Skill Is Not Performance

A tribute to Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson

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Bob, the performance consultant: What not to do

Here is a fictitious example of how this happens. Sue, a sales VP, is concerned that her sales force has trouble securing acceptable margins when contracting with customers. Bob, an internal performance consultant, believes the problem is obviously with the sales force’s weak negotiation skills. Bob prescribes the following solutions:

  • Negotiation best-practice job aids
  • Revised contract templates that make it more difficult for salesforce to decrease margins
  • Support from Sue to require the sales team to attend training and use the new templates and job aids

Bob’s approach

Simplistic analysis

  1. Interview Sue.
  2. Consider previous “successful” solutions to guess what the problem could be.

Common diagnosis type

  1. When guessing at the problem, immediately expect a learning (or capability) gap.
  2. Bob guesses that the gap has to do with sales representatives’ weak negotiation skills and probably with motivational issues.

An alternative approach

For a better illustration, see the GAPS! Map and Gap Zapper in Performance Consulting (referenced below).

Basic analysis

Business should: described numerically; performance should: described behaviorally
Business should: described numerically; performance should: described behaviorally
  1. Determine how performance should align to margin goals. Refer to any selling process documentation and training materials. As needed, interview Sue, managers, and team leads.
  1. Interview sales representatives (low, average, and high) to determine what they do to achieve their current performance levels.
  2. If feasible, observe performers applying the selling process.

Precise diagnosis

Determine the causes for these gaps, specifically what the sales force needs to do to negotiate contractual pricing amounts in comparison with what they actually do.

  • INTERNAL to the organization (work factors)
    Examples: Clarity of expectations, coaching support, and financial incentives
  • INTERNAL to individuals (capability)
    Examples: Having the required skills & knowledge, internal motivation, and previous experiences


Below are the titles of some of Robinsons’ publications that I frequently reference. Each links to publication websites where you can learn more about them.

About the author

Gary is a Leadership Author, Researcher, Consultant, and Podcast Guest. His latest book, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?, is available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. You can learn more about Gary and his other books at

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Gary is a speaker, author, researcher, and leadership futurist.

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