As a senior manager you probably have very high levels of awareness and technical expertise in your chosen field.  You can effortlessly make decisions that actually require reflecting on your vast experience, and sorting through millions of mental maps with various levels of complexity.  But what about your people?  What level are they at and what are the steps they need to take to get to the next level?  What are the steps you need to take to help them?

As I reflect on my first career as a chef in the 1980’s it is clear to see that in every professional discipline there is a natural progression of awareness, knowledge, skill and behaviour.  As a manager, if you can effectively diagnose the level your people are at with a particular task, job or project, you can rapidly increase their development because you will know how to adjust your management style in a way that will help them grow to the next level.  Using the wrong style can lead to confusion, stress and frustration for both parties.

A scale of progression
Being pragmatic is one of my core values and I wanted to develop a simple scale that can be used to understand the progression of proficiency.  I researched a lot of the management books but it was only when I spoke with Carol Barnes, a fellow NLP Master Practitioner who also has a lot of experience in Educational Psychology, that I discovered the work of Benjamin Bloom.  Together we mapped out some of Bloom’s work, keeping it in a tight framework and added our own practical experience (a combination of over 50 years of knowing what actually happens in business).   

In a previous blog I mentioned that you can only control that of which you are aware; that of which you are unaware controls you.  I’ve always liked this provocative statement because it inspires me to be more sensitive to the subtle “differences that make a difference”.  For example, anyone can follow a recipe for making a classic Sauce Hollandaise (which is in fact an emulsion; a hot version of Mayonnaise).  All you need to do is whisk up your egg yolks with a bit of white wine and vinegar reduction, and then just pour in your hot clarified butter.  But if you are unaware of how heat is conducted by different types of metal and liquids, or at what temperature the eggs will scramble at and lose their ability to emulsify the melted butter, you could easily end up with a mess.  There is always a lot more going on than it seems, i.e. why do some managers and leaders have engaged and excited teams while others struggle with sullen and disruptive ones? 

A journey of awareness
At the beginning, there is the level of being totally ‘Unaware’ of what is going on; you have no mental maps to refer to and are ignorant about the specific task or skill.  We all start here at some point, and it’s amazing how our life experiences and levels of curiosity can help or hinder our ability to gather useful mental maps that we can then cross reference with new information.  The danger is that if we are inappropriately guided we can end up harming ourselves and others, like the youngsters who end up trying to make a career in dealing drugs! Or, we can make false connections because a vital piece of the puzzle is missing, like scrambling your egg yolks while making Sauce Hollandaise.

At the other end of the scale there is a level of ‘Highly Reflective Awareness’ where you are not only very aware of what is going on, you naturally reflect on how it interlinks with all the other mental maps you have.  This means you can easily connect various actions and alternatives to specific wanted or unwanted consequences.  It is a level of mastery and wisdom.   

Proficiency milestones
The journey from total ignorance to mastery has many aspects including motivation, determination and having a path to follow.  Here are some of the proficiency milestones you can use to measure progress along the way:

1. Remember 
At this level your people are able to remember key information about the task when questioned about it.  They need to be able to listen effectively and identify: What, Who, Where, When.  For example, if I was showing them how to make a sandwich I would expect them to be able to explain the hygiene and safety aspects, the quality of the bread and the fillings etc.

2. Understand
At this level they would be able to summarise the key elements of the task.  For example, I would expect them to be able to give a number of examples of different types of sandwiches and explain how to make them and why certain types of sandwiches are more or less appropriate in a specific context.  They should be able to demonstrate making a sandwich under supervision and to question why things are done the way they are.

3. Apply
At this level your people are able to implement their understanding by developing a task list and planning their work.  They are also able to compare what went well and what didn’t, and consider alternatives.  A key part of this level is the ability to receive feedback and take it on board.  For example, I would expect them to work a whole shift making sandwiches unsupervised and to discuss how it went.  They would be asking for suggestions and feedback about their work and show evidence of applying it.  I would expect them to consider ways of improving their own performance.

4. Analyse
At this level they are able to contrast current performance with previous performance and contribute their own suggestions for improvement.   This is different to ‘Apply’ because the suggestions for improvement are coming from them not their manager.  For example, they are now able to objectively analyse the quality of their sandwiches, and determine how efficient they are at making them.  They can not only give themselves feedback but can also give appropriate feedback to others about improving their performance.

5. Evaluate
At this level they can interpret what is going on and anticipate the requirements for a specific task and the consequences of doing it in a particular way.  They can identify not only what is efficient but what is effective; i.e. what is most important and why.  This means they prioritise and re-prioritise accordingly.  For example, they are now ready to begin instructing others how to ‘Remember’ and ‘Understand’ the basics of how to make sandwiches as well as prioritising what needs to be done when.  I would expect them to be organising a busy team of sandwich makers to meet specific performance and quality standards.

6. Create
At this level they can act as a catalyst for enhancing performance not only with their own team but between teams and other departments.  It is a level of stepping back to see the interconnectedness of everything related to the task, job or project at hand.  I would expect them to be designing profitable new sandwich ideas and developing innovative learning opportunities for themselves as well as their team.  This would probably involve reflecting on what they are doing, what others are doing and influencing key people to make positive changes that will improve overall performance.  They would also be able to mentor and coach others to ‘Apply’ and ‘Analyse’.

Each of the above milestones has a particular management style that elegantly and effectively encourages and motivates people to go to the next level.  It is all about understanding the default motivational patterns that are operating at each level.  These range from the need for feedback, to the need to make decisions; from the need for a clear procedure, to the need for seeking alternatives, options and other ways of doing things. 

I will be writing more blogs about this in the near future.  In the meantime if you are interested in exploring more about our new online resources please click here.

If you have any questions or comments about any of the above please contact Amanda on [email protected].

Remember . . . Stay Curious!

With warm regards
David Klaasen

David Klaasen is director and owner of the niche HR consultancy, Inspired Working Ltd.  (
We now have a new website packed full of learning resources for managers for more info see
If you have a communication or performance problem and would like some objective advice drop him a line at
[email protected].

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