Imagine you are on a basketball team, but you are not very good at throwing free throws. Your coach signs you up for a free or low-cost free throw webinar, and he expects you to come back from the webinar skilled at shooting free throws. He’s disappointed when you don’t live up to his expectations, so he decides to take another approach by assigning the best free throw shooter on the team to mentor you. Your mentor says:

“It’s easy. You just bend your knees, line up the ball with the hoop and give your wrists a flick.”

Your mentor can sink every basket, but after watching him shoot free throws, you’re still not able to get the ball anywhere close to the net.

Frustrated, and assuming you’re just not motivated enough, your coach offers you an incentive to make free throws, but motivation was never the problem. When the incentive doesn’t work, your coach recourses to writing you up because he thinks you should have been able to shoot free throws when he hired you in the first place.

You now have until the end of the quarter to learn how to shoot free throws, so you are spending every moment you can on practice, and you’re now hitting the backboard most of the time. You feel proud of your progress and you’re excited about your upcoming meeting with your coach, but your coach shows up to your meeting with a write-up outlining all the ways you’re not meeting other performance expectations. You’ve been so focused on free throws that dribbling and passing fell off your radar.

Sound familiar?

If so, you’re not alone. People make a lot of assumptions about the speed and ease with which people move from developing to contributing.

In order to avoid wasting time and energy, we put together our top five tips for HR, leaders and anyone who’s accountable for developing people in organizations:

What doesn’t work…What works…
Using training as a quick fix (especially when you need to develop a combination of know-how, skill and ability).Using training as part of a development plan, but not as the whole development plan. After a training of any kind, people need opportunities and time to practice and receive feedback on how they’re doing.
Confusing potential for competence when hiring. A person with potential requires time, energy and resources to develop a skill. A person with competence will still need a little direction and support, but already has the skill you need.Planning accordingly. Determine if you need someone who’s ready to go (i.e. has competence demonstrated by a track record of making free throws) or someone who has potential (I.e. is still developing free throw skills).
Expecting people to perform like computers or robots. When you type a command into your computer you expect it to happen. People aren’t wired that way.Expecting people to be people. People develop skills, knowledge and abilities in a predictable, repeatable pattern. It takes a combination of supportive and directive behaviors (setting goals and giving clear instructions) over time to move a human being from not performing successfully to offering valuable contributions.
Assuming that your top performers will also make great leaders or trainers. This happens all the time when we promote someone into a leadership or training role based on their ability to perform well in their existing roles and responsibilities.Training and leading are their own disciplines with their own competencies, skill sets and things to know. It’s critical to make sure that your trainers and people leaders are qualified, capable and genuinely concerned about human welfare.
Assigning mentors who think that saying: “watch me and do what I do” gives their mentees everything they need to be successful.Train and develop mentors by teaching them how to mentor successfully. Mentoring, like training and leading, is different from performing a task on your own.


In order to develop your leaders’ ability (including skills, knowledge and attitude) to develop people, attend our Management Essentials program or partner with StartHuman to develop your people development strategy.