Focus On The Fundamentals

Focus on the Fundamentals

I walked into the call center training room and the team was all working on the call center equivalent of a basketball “3 pointer”. Even the rookies. Figurative basket balls were bouncing off the rim and the walls and one another. Every now and then one would go in, and the coach would go wild, “see YOU CAN do this woot woot!!!”

They were all concentrating on our hardest call type, the one that’s getting all the executive attention. Clearly they had heard my message loud and clear. Everyone was breaking a sweat. Bless their hearts, the stress grew more intense with each missed shot. Sadly, their efforts didn’t show in their results. In fact, not only were they not shooting 3 pointers, they were missing the lay-ups.

“I wasn’t real quick, and I wasn’t real strong. Some guys will just take off and it’s like, whoa. So I beat them with my mind and my fundamentals.”
~ Larry Bird

In the next room the coach was calmly talking fundamentals. He had a few in the corner practicing their 3 pointers and coaching one another, but the rest were focused on the basics: sounding friendly and empathetic; really listening to the customer; using their tools. Sure, they talked about what to do when you must shoot from the outside, but that wasn’t the focus, until they were ready. Here’s the crazy part, not only was this team out executing the first group in all metrics, they were nailing more 3 pointers.

Why We Ignore the Fundamentals

As leaders it’s easy to assume our team is ready for more. In fact, over-all results can be deceiving. We see trends improving, and we start teaching Harlem Globe Trotter stunts. It could be just a few superstars influencing the trend.

Plus, fundamentals are boring. Your team is tired of practicing, “one more role play and I’m going to barf.”

And then there’s the pressure from folks like me. “Come-on, the other centers nailing 3 pointers why not you?” Great leaders tell overly zealous leaders to chill down, and focus on the fundamentals.

 How to Nail the Fundamentals

  1. Know what skills matter: First figure out what fundamentals are really driving your performance
  2. Don’t assume winning means they’ve got it: Congratulate the win, and dig deeper into each skill
  3. Encourage teamwork: Find ways for the team to help one another, pair them up for skills drills
  4. Understand each player’s performance: Customize a development plan for each team member
  5. Teach in confidence bursts: Build confidence through the small wins
  6. Constantly refresh: Develop a regular cadence of back-to-basics practice
  7. Don’t grow too fast: Be sure you have a critical mass nailing the fundamentals before you rapidly grow the team
Your turn: How do you focus on the fundamentals in your leadership?
Filed Under:   Career & Learning, Results & Execution
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

bill holston   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

I read this yesterday and it really resonated with me. It is tempting to not leave time in my day for reading and reflection. With an emphasis on reflection. May I suggest this is a great thing for us to do today, to not just read these wise words, but to leave some time for reflection.
thanks Karin.

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Loved this. It’s awesome when folks share what they’re reading with our crew. Of course, if Warren is reading and thinking 80% of the time, surely he has time for LGL. I’ll reach out and see if he would be interested in joining our conversation ;-)

bill holston   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Oh and I meant Karin’s wise words above, to be clear.

Steve Borek   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

In regards to leadership, less is more.

Use the coach approach for people to define their own way.

p.s. The movie “White Man Can’t Jump” was based on my vertical rise capabilities.

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Steve, No basketball for you? Really? Size 16 shoes…..

Jim Ryan   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Repetition. Just like in athletics you have to practice all the time. But in leadership and management people think they can get better without practicing. You can’t expect to improve by read something once, or going to one training, developing goals and looking at them every once and while. You have to do something everyday.

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Jim, I agree… I think many leaders think they’ve “made it” and stop learning.

Bill Benoist   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Sometimes as leaders, we mistakenly assume our team understands the fundamentals. This happened with me yesterday.

I had a quarterly review with one of my senior technicians – been with me for 11 years. He mentioned he would like to improve his business writing because there are times when his customers struggle to follow his instructions. In talking more with him, I came to realize he was not aware people have different learning styles.

