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Capability – Part 1

Why teaching new skills isn’t enough by itself to make people more capable or to generate new behaviours at work

This is part one of a two-part article looking at the topic of Capability at work.

This first part explores what kind of approaches you can take if you want to help individuals to change their behaviours or to be more capable. In part two, I’ll look at why you should really sit-up and pay attention if you’re hearing a lot of “I don’t know hows” in your business and what’s needed if you want everyone to feel more capable.


When I was about ten or eleven years old I discovered the fantastic “Teach Yourself…” book series in our local library. This series has been going since the 1930s and was originally published in distinctive yellow or blue and yellow dust jackets. They covered a really wide range of subjects, from practical stuff like brick-laying through to economics, calculus and even Esperanto, which I once spent a whole summer playing around with.

Take a look at this collector’s website for some great information about the series and its various imprints.

When I discovered those books, it felt like something clicked inside me.
If you come from the kind of background I did, your horizons can sometimes seem a little limited, the options constrained, some choices perhaps already made for you. But I thought that here in these books was one of the main gateways to the world – knowledge and the capability that it imparts – made plain and accessible to anyone who wanted it.


It’s maybe no surprise then that one of my favourite aspects of my coaching work is around the level of Capability.

In the kind of coaching I do, I lay out those ‘levels’ like this:

1EnvironmentRefers to the Where and the When of whatever you’re doing and reveals what external constraints you might be operating under.
2BehavioursRefers to the What it is that you’re doing and reveals itself in your actions. 
3CapabilitiesRefers to How you go about doing things and reveals what approaches you might take now or in the future.
4Beliefs and ValuesRefers to the Why behind what you’re doing and reveals your motivations and self-imposed limits. 
5IdentityAnswers questions about and establishes Who you are. It’s both revealed by and satisfied by the missions you might undertake.
6ConnectionAnswers questions about your Vision or Higher Purpose – that is, in the larger system of which you’re part, it addresses for who and towards what cause your actions are directed.

For now, it’s important to realise that there’s a hierarchy to the levels as I’ve set them out above. For example, I’m often asked to coach people around operating more effective Behaviours at work, either as a team member or a leader, or often both. You can see from the table, that Behaviours are at level two. However, in order to operate new Behaviours, people usually need new approaches, new ways of going about things – and those new approaches require new Capabilities, a level three aspect!

It’s quite usual to have to explore two, three or even more levels deeper whenever any significant kind of change is required. New Behaviours (level two) usually need new Capabilities (level three), and acquiring new Capabilities often needs a shift in self-imposed limits and a rediscovery of motivations – a level four Beliefs and Values shift. And a really significant shift in those self-imposed limits, or a re-alignment or rediscovery of motivations, often requires a long hard look at just who we really are – right down at level five, Identity.


This is why, as we’ll explore more in the subsequent article, you’ve got to address cultural aspects around values and ways of doing things, as well as individual motivations and limiting beliefs in order to have more capable people in your business. Just trying to teach them new skills or sending them on a management training course may not always work!


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How to Like Yourself and be Honest about your Faults at Work

5 Steps to Effective Behaviour Change at Work – the Silver Dollar Technique

One of the (apparent) paradoxes I love about my work revolves around this little dichotomy:

1. People can’t change if they don’t like themselves;

BUT

2. People won’t change unless they’re honest about their faults.

People can’t change if they don’t like themselves. This first point is true because real change requires a positive mindset. It needs the ability to move towards something specific and attractive. If your mind is in a place where you’re constantly beating yourself up, or feeling at fault, or where you don’t like the underlying person that is really you, attempts to change just don’t work.  They get sabotaged, overtaken or drowned-out by a focus on what’s wrong.

But the second point is also true. People won’t change unless they’re honest about their faults. If my delusion that I don’t need to grow or change is so complete, where’s my motivation to change? If I can’t see myself as others see me, to understand the impact I have in the way that I do things, how do I know that a different approach might also be possible?

But seeing your faults is painful and raw. Knowing that your typical way of doing things is having a negative impact on others usually doesn’t make you feel like high-fiving yourself.

And this is the situation that about a third of my clients find themselves in when they arrive for their first coaching. They’ve come to me because their way of doing things at work is no longer getting results. Often, their behaviours are out of sync with other people, or even causing problems. If the situation has been allowed to continue for too long, this person may even have acquired a reputation for negative behaviour that precedes them; that is worse than their actual behaviour.

