Tag Archives: capability

Why Time Span is Important

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Why is Time Span important? I don’t see how the length of time it takes, to complete a task makes a difference in writing the role description.

Calibrating the level of work in the role description is absolutely critical for the manager to gain insight into the decision making and problem solving required for success in the role. If the hiring manager cannot determine the level of decision making and problem solving, the successful search for a candidate will mostly be based on luck.

Intuitively, we can agree that some problems are more complex than other problems. Intuitively, we can agree that some decisions are more complex than other decisions. But, intuitive understanding does not help us measure that complexity.

And I am not talking about detailed complexity. Engineers love detailed complexity. They write computer software to handle all the detail in scalable databases. That is not the complexity I am talking about.

The complexity I am talking about, is the complexity created by the uncertainty of the future, the complexity created by the ambiguity of the future. That complexity can be measured by identifying the target completion time (Time Span).

Do you remember Murphy? Murphy has a law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. How long do we give Murphy to play? That is Time Span.

The Time Span of a problem or the Time Span of a decision will give the hiring manager insight into the talent (capability of the candidate) required to be effective in the role.

  • Short term problems can be solved through trial and error.
  • Medium term problems may require experience (documented experience).
  • Long term problems (problems we have never solved before) may require root-cause or comparative analysis.

The Time Span of the problem will indicate the method (and capability) required to solve it.

Remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? The Time Span of the problem at hand was short. The problem required an emergency solution. We watched on television, in real time, as engineers cobbled together trial and error solutions. We did not need a sophisticated well thought out solution. There was no time for longitudinal studies of hydraulic pressures in geological fissures. We just needed a mechanical wrench to choke off a hole in an underwater pipe.

But longer term, when drilling rigs are designed, to simultaneously get to the oil AND safely protect the operating crew AND protect the long term environmental impact, well, that solution will require a bit more than choking off a hole in a pipe.

The Time Span of a problem or the Time Span of a decision gives us insight into the talent required to be effective in the solution. And the person selected out of the candidate pool makes all the difference.

The solution is seldom a matter of WHAT, more often a matter of WHO.

Role Mis-Match?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

How do you deal (humanely) with someone who clearly is holding an S-IV role, but only appears to have S-III capability?

First, understand that this person is doing their best, and the mistake was made by the manager (I assume that is you) who promoted this person into that role without proper due diligence.

Now, what to do?

Pull out the role description and carefully examine those Key Result Areas that describe decision making and problem solving at S-IV (multi-system analysis and system integration). Using the role description, you can either manicure the role to reassign those accountabilities to someone else or choose to transfer the person to another role which better matches their capability.

The most important part of this managerial move is to understand, the discussion centers around the tasks, activities, decisions and problem solving. The discussion does NOT center around the stratum level capability of the person. This is an important nuance.

As the manager you have the following authority –

  • Determine the level of work in the role.
  • Determine the effectiveness of the person in the role.

As the manager, you do NOT have the authority –

  • To guess the stratum level of capability of the person.
  • To guess the potential capability of the person.

As the manager, you may have an intuitive judgment about a person’s capability or potential capability. You may take action related to that judgment ONLY by testing the candidate against effectiveness in the role (or testing the candidate with project work similar to the level of work in the role). It’s all about the work, not about a number.

What to Do With Untapped Potential

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

What action should we take if we have a person with Stratum IV capability in a Stratum III role?

First, I would ask, how do you know?  What behavior are you seeing?

You might see competence.  Competence with spare time left over.  Spare time to help other people.  Spare time to coach others.  Spare time to train others, teach others.  Spare time to participate in higher level planning.  It’s not such a bad thing.

The problem with having someone with S-IV capability in an S-III role is to determine if there is enough challenge in the role to gain their long term interest.  You might observe boredom with their day to day problem solving and decision making.  Boredom can create sloppiness, inattention to detail.  But boredom can also lead to effective delegation, innovation, efficiency initiatives.  I can hear the words.

“I am a bit bored with this task.  In what way can I make it more efficient?  In what way can I delegate this task to someone who might see this work as a challenge, to help them develop professionally?  So I can get on with more interesting work.”

Having someone with S-IV capability in an S-III role is an opportunity.  Just ask them.

How to Evaluate Capability in a Candidate

From the Ask Tom mailbag –


How can I test to see if a person has Stratum II or Stratum III capability?


If you are looking for a paper and pencil test, there is none.  There is no test with a set of answers that you shove into a computer that divines a person’s capability.  Elliott chuckled when this question was posed.  Most psychometric instruments, he observed, have, at best, a .66 correlation with reality.  Most are based on personality, or behavior, or behavior connected to temperament.  While those tests, or profiles have statistical significance for repeatability and in most cases, a stunningly accurate description of a person’s tendencies or behaviors, their evidence of predictability, a specific profile for a specific role has significance barely above flipping a coin (.5 correlation).

Elliott conjectured, if there were a paper and pencil test for capability, its likelihood to stand the same test would likely yield no more than the same .66 correlation with reality.

