Are You Setting Yourself Up for the Gap Trap?

By June 15, 2018 February 4th, 2019 General
Gap Trap

To avoid it, spend half your time on “people development.” Yes, half.

I like to say that a manager exists for two reasons: to produce results and to grow people. And because a manager, by nature, produces results through the people he or she manages, developing those people into better producers is crucial to improving outcomes.

In other words, if you’re a manager, people development is fully half of your job.

Most managers I encounter aren’t giving anywhere near half their effort to growing their people. They’re focused entirely on producing results. The irony is, if these managers spent more time developing their people, they wouldn’t have to work so hard producing results. That’s because when you skip people development, you get caught in the Gap Trap. Let me explain.

Let’s say that this year in your business your team lacks the capacity to produce the results that senior management expects. As a good manager, you will likely work hard to make up for that. You will roll up your own sleeves to do the work required to close the gap between what your team can produce and what needs to be produced. You’ll be so busy doing that, however, that you won’t find any time all year to train anyone else to develop the sorts of skills that are enabling you to produce those results.

When your company’s leadership raises expectations even higher next year, what will you do? Your team is no better equipped than it was to fill in that gap. Either you will now have to work even harder filling it yourself, or you will need to hire more help. As the graphic here illustrates, it’s not a sustainable business model.

What does it mean to grow people?

Some businesses value having a pipeline of junior employees ready to step into more senior roles. I agree that makes a lot of sense. But when you’re helping your people to grow and develop, you’re not just preparing them for advancement in the hierarchy. You’re also improving your organizational output by increasing the value of its assets.

A management pro avoids the Gap Trap by producing results and growing people simultaneously and infinitely.

Here’s a useful formula that can help you understand why continuous people development is imperative:

(Skill + Behaviors) x Effort = Results

When it comes to producing results, effort is a finite resource; there are only so many hours in a day and only so many ways to improve workplace efficiencies. But I believe for most people, there’s no end to how much you can amplify the other side of the equation. Improving the skill and behaviors of your people is the best way to attain greater results.

There are several approaches to developing a person’s skill. One-on-one coaching, formal training, and delegating more challenging work to people can all be effective ways to sharpen and improve skills. It is a manager’s job to provide people with opportunities to grow and improve their skills.

Behavioral modifications can also achieve greater results with the same amount of effort. A good manager will observe employees’ behaviors and coach them in improvements.

Say, for instance, that a junior designer tends to get bogged down choosing typefaces and colors for your marketing materials. It takes her a week to produce a postcard that could be designed in a day because she spends an inordinate amount of time perusing fonts and palettes. A professional manager will help her change that behavior by putting limits on her choices, coaching her to trust her gut instinct and make quicker decisions, or find a way to minimize her fear of making the wrong choice.

In other cases, you might get better or faster results when you coach one employee to spend more time listening and less time talking in team meetings, and another to contribute their thoughts during meetings instead of waiting to speak up about their ideas privately afterward.

Here’s the bottom line, when it comes to the skills and behaviors of your employees: If you’re getting marginal performance from the people who work for you, chances are you haven’t done enough to develop their potential. And if you don’t shift your focus to growing your people, then you are headed for the Gap Trap.

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