Today’s manager is really the conductor of his own orchestra. Like an orchestra, no matter how good you are, you sometimes need to stop and re-sync. Were the violins too loud? Could you hear the flutes? How did the composer mean for the music to be played?

Top performing managers lead with a style that coordinates the talents of this diverse orchestra into a deep, rich symphonic sound or a cacophony of simultaneous musical notes. What sounds are coming out of the employees your managers are conducting?

Employees today come to work with all types of skills, skill levels, attitudes and personalities. Both men and women have integrated into the workplace. The diversity of cultures and ethnicity is growing at lightening speed. And for the first time in American history, five generations are working simultaneously side-by -side.

But even with this economic slowdown, your best people have other offers. Employee attrition has risen by more than 25 percent in the past five years. Attrition costs are roughly 18 months’ worth of salary for each manager or professional who leaves and a half year’s pay for each hourly worker. Employee defections are killing the bottom line and even worse, they are killing any chances for a quick turn-around once the economic winds of fate shift direction.

The Hay Group, having surveyed nearly 1 million workers in more than 330 companies over the past four years, has shown that it is important to weed out bad managers who chase workers away. Otherwise, the good people will be frustrated and leave too. Attrition is costly and one of the direct causes of employee turnover can be attributed to the manager.

Thousands of organizations spend billions of dollars on skill training for managers. Unfortunately these programs often deal exclusively with the “how-to” dimension. The result is merely educational and little or no performance gains are realized.

This ritual of how-to training is referred to by Training House, Inc. as the annual “sheep dip”, where managers and employees are “herded up” and run through a program chosen because “we haven’t done that one in a while” or by selecting a patchwork quilt of topics attempting to meet the needs of all participants but not the specific needs of anyone.

Companies need to stop tuning into WWRN (Whatever Works Right Now) and POTY (Program of the Year) training if they ever hope to attract and retain their best people and get a return on their training investments.

So what do you do now? Fire all the bad managers and under-performers? Hardly. Training House Inc. has benchmarked 72,000 managers in 700-plus companies in dozens of industries in 17 countries. Universally they identified twelve competencies that highly effective managers have in common that the average performers do not possess.

Competency based training first identifies the specific skills that are holding average performers back from top performance and then targets training time and dollars to improve only the most needed skills. The result is a greater transfer of classroom learning to on-the-job performance gains, a reduced learning curve, and a baseline by which future performance gains can be measured. Most importantly, training is focused on improving performance, not just personality changes, which translates into greater productivity and more profits.

So what is a competency? According to Scott Parry, author of “Just What Is A Competency”, a competency is “a cluster of related knowledge, attitudes and skills that affects a major part of one’s job; that correlates with performance on the job; that can be measured against well-accepted standards; and that can be improved via training and development.”

These twelve competencies identified in top performers have been broken down into four major managerial activity clusters:

Task handling

Administrative (Managing Your Job)
Cognitive (Thinking Analytically)

People Handling

Communications (Relating to Others)
Supervisory (Building the Team)

A major reason training courses often don’t make much difference in on-the-job performance is because most training programs do not deal with all three dimensions: knowledge, behaviors/attitudes and skills.
Consider planning and scheduling work, one of the task handling competencies. Joe is a project manager. Joe is always rushing to meet his deadlines. When his colleagues ask Joe, “Will the project be ready on time”, Joe either blows his cool or recedes to his office, locks his door and puts the do not disturb button on his phone.

Does Joe need help managing his stress? Absolutely. Will this alone help Joe complete his jobs on time? Not likely. He’ll just be a calmer person when he misses a deadline. Utilizing a managerial assessment like ASSESS helps identify before training what training Joe needs to perform better as well as feel better. Does Joe need to improve his time management and prioritizing skills? Or is Joe’s problem really his lack of ability to schedule and plan his work and his belief that in order to get it done right, he might as well do it himself? What is holding Joe back? Joe wouldn’t take swimming lessons to improve his golf swing so why should a business invest time and money into training like time management when the problem really may be an ability to plan, schedule and delegate?

Another example might be the decision-making competency. Many skills are involved in making decisions including negotiation, analysis, researching, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and diplomacy. But many times certain behaviors and personal interests may get in the way. If a manager has the ability to make a decision but lacks the skill to gain consensus or persuade others effectively or the discipline to control his temper, the engine may turn over but the wheels don’t spin.

Skills and knowledge are the cards you hold in your hand. Behaviors and attitudes predict how you are likely to play them. And time, money and people are the resources that drive business results. We never seem to have enough time and money and qualified, competent employees are in short supply. Selecting and investing in training and development without first assessing the skills and needs of the participants wastes time, money and resources which takes a real toll on performance and bottom line. The 21st century manager can ill afford to accept poor to average performance because the result is only lost dollars and profits.