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Performance Improvement Through Learning

We recently asked consultant Julie Winkle Giuliani about her journey to becoming a performance improvement specialist. “My entire work history revolves around learning…starting with my first job teaching modeling and charm classes to young children. From there I went on to teach at the high school and university level before returning to industry in several training management roles. However, I really had a chance to hone my craft at Zenger Miller and AchieveGlobal as a consultant and ultimately as the director of product development.

For the past sixteen years, I’ve had the pleasure (and pressure) of consulting through my own firm with organizations worldwide. Most recently, my journey led me to co-author an Amazon bestselling book, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.” Julie shares her expertise through consulting, instructional design, speaking, training and her blog. She recently chatted with us about performance improvement through learning. Here’s what she had to say:

On your website, you state, “Regardless what business you’re in, it’s a ‘people’ business.” How should that realization change how people conduct themselves in the workplace? Businesses are run by people (known as management and employees) for the benefit of other people (known as customers). People are at the heart of an operation. Processes and systems are enablers; but it’s people who make things happen … or don’t. This realization should mean that we: prioritize the ‘soft skills’; focus on relationships: and always lead with the ‘human case’, knowing it will support the ‘business case. It should also mean that we can all bring our humanity to work, knowing that it’s valued and will contribute to success.

Is performance improvement through learning possible for everyone?

Absolutely. I believe that everyone has the capacity to learn, grow, and perform well. What’s required is the proper training and support – as well as the motivation to do so. When leaders get to know the employee and genuinely connect with the whole person, all three requirements can be met.

What is the first step one should take in order to improve his or her performance at work?

As with any improvement effort, assessing baseline conditions is critical. So, evaluating where you are today is the ideal starting point. This involves both individual reflection and data gathering in the form of feedback. Getting honest feedback means approaching it with a genuine curiosity to learn and the absence of defensiveness. When people bring this receptive spirit to focused, open-ended questions like the following, they can confidently take the first steps toward improvement.

  • How am I doing … really?
  • How do I add value to our operation?
  • How can I better serve our customers (internally or externally)?
  • What one change could I make that could have the greatest positive effect on my contributions?
  • What could I do more/less of to be a better partner?

How do people achieve next-level readiness to learn and move up in their careers?

Next-level readiness demands that people squeeze as much growth and learning as possible out of the position they currently hold. It requires consciously mining the role they’re in for skills, abilities, and experiences that complement and extend their capabilities. I would, however, caution people to think less about ‘next level’ and ‘moving up’ and more about the kind of work they want to do, things they want to accomplish, problems they want to solve. As children, we’re conditioned to focus on what we want to ‘be’ when we grow up … and we bring the ‘be’ focus to the workplace. But, given today’s business landscape – flatter organizations, fewer levels to which to ascend, baby boomers working longer and occupying ‘next – level’ roles – a ‘being’ orientation can be limiting and frustrating. Instead, it’s wiser to shift the focus to what we want to ‘do’ and, in so doing, we open up a lot more opportunity for challenge, experiences, learning and growth.

Do you think positive thinking is an essential part of achieving his or her goals?

It certainly is key to my own goal attainment. But, I prefer to think of it as setting myself up for success. The most effective professionals and executives I know have cultivated positive mental habits that support focus, enable discipline, and encourage persistent, constructive action. Results don’t come from mere thinking, rather from translating that positive state of mind into action and forward momentum.

What things should a successful person never do?

A successful person should never feel so accomplished and effective that he or she stops experimenting, stretching to the point of possible failure … and learning and growing in the process.

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