This is a tough situation to be in, and a hard one from which to to make effective changes.

So here’s one of my favourite techniques for resolving that dichotomy and making effective change in behaviour at work.
To learn to like yourself and all your traits, and to be honest about your faults.

I call it the Silver Dollar Approach to Behavioural Change, because (a) a Silver Dollar has two very distinct sides; and (b) I’ve got a Silver Dollar that I brought home from Las Vegas and am very fond of. This technique is so easy that you don’t even really need a Silver Dollar to make it work.

Step One – Identify a Quality

Identify a quality of yours, or a way that you tend to go about things, that you either like or don’t like (it doesn’t matter which). Let’s use a real example of something that was given to a client as negative feedback:

“Well, I’ve been told that at team meetings I can be like a bull in a china shop”.

Step Two – Give that Quality a Neutral Label

Give that quality a neutral label, one that can describe how it is, without an overly negative or overly positive connotation. It may take some exploration and discussion to find the right label. The coach’s job here is to check for neutrality in the term; beyond that, the client should be allowed to call that quality whatever they want. The label can be one word, a couple of words or even a short phrase. Here’s what came up with our bull in a china shop example:

“I suppose you could call that being Direct“.

Step Three – You’ve Got a Silver Dollar

Imagine that quality was a Silver Dollar. So now we’ve got a Silver Dollar with the quality of being “Direct“.

Now, whether you tend to hang out in Las Vegas or not, you’ll know that a Silver Dollar is a valuable thing. If you’re a cowboy, you probably keep one in your boots to pay for your funeral. In my view, everybody should have several.

Joking apart, what I’m trying to say here, is that all human qualities have value – and they also have two sides.

Step Four – the Two Sides of that Silver Dollar

So the thing about this Silver Dollar is that its value depends on where you are and on what kind of situation you find yourself in.

We can use the two sides of the Silver Dollar to think about different types of situations:

Side 1 – can be about situations when this particular Silver Dollar is really, really useful.

Side 2 – can be about situations when this particular dollar is less useful, maybe even counter-productive.

To continue our example, here we have a Silver Dollar that is about being “Direct“. Now go ahead and explore that quality:

  • What are the kind of situations at work when being Direct is really useful?
  • What kind of impact can it have when you bring out your Direct silver dollar at the right time?Now flip your dollar over:
  • In what kind of situation is Direct less useful?
  • What’s it like for other people when the Direct silver dollar comes out at the wrong time?

Step Five – We all have many Silver Dollars

This is a key step in the process. What’s often happened for people who are struggling at work is that they’ve been relying on one of their strongest qualities too much. They’ve unconsciously seen that it worked for them in the past, now they use it in all situations regardless of whether it will work or not. They’re spending the same silver dollar over and over.

The coach’s job at this point is to explore a number of other qualities that this client also has. Look for qualities, ways of being, typical styles of doing things. And especially listen out for qualities of theirs that the client might not like.

For example: “I can sometimes doubt myself and I try hard not to show it”, can become the quality of “Intuition“. And being able to say in a meeting: “Actually, my intuition tells me there’s something we don’t quite understand here”, is a great partner to the quality of being “Direct“.

Keep going until you’ve identified number of qualities and have explored when they’re most useful and when they’re less useful.


The thing I love most about this technique is that you’re not so much asking someone to change, as actually helping them to bring out different aspects of who they really are, at times when that is useful for them. For me, this resolves the dichotomy I mentioned at the start, because you can both like all the qualities that represent your behaviours and be open to how they impact other people.


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Flowchart for Dealing with Difficult Team Leaders

The 5 questions and 3 outcomes for when a leader in your business is behaving negatively, derailing things or upsetting people

Please click the image above to open and download a copy of the flowchart.

Content summary:

1. Symptoms of a difficult team leader include:

  • Excessive and disruptive micro-managing;
  • Blaming people and processes outside of their team for failures;
  • Intimidating their own “weaker” team members;
  • Criticising any initiatives that originated outside their team or are outside their control.

The Five Questions you must ask in this situation:

  1. Has their boss told them that this is unacceptable?
  2. Have their team members had sufficient training & development?
  3. Are they being expected to achieve something which is at odds with the company culture?
  4. Can they be given significantly more autonomy over selecting, developing & organising their team?
  5. Have they had some good-quality, in-depth behavioural coaching over a substantial period?

The Three Outcomes you should plan for:

  1. They change their behaviour
  2. You change the organisation
  3. You ask them to leave

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