I “assumed” a senior technician would have understood the three learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic; but then again, I never covered that fundamental topic before.

Guess what’s on the agenda for this weekend’s team meeting?

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Bill, I’ve had similar ah has…. it’s a fine line… not wanted to offend… but assuming they know can also be bad….

Terri Klass   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Whenever I present a program on Effective Communication I am always taken back when some of the participants seem like they are learning all the basics for the first time. I wonder how this is possible, but true.

Instead of assuming leaders are well-equipped with the necessary capabilities, have fun and re-introduce the lesson in a different, more creative way. Play games. Share stories. Focus on what one has learned along the way.

Nice post, Karin!

David Tumbarello   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

So what I hear you saying …. :)

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Terri, great point…”I’m sure you know this… but just for fun…”

David Tumbarello   |   13 February 2014   |  

I’m not familiar with your quote, Karin. I do know it is flattering when someone says “I’m sure you know this …” and continues with helpful reminders. Is there a resource that talks about “I’m sure you know this .. just for fun …” ? I am really curious about these communication tropes.

David Tumbarello   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Two thoughts come to mind. Back in early high school I cut out an article from Time magazine (or equivalent publication) and it took the reader inside the Fermilab particle collider. The quote I remember was this: “First we do it right. Then we do it faster.” My second thought, which is a personal opinion, is that Lean thinking is grounded in getting the fundamentals right. Get it right, then build.

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

David, 2 great adds… yes. Right, faster, and then improve it. Lean thinking is all about this, and replication. Beautiful.

Jon Mertz   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Karin, The words that always resonate with me are: “Plan the work, and work the plan.” These fundamentals will get the work done and achieve real results. Plans adjust as new information is learned but we don’t get distracted by “shiny” objects. Thanks! Jon

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Jon, yes! The hard part is sticking to that plan even when it’s noisy.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

I am caught by two points in your post, Karin. The first one is: It could be just a few superstars influencing the trend. I accept this as a fact of life. It is the few that carry on and it is their job to jump the chasm and convince others. My fundamental here is to work with the few to reach the masses.
The second point is: Confidence Bursts. I agree totally. Birds do that to encourage the leader while on flight to carry on.

I might sound weird, but I know it is the world of the active few. Otherwise; why the 80/20 Rule still functions? I call the 20% few the Oxygen of employees; the remaining 80% the Nitrogen of employees.

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Ali, but what if we could truly engage the other 80% ?

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   13 February 2014   |  

Karin- that is what I meant by saying crossing the chasm. The 20% employees driving the business engine have a formidable task to convince and align the 80%. The pioneers are responsible for that. It is not an easy chasm to cross. I am going to write about this issue soon.

LaRae Quy   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

It comes down to our desire to achieve, or over-achieve as the case may be…as leaders we really do want everyone on our team to excel.

For me, it’s not that I’ve forgotten the basics; it’s about applying all the advanced sophisticated tricks and tips to the basics. To do that, we need to go back and revisit them so we know how to better apply the stuff we’ve learned in the interim.

Loved this post, Karin!

letsgrowleaders   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

LaRae, I know… we do want them to excel, but I find sometimes by pushing to hard to quickly, I can actually impede progress.. You bring up an important point about building on and revisiting the basics. So vital.

Alli Polin   |   12 February 2014   |   Reply

Love the context for this one! As a part of the leadership team in the call center we struggled, brought in training etc, but we really needed more manager engagement too.

I’m a big fan of hip-to-hip coaching. Our managers would sit with people 1×1. Sometimes they would plug into the calls, other times they only heard one side. Immediately following it was:

– How do you think it went?
– Here’s where you rocked!
– What did you struggle with?
– Next time think about…

We didn’t wait until a monthly 1×1 to give feedback and coaching. Fundamentals matter every day and on the spot guidance, using an in the moment example, can make them stronger too.