An Accomplishment-Based Approach to Capturing Expertise

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Dr. Paul Elliott, Dr. Al Folsom and legendary Joe Harless will be presenting at the 50th annual  International Society for Performance Improvement Conference.  Dr. Harless  will be coming out of retirement for the first time in 15 years.  “An Ounce of Analysis – The Legacy of Joe Harless“, will review the underlying premises of performance analysis, the value of an accomplishment-based approach, the robust
nature of the data that is captured, and the impact when the analysis results serve as the basis for designing high performance work systems. This article provides a  brief look at the approach.  Written by Dr. Paul Elliott, President of Exemplary Performance.

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’re working with a sales team that consistently wins competitive displacements, it’s 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’s 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.





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