Liz Wiseman, President of The Wiseman Group and best-selling author, returns to the Global Leadership Summit this year. Her previous Summit talk, Multipliers, was one of the most memorable talks from GLS 2013. Since then, she has been named in the prestigious Thinkers 50 list as one of the top business thinkers in the world.
It didn’t take long for us to realise that Liz’s new book, Rookie Smarts would provide valuable information for leaders attending the Summit. Most of us have both rookies and veterans on our teams. Liz’s research examines the advantages that rookies bring to a team as well as some of the pitfalls of experience. Her conclusion: all leaders – rookies and veterans – can gain a more agile learning mindset.
Below is an extract from Liz’s Harvard Business Review post: The Difference Between Coaching Rookies and Veterans.
After years of playing at the top of his game, Tiger Woods hit a rough patch, struggling to win major tournaments. In February 2015, he pulled out of the Honda Classic, declaring his play “not tournament-ready.” Paul Azinger, ESPN sports analyst, claimed that Woods had become mechanical and “over-engineered himself out of being great.” The commentators suggested that Woods didn’t need learning; he needed un-learning.
Depending on where a professional athlete is in his career – a rookie new to the game, a star at the peak of his career, or a seasoned player, like Woods, who is struggling to get back on track – he requires very different coaching. The same is true in business.
Experienced professionals have deep knowledge, credibility and confidence. But their knowledge can interfere with their learning. They can miss important shifts in the market simply because the telltale signs don’t fit nicely within their models. Having seen the patterns, they can easily overlook errors or dismiss aberrant results. They also receive little feedback because they’re performing relatively well and others assume they’ll figure out how to improve the less-than-effective portions of their work on their own.
On the other hand, when someone is new to a task, they have lower levels of confidence, which means they will tend toward caution, taking small steps. They lack knowledge but are more willing to ask questions, listen and seek expertise and guidance from their colleagues. They are eager to act, but can make rookie mistakes.
Both scenarios can lead to top performance. (In fact, my research has shown that in knowledge industries, rookies tend to outperform experienced staff in innovation and speed). But, they necessitate very different coaching styles. For example, your inexperienced people need support to channel their efforts, while your more experienced team might need encouragement to get out of a rut. Here are several ways you can adjust your approach based on where someone is on the learning curve:
1. Giving feedback. It goes without saying that both rookies and veterans need feedback, just different types. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that rookies seek and respond to positive feedback, whereas veterans seek and respond to negative feedback. Inexperienced staff are desperately looking for clues that they’re on track. So shower them with messages that they’re headed in the right direction. Tell them what they’re doing well, reaffirm their actions and help them build confidence.
While your rookies need validation, your experienced employees need calibration – corrective coaching to let them know when they’re veering off course. Just like a thermostat receives periodic readings of actual room temperature, experienced professionals require a steady flow of information to maintain high performance. Give your seasoned staffers more feedback than they appear to need and let them know where they are missing the mark and need to make adjustments.
2. Providing direction. Rookies tend to work fast, but they can get too focused on the wrong problem. A commanding officer in the U.S. Navy said, “Rookies are all thrust and no vector.” They’re full of energy and willing to do the work, but they need to be pointed in the right direction. Help them understand the rules of engagement and lock in on the right target. If they start to wander, try these questions: What is the fundamental goal? Who is your most important customer? What’s an achievable win toward this goal?
Experienced staffers typically know how to identify the right problem. However, they can get stuck running the same old plays. Coach them to see new, more efficient paths to the goal. Or help them improvise by using the resources at their immediate disposal rather than waiting for the typical resources to arrive. Use questions such as: What’s the simplest route to the goal? What could you accomplish with the tools and resources available today?
3. Making connections. Your rookie employees will typically have weak networks, so introduce them to experts who can provide guidance. With that said, there may be times when you want to undercoach them. For example, Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com, told me he is careful not to tell new sales people (many of whom are new college graduates) where to start in the sales process. He says, “In the absence of knowing, they often just start the conversation at the top of the organisation.”
While your experienced people typically have more established connections, their networks might be echo chambers that bounce back the same old ideas and yield shallow, inbred thinking. Your most valuable role as a coach might be helping them see what they can’t see on their own. Help them reach out to new constituents and elevate new voices – especially those who will question the status quo. Ask: Who is on the fringe of this issue who might have a perspective we need to understand? Who can you consult with who would challenge this point of view?
When you adjust your coaching to each person’s experience level, you’ll keep your team performing at their best and realize the highest ROI for your investment. Coach your rookies so they can get into the game and contribute immediately. Be a mirror (or game film) for your experienced staff so they see the realities of their performance and make critical adjustments. And remember that you might just have some “Tigers” on your team – players who need to get their game back on – so help them shed the burdens of success, unlearn, and regain their once-natural brilliance.