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Capability – Part 2

Why you should be worried if people in your business are saying “I don’t know how…” – and what to do about it

This is the second in a brief two-part series about Capability at work. 

Part one (click here) explored what kind of approaches you can take if you want to help individuals to change their behaviours or to be more capable. In this second part, I 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.

If your business is not capable of doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and of doing that better than your competition, there’s trouble ahead!

Just recently, a couple of client organisations who are in the first stages of becoming more effective and more competitive have mentioned that a few of their people are saying that they, “Don’t know how… (to do what’s required of them).”

This is both a good thing to hear – because it shows that (a) you’re listening and (b) people feel able to tell you – and also the last thing you’d want to be hearing! How can your strategy be a good one, if it’s not based on already having (or rapidly acquiring) a competitive advantage of some kind? How can you execute a great strategy, if key people don’t know how to do what you need of them?

As well as developing individuals – see part one of this series – what might you need to be doing to develop a deeper sense of capability right across your organisation?

Here’s a couple of pointers based on my experience. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list, but should be a good springboard for your own investigations:

  • Are you strategic enough about acquiring and developing Capability? Specifically:
    • how clear are you about the core competencies (related bundles of skills) that set your business apart from the rest?
    • are these core competencies made known, valued, rewarded and measured?
  • Do you promote Curiosity across the organisation? Curiosity about what makes your business tick is a precursor to improved capability. Instead of hearing people say “I don’t know how,” you want to have them saying “I wonder if this would work…?”
  • Building on that, is it OK for people NOT to know stuff? Organisations often reward people (in the widest sense of ‘reward’) for their expertise and knowledge and also often unknowingly punish those who don’t know. Make it OK for people to risk NOT knowing and you open the door for them to learn stuff you’d never have dreamed of.

The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.

Confucius

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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 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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