Often when I meet with managers, they tell me of a few employees whose overall performance is poor but who are the experts in a certain process or aspect of the department. When I ask them why they haven’t disciplined them or fired them, they tell me the person has a skillset or piece of knowledge that nobody else has. They would rather tolerate the poor performance than get rid of the person and have to start over. Plus, they say, it’s impossible to learn the job they’ve actually developed the skills to do.
Now I get it if the person is a brain surgeon then OJT won’t cut it, but for most other jobs, the process probably hasn’t been defined enough for another to teach, much less learn.
But that can change. You probably have a certain job that you learned and can now do without thinking about it, but yet if pressed, would have a hard time teaching someone else to do. If that’s true, and you care about your organization or your company, it’s up to you to define that process and learn to teach it to others.
The reason it seems hard is that much of what we do best is sort of automatic. We have a series of steps we really don’t think about, we just do. We’ve also developed a keen sense of the situation and the environment we’re dealing with and have learned to factor that in. What this gives us then is the appearance that we’re successful because of a “gut” reaction and a natural ability.
That’s not really the case though. If we break it down, we can probably reverse-engineer our steps and document what we actually do and the decisions we have to make. Once we do that, we can map it out and then teach it to others. Here are some suggestions:
- Ask yourself how you learned to do the particular job that seems so hard to teach. Go back through the scenarios and situations in which you learned. Think about what you learned through your mistakes.
- Plot that task then in its most stable scenario – when everything goes right. Use a flowchart if you have to.
- Now on your flowchart, put in bubbles and arrows to show every possible anomaly that throws this process off.
- For each of those anomalies, put in your method of solution. Note the effects that these anomalies and solutions have on the stable process and note how you deal with those.
- Finally, re-draw your flowchart in a neat fashion and in a manner that you could use to teach others.
When you look at it, you’ll realize that what you do really isn’t from a “gut” ability, it’s simply a process you’ve done so many times that it’s second nature. And because you’re so good at it and it seems so confusing to others, everyone assumes it’s not teachable and therefor you’re indispensable. Which is good for you. Provided you are a good employee who does their job.
But if you’re a manager and you need this done, it now becomes a matter of compliance with your underperforming employee. By you pushing them to do this exercise, they may see that their job is threatened. If so, they may leave (which is painful but good) or they may straighten up (which is better). Either way you send a clear message.
If you’re an employee, prove your value by teaching your skills to others. It will free you up to learn new things. If you’re a manager, press your employees to do this and start weeding out your poor performers. While it seems as though your job is to go to meetings and send emails, it’s really about developing your team. Do your job and the other jobs get done.