third such evolution in a seven-year period. The purpose for change itself had been researched thoroughly and followed a very structured vision for significant impact.
We facilitated a series of roll-out sessions to build awareness of and appreciation for the change process. For many it seemed like just another flavor of the month.
Not for one operational leader, though. Listening to the comments and feedback from both her peers and staff, she elected to seek out a more informed authority . . . me. I had not been involved with the brand re-development process, but she knew I would be familiar with the intuitive science behind the philosophies.
So, we met. She asked me questions, shared her insights and opinions, asked more questions, and then went to work.
The next time I saw her, she had completely immersed herself in the new Brand Identity. This was reflected in her wardrobe, her language, key references, and phrases that were highlighted in the roll-out material. She had incorporated innovative techniques and mini competitions to help promote the change process. I was amazed.
What was even more impressive was the change in behavior and complete buy-in from her team. While other teams struggled with accomplishing more than one element of change, her team had worked through the entire gamut, even down to attitude and collateral. Brilliant.
Exemplary results from a talented Learning Leader.
It’s our time to close out the experience and ask, “How can we use this?”
This is the question we ask proactively to set the intention, then again following a learning experience to drive home retention. Completing our commitment to a climate of collaborative accountability is becoming a Learning Leader, recognizing how to curate learning, connect learning to a higher purpose, and to always role model appropriate behavior and performance.