Mind the Gaps

In the best selling book Zap the Gaps, author Ken Blanchard identifies methods to solve problems and achieve higher performance by focusing on GAPS;

Go for the "shoulds" (what we want to happen) 
Analyze the "is" (what is currently happening - this is where the "gaps" live) 
Pin down the cause (ask the right people the right questions) 
Select the right solution (match solutions with causes) 

Many organizations apply this "GAP" framework to Performance Management.  Leaders identify employee goals and desired individual performance ("shoulds"), scrutinize current and past contributions ("is"), identify competencies and areas in need of improvement (the cause) and prescribe solutions to fix weaknesses.  

This conventional  approach encourages employees to maintain areas of strength while focusing on fixing weaknesses.  The underlying assumption to this approach to Performance Management is that all behaviors can be learned.  If an employee needs to improve communication skills, send them to a workshop called "Effective Communication".  If an employee need to improve their analytical acumen, send them to a class called "Analytical Thinking".  You get the picture.  The problem with this approach is that you cannot develop a strength out of a weakness.  The best you can hope for is mediocrity. 

The flip-side of Performance Management is a recommended practice called Performance Development.  While management is defined as a process of control, development is considered a process of growth.   

Through the filter of Performance Development, leaders clarify roles and desired goals ("shoulds"), analyze the excellence potential of each team member ("is"), pin down the talents which led to past successes (the cause) and prescribe solutions to develop employee strengths.  This strengths-based approach focuses on strengths and manages around weaknesses knowing that weakness fixing prevents failure but strengths building leads to success.  The underlying assumption to strengths-based development is that only some behaviors (skills and knowledge) can be learned, but talent is innate to every individual and cannot be taught.  

Performance Development lives in the gap between expectations and excellence.  Here, leaders help employees identify ways to invest in their strengths by applying skills, knowledge and experiences to bridge the gap between the average and the extraordinary.  

When designing a Strengths-Based Performance Development plan for your employees, consider including these four elements;  

1. Help employees identify who they are 
Using Clifton StrengthsFinder, help your employees claim their talents by identifying ways they add value using their innate gifts.  

2. Help employees identify where they are going 
Identify what excellence looks like and help your employees align their talents to the mission, purpose and goals of your department and organization.  

3. Help employees turn their talents into strengths 
Natural talents become strengths by investing knowledge, skill building and experience. Identify ways your employees can exercise their talents through actions to gain valuable experience.  

4. Help employees measure progress
Make sure all actions are measurable in order to recognize growth and provide ongoing feedback and encouragement.

Don Clifton wrote "Nothing happens until someone expects something of you in ways you can achieve".  As a leader, you should know the unique value that each employee contributes in the form of their talents and you should inspire them to achieve breakthrough performance by guiding them through the gap between expectations and excellence.  

I am a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and a 20+ year leader at Universal Orlando Resort.  I specialize in designing experiences that add joy, adventure and fulfillment to the lives of others.


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