Leaders are supposed to create an environment where their employees are able to work at their personal best. Leaders should be able to assess a skill set, build a progressive development plan based on deficiencies recognized in the skill set evaluation, and assign work/expectations along the way that are in parallel with the employee’s skill set and progression within the development plan. This will vary from employee to employee because we all have different skill sets, and varying degrees of proficiency within those skills. In my leadership development programs, I apply a theory that comes from the world of physical fitness to managing an employee’s workload versus their skill set, keeping in mind that the goal is to have the employee performing at their personal best. It’s the concept of a ‘State of Flow’, and I ask leadership teams to implement this when managing day-to-day and developing employees.

The State of Flow is thought to be the right balance between challenge and skill set. We have all had those workdays that seem to fly by. The days where you felt on your game and the occurrences of the day, although challenging, were handled with great execution. This type of day would be considered a day in a State of Flow. Conversely, you may have experienced a day where the minutes seem like hours, and you reached a state of boredom due to the lack of work being presented to you. Or you may have had days in which so many things were thrown at you that the stress level pushed you to a near breaking point.

It’s these three scenarios that need to be managed in order to not only optimize each employee’s effectiveness but create a rewarding sense of value in the job for that employee. If an employee has a low skill set and is presented with a high measure of challenge the employee will become overwhelmed. Employees with a high level of skill who aren’t challenged in their job will become bored. Both of these examples will bring about poor quality work and are certainly not reflective of an environment that has people working at their personal best. Flow State days end with you feeling good about yourself, prideful in a job well done. They make you want to come back and do it again tomorrow. If you’re bored or stressed, you will not be as effective or as eager to take on the tasks of the next day.

Understanding then managing the proper balance between skill set and challenge is not just about production, it can affect other things within the business as well. People who are stressed out or bored at work tend to be unhappy. Unhappy employees end up poisoning the company culture, leaving for another opportunity, or both. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to not only drive efficient production but also to create a sense of value and satisfaction in the jobs of the people we lead. Managing skill set versus challenge is an integral piece to building a sound company culture and offsetting attrition. Business owners and company heads need to be cognizant of their leadership team’s understanding of this dynamic and their ability to manage it.