Learning about Performance Giants

There is a complex web of subtle and often hidden learning and performance challenges that affects everyone’s workday. Regardless of title or tenure, no one is immune to the barriers it puts up between you and your coworkers and between you and your goals. And there are no shortcuts to navigating your way safely through it. However, your capacity to recognize these challenges and take deliberate steps to manage them can create a distinctive competitive advantage.

I call these challenges the hidden curriculum of work because it is this unspoken, unwritten work that doesn’t show up in your job description, yet determines your ability to stand out. Learning to navigate it is a business imperative with significant untapped human-capital potential. And just like any other form of capital — social, political, financial — a leader can either squander it or leverage it.

Leaders should think of these challenges as sleeping giants because they represent big opportunities to learn and grow, but are hidden in plain sight. Indeed, these sleeping giants make up a large part of your company’s untapped learning and performance capital. If you want your people to get smarter and faster and elevate bottom-line results, you need to wake these giants and face them head-on.

For example, as a leader you rely on accurate, real-time updates and you don’t like surprises, especially when the news is not good. However, it is precisely when the news is bad that effective communication often declines. If your corporate culture is such that leaders unconsciously “blame the messenger,” people become reluctant to deliver bad news. This Mum effect — a term coined by psychologists Sidney Rosen and Abraham Tesser — means that people distance themselves from bad news out of fear they will be blamed by association. When this happens, critical issues get buried and disingenuous interactions overtake transparent exchanges. The sleeping giant here is the chance to examine how your corporate culture treats transparency. Although truth-telling may be an expected norm for your team, it’s probably not happening as often as you’d like.

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