By Paul H. Elliott, PhD

The most effective and efficient way to capture models of optimal performance is to work with existing accomplished performers. These are the individuals who have established approaches to their work that produce the desired results at a consistently high level. These exemplary performers are often unconsciously competent and you need to capture their expertise in a way to make it explicit and transferable to others.

Asking stars why they are good at what they do or how they go about doing their work just leads to meaningless banter about their education, work history, intelligence, competencies, and other variables that have nothing to do with how these stars produce their outputs.

Instead, the analysis must be context intensive and case based. For example, if you are working with a sales team that consistently wins competitive displacements, it is best to ask them to walk you through recent wins in a methodical way. The questioning should include every step from the identification of the opportunity to closing of the sale.

Sales Example
Here is an example of this process based on a detailed analysis of several high performing global sales teams. The teams selected for analysis were winning sales opportunities against a key competitor at a much higher percentage than other teams.

We began the process with a meeting with the entire team, where they identified the most critical aspects of the sales cycle. Both the sales team and their customer agreed that the proof of concept (POC)–developed by the technical sales specialist on the team–was one of the key differentiators.

We set up a meeting with the technical sales specialist and asked to meet in her office so that she would have access to the critical documentation. We asked her to walk us through the process she used to produce what we thought was the critical output–the POC. In the course of the conversation, she had an “aha” moment. She suddenly realized that her accomplishment was not the POC itself. Rather, her true accomplishment was how she used the POC as a vehicle to create an internal advocate for her company’s solution.

Instead of building the POC, she scripted it based on thorough knowledge of the competitor’s existing tool. Once the problem was identified, she contacted a person of high influence inside the customer organization and scheduled a meeting where she and the client built the POC together based on the script she had already created. This proactive approach created an advocate inside the client’s organization for the proposed solution.

Once we understood her true accomplishment, we built a tool that other technical sales specialists could use to replicate this approach. The tool was then used to deploy her expertise across multiple competitive sales opportunities.

About the Author
Paul H. Elliott, PhD, is the president and founder of Exemplary Performance, based in Annapolis, MD. His expertise is in the analysis of human performance, the design of interventions that optimize human performance in support of business goals, and strategies for transitioning from tactical to strategic approaches. Elliott assists organizations in performance analysis, instructional design, product and process launch support, design of advanced training systems, and the design and implementation of integrated performance interventions.