The Royal Jelly: A Virtuous Cycle of Competence

The Royal Jelly: A Virtuous Cycle of Competence

July 02, 2018

Effective training equips people to do good work, which allows them to develop confidence, all of which leads to positive reputations and accompanied opportunities for further growth.

As you prove to yourself that you can do the work in front of you, you develop confidence in yourself, your ability to do the work, and your ability to stretch into new skill sets. With that confidence, you're more likely to seek out stretch opportunities and inspire confidence among those you work with. As confidence in you increases, the more opportunities you're likely to have to further build your competence and confidence. Your reputation as someone with abilities, including the ability to grow, spreads within your firm.

This feedback loop can be a powerful one—at least for those who can jump on. It works both at the individual level and at the enterprise (aggregated individual) level. As a firm's competencies increase (e.g., through talent acquisition and development), the greater its confidence and reputation, leading to deep experience and expertise in a given area.

Here comes the "but": Those without the tools to succeed in early tasks can be left outand on a different trajectory. They might avoid challenging opportunities, seeking to play it safe with tasks they think they're less likely to mess up. Tasks outside their comfort zone might appear daunting and fraught with peril. Having not proven to themselves they can learn and grow to tackle new professional challenges, their confidence languishes. These are the folks who don't get tagged early as "superstars" who "get it"; who as a result don't receive mentoring, coaching, and stretch opportunities from impressed supervisors; and whose growth, as a result of all that, is stunted.

So: How do we get folks onto this virtuous cycle of competence? What's the royal jelly? How do we slow down a fast-spinning merry-go-round to let everyone on?

An essential ingredient in the lawyer/law firm context is foundational training that supports the transition from law school to legal practice. This type of training makes sure everyone enters new experiences with comprehensive frameworks. These frameworks don't come with every nuance or detail for every type of future work, but they give a starter kit, a decoder ring, a way of productively processing new information. This way, a future task isn't indecipherable but instead is sufficiently familiar for the lawyer to identify what's familiar vs. new, ask productive questions, and file away new learning into their framework for future retrieval.

Take for example a task that involves reviewing a contract. If you've never seen a contract and don't understand its building blocks—what they do and mean and how they interact—the task is likely to present as impenetrable. "Review and analyze a document written in a foreign language to help address a business's problems or questions—who, me?" 

But if you enter the task with a comprehensive framework, even if you're faced with a new contract you haven't seen before, you can start to break it down and make sense of it. "Interesting, I haven't seen this approach to this provision before. Let me save that for future use in case I'm working on a contract in a similar situation later."

We can allow new experiences to be near-impossible hills for some to surmount, or we can pass the royal jelly out to everyone. We can put everyone in the best position to learn and grow with every new experience—and ultimately to succeed on an accelerated trajectory powered by early competence, earned confidence, and a resulting reputation that leads to new growth opportunities.


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