Can We Overcome the Skills Gap By Copying Professional Athletes? Absolutely!

Team collaborating and overcoming their skills gaps

LeBron James is widely regarded in the NBA as the greatest basketball player in his generation, if not one of the greatest to ever play. James doesn’t excel because he’s the best shooter in the game, or the best ball-handler. Instead, LeBron James has been able to dominate for over a decade because of his extremely high basketball IQ.

In fact, Shaka Smart, a head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, said he knew LeBron would be great one day, but not because of his athleticism and physical gifts. As Smart says, “It was unbelievable what you could hit him with, and the way he could take it in and transfer it into what he did on the court.” LeBron, according to Smart, has an incredible ability to learn something quickly and apply it immediately – even to pass it on to his teammates.

In the 80s, a lot of sportscasters said that Magic Johnson made his teammates better. Johnson has since paid that compliment forward, saying of James, “He’s special because he makes his teammates better and yet still plays at a high level himself.”

How does LeBron James use his greatest strength, his intelligence, to make his teammates better?

After each game, win or lose, a team gathers in a room to enjoy popcorn and watch game film. The benefit of this practice is that in the heat of a game, James can’t stop and explain to his teammates what his brilliant mind is seeing. But in a film session, LeBron can pause, point out, and pontificate on the various weaknesses he thinks his team can exploit. Essentially, LeBron is great because he has a knack for finding one small area to focus his talents on, and is constantly working to refine his skills.

Beyond that, however, is that film sessions allow LeBron to show, or rather teach, his teammates how every team can be beat. That sort of knowledge transfer is invaluable, and it is the sole reason why professional sports teams watch film after games.

How does this apply to you?

Chances are, you don’t have the absolute greatest mind in the industry working for you like the Cleveland Cavaliers do, but you do have extremely intelligent people working in your organization. You have people that know how to make your business succeed, and know how their role can help your organization achieve its biggest goals.

What we’re getting at is how you can implement “micro-developments” – a quick, easy, and sure-fire way to facilitate knowledge transfer from your high-potentials to your entry-level employees. You know, the employees who are ready to impress, hungry to contribute, and unsure of how they can best do that?

Micro-developments are small, quantifiable moments when an employee learns a new skill or new process that makes them slightly better at their job. They’re the process by which the nearly intangible qualities and nuances of a role are secured to memory, and they give your employees new ways to contribute better work.

In my role as a Sales Development Manager at BizLibrary, I’ve seen firsthand how facilitating micro-development sessions has helped new employees find ways to succeed. I can empathize with new employees who are facing unfamiliar challenges with every phone call.

There is also a wide skill gap between new and experienced employees, and while each opportunity is a chance to grow, I want new employees to hit the ground running just a little faster.

I’ve started by hosting short, collaborative meetings, where employees could discuss their challenges, and see how others in their roles were able to solve these challenges.

By collaborating and focusing on just one issue at a time, knowledge transfer could happen lightning fast.

In fact, experienced employees were learning new things that made them slightly better in their roles as well. As we work to refine how we develop employees, I wanted to share with you some of our findings about micro-developments.

Micro-Developments Are Often Social

Micro-developments usually are a peer-to-peer form of knowledge transfer. That makes creating a collaborative environment a catalyst for micro-developments.

Your highest-performing employees, your LeBron James-caliber workers, can make their co-workers better, but they need a ‘film session,’ or a forum to teach within. Hosting a meeting with the purpose of transfering knowledge is more effective than traditional peer-to-peer coaching, because employees often don’t like the idea of getting coached by their co-workers.

In a one-on-one setting, that feeling of resentment can be magnified, because it makes people feel like they’re being singled out by their co-workers.

However, when everyone is actively encouraged to share information, people are far more open to hear new strategies. When employees share struggles they’re facing, they’re asking for ways to overcome challenges. Hosting a ‘film session’ of your own is essential for your team to learn the nuances and soft skills that will help them be great.

Micro-Developments are Crucial for People in New Roles

Because of the relatively short amount of time that many employees remain in an entry-level role, managers are often onboarding new employees, which leads to skills gaps. Furthermore, industry knowledge and job-specific knowledge can take a long time to develop, and according to Training Industry Quarterly, it takes between one and two years on average for a new hire to reach full productivity.

That’s not because companies are terrible at onboarding, it’s because without extensive knowledge of the industry, it’s nearly impossible for someone to achieve full productivity. Knowledge is the tool that employees need to truly adapt to their roles.

Best Practices

We’ve found that micro-developments are best implemented by taking a larger topic and breaking it down into smaller bites. For instance, a problem like standardizing procedures can be broken down by asking questions like, “Where are inefficiencies occurring? How can we make our processes work better for us?”

These open-ended, solution-oriented questions encourage collaboration and uncover solutions.

Your role is to keep asking questions, and allow your employees to come up with their own answers. Do this once or twice a week, and limit the time to roughly 15 minutes. By following this model, you can have your employees actively discussing solutions to challenges while also helping new employees learn from experienced ones.

Finally, by giving your tenured employees opportunities to coach, you’re providing them chances to develop their own leadership skills, preparing them for future success.

Bonus points to anyone recording and categorizing the micro-development sessions for future use!

Learning and development should be an ongoing priority at any business, and hosting sessions where employees can exchange ideas and learn the nuances of their roles is an essential part of that. This helps with developing a learning culture in your organization, getting the best results from every employee at every skill level, and using those results to achieve your business’ goals.

Be sure to check out other engaging strategies to help learners develop new skills and overcome the skills gap by downloading our free ebook!