How to teach the missing basics to today’s young talent

Global business advisor Bruce Tulgan offers his expert advice on bridging the soft-skills gap.

How to teach the missing basics to today’s young talent
Self-evaluation: Regularly assessing one’s own thoughts, words, and actions - against clear meaningful standards; and one’s own performance against specific goals, timelines, guidelines and parameters.
What soft skill drives learning and growth more than any other?
Regular productive honest self-evaluation against clear standards: That is not only the fundamental building block for teaching/learning the rest of the self-management skills, is the fundamental building block for teaching/learning all of the soft skills, not to mention every hard skill. Not to mention practically any other kind of significant learning and growth.  When it comes to continuous improvement of any kind, self-evaluation is the beginning, middle, and end. 
Consider starting with some big picture assessment tools – tools that profile personality types, interests, values, and/or communication style. Try to identify (and vet) several of them, the more the better.
There is an endless supply of reasonably easy to access off-the shelf tools, including:
  • Probably the best known personality profiling tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is a proprietary tool that separates people into 16 types based on how they take in information, how they make decisions, whether they draw energy from internal sources or external, and whether they prefer to keep issues open or move them toward closure.
  • There is another personality profile I like very much – a model on what I would call the “groovy” end of the spectrum – called the “Enneagram” – which separates people into nine categories based on differences in what ultimately motivates a person on the deepest level.
  • In the middle of the spectrum, there are many very interesting profiles of communication styles using different frameworks of evaluation – direct/indirect, rational/emotional, assertive/receptive, aggressive/passive/passive-aggressive/manipulative.
Most can now be done on-line with automated reporting. Or you can often print out an assessment (or buy a kit) so it can be done on paper with an old-fashioned pen. Some are best delivered verbally with an ‘interviewer.’
You don’t have to choose which big picture assessment tool is best because you should have them do several different self-assessments, using several different models: Finding one’s “type” according to multiple different models is a great way to getting multiple perspectives on one’s self in very short order.
Do several of them:
One option is to take them one at a time. Have your Gen Zers complete a different self-assessment tool every two weeks. In the intervening two weeks between assessments, ask them to really digest the results. 
The second option is to take them through a self-assessment ‘boot camp’ by completing a series of self-assessments in a very short timeframe.
Either way, just the process of completing a self-evaluation tool usually has a significant impact and of course the results are usually quite illuminating, especially when one has the results from multiple models to consider. Using the results as a tool for one-on-one coaching will take it to higher level still. Try to use their individual results as a springboard to provide some coaching style feedback along the way.
Once you get employees familiar and comfortable with self-assessments, they might find they like it. If they really catch the bug, there is a good chance they will go on-line and find any number of self-evaluations that are more (or less) to their liking. You might even consider assigning them to go on-line and do some self-directed learning by finding a number of self-evaluation tools, trying them out, and letting you know which ones they think are best. Over time, you will build up a considerable catalogue of these tools.
Get everybody measuring everything… at least everything that matters.
More and more organizations are integrating into their cultures a regular practice of “measuring.”
The question is: What are they in the habit of measuring? Too often what gets measured most is removed from what individuals feel they can actually control. So the “numbers” they are always hearing about don’t tell them very much about their own performance and how they themselves can specifically improve.
When it comes to using self-awareness to drive continuous improvement, the key is measuring concrete actions within the control of the individual.
Once you get your employees into the habit of regular self-evaluation, take it the next level by having them start measuring the concrete actions within their own control --- the ones that matter --- every step of the way.
In other words, teach them to keep score for themselves on everything they actually do at work. Help them create their own self-evaluation tools to monitor, measure and document everything they do – or even better you can help them create their own self-evaluation tools:
  • For every project, there should be a project plan, including every goal and deadline along the way, complete with guidelines and parameters for every goal. Why not teach employees to use project plans as tools for ongoing self-evaluation? Every step of the way, they can track where they are on every goal.
  • For every recurring task or responsibility, there should be standard operating procedures, complete with checklists. Why not teach employees to use those standard operating procedures and checklists as tools for ongoing self-evaluation? Every step of the way, they can track their progress on every task, one “check” at a time.
  • To measure activities, log every activity.
  • To measure time, create schedules and time-logs.
If you can get them in the habit of using these kinds of self-evaluation tools to monitor their own performance – measuring their own concrete actions against clear measurable goals – you will put them squarely on the path to continuous improvement. 
These tools also give you a great tool to guide your ongoing guidance, direction, support, and coaching when it comes to discussing their ongoing work. Their scorekeeping will double as a great source of ongoing real-time documentation.

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