But your question is still valid and there is a method to satisfy the high curiosity we have about a person’s capability related to the level of work.  There is no trick, no special technique, no psychological requirement that we climb inside the head of our candidate and play amateur psychologist.

Moreover, the validity of this method reveals between .89 and .97 inter-rater reliability.

It’s all about the work.  Focus on the work.  As you define the role, its task and activities, goals and objectives, what is the level of work?  Does the role contain Stratum II level of work or Stratum III level of work?  Examine the decisions that have to be made and the problems that have to be solved.  Examine the time-span of the goals and objectives in the role.  What is the longest time-span task in the role?

The biggest mistake most companies make is underestimating the level of work required in the role.  A defect in the definition of the level of work in the role will most assuredly result in hiring the wrong person.

Examine your role description.  What are the tasks and activities?  What are the decisions that have to be made?  What are the problems that have to be solved?  What is the time-span of the longest task assignment in the role?

Based on that definition of the role, does the candidate provide evidence of effective task completion?  It’s all about the work.

When we spend the time to accurately define the work, and accurately calibrate the level of work in the role, the questions become very simple.  Does this person work as effectively as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role?  And, in that half, does this person operate as effectively as someone in the top, middle or bottom.

When you ask the team member to do a self-assessment, ask the manager and ask the manager-once-removed (MOR) about effectiveness, the inter-rater agreement approaches .97 (.89-.97).  With this practical evaluation system, why would you want to resort to other methods that might only have a .66 correlation with reality?

It’s all about the work.

How to See Evidence of Potential in an Interview

“If you are not going to let me hope,” Monica protested, “then explain to me how I got this job? When I was promoted to manager, I had never been a manager before. If the interview had only centered around my prior role as a supervisor, then how did the interviewer make the judgment that I had the potential to be a manager?”

“Do you think the interviewer only had hope for you in this manager role?” I asked. “Monica, I watched you, in your role as a supervisor for three years. I sat in on the debriefing after you were interviewed for your current role as a manager. Do you think that decision was made based on hope?”

“Not if you were in the room,” Monica admitted. “But, then how did you know I had the potential to be a manager if I had never been a manager before?”

“Okay, let’s step through some questions. As a supervisor, do you think you were operating as effectively as someone in the top half of a supervisor’s role or the bottom half?”

Monica smiled politely, nodding, “Top.”

“And in the top half, were you operating as effectively as someone in the top third, middle third or bottom third?”

Monica continued to shake her head. “Top,” she repeated.

“What is the evidence for that?” I pressed.

“You always want evidence,” Monica replied. “My projects always came in on time, within the specs from the customer and always within budget.”

“And why did your projects always come in on time? Did you always get the easy projects or were there problems?”

“There are always problems, but you know, 90 percent of the obstacles are predictable. For example, permits are always a problem. And permits are outside my control, it’s a government agency that processes the permits. But I took the time to get to know the inspectors down at the building department. I know it is not part of my job description and sometimes they are not the easiest people to get acquainted with, but I also know it’s important.”

“So, you took the time to go beyond prescribed duties in your role as a supervisor. You anticipated obstacles that might get in the way and created alternate paths, to solve problems that might occur,” I recounted.

“Well, you know, if you don’t have a relationship with the building inspectors, then you don’t know what criteria they are using to get your project approved. And if you don’t know what they are looking for, your project can get stuck. It’s easy to blame it on the building department, but if your project is 18 months in scope, thirty days might mean the difference between an on-time finish or having to pay liquidated damages for coming in late. There is a lot of risk.”

“So, when we decided that you had the potential to be a manager, it is because we could see evidence of that potential beyond your role as a supervisor.”

How to Interview for Potential

“I want to hire this person. Of all the candidates I have talked with, they seem to show the most promise,” Monica explained.

“So, you haven’t made up your mind?” I asked.

“No, I said I want to hire this person,” she clarified.

“Are you basing your decision on evidence? You sound uncertain.”

“You are right. The level of work in their previous job is short of the level of work we need in this position. But it might be that she was just underemployed,” Monica thought out loud.

“So, far, you are basing your decision on a promise and a maybe,” I clarified.

“Yeah, but how do you know? How do you know whether or not she has the potential?”

“I asked you if you were basing your decision on evidence. Is there evidence of potential? Look, you spent a great deal of time properly writing the role description. You carefully organized the tasks into Key Result Areas. In each Key Result Area, you defined the level of work. In your interview, you either establish evidence in the level of work or you don’t.”

“You mean I can’t hope?”

Don’t Go to Hope Island

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Yesterday, you talked about looking for evidence of potential. I followed the explanation, but I am still looking for some sort of instrument to help measure a candidate’s capability or more importantly, a candidate’s potential for higher capability. I get that I can measure the level of work in a candidate’s current or former role and match (or not match) that to the level of work in our open role. I can assume that if a person was effective in that level of work somewhere else, they are likely to be effective in that level of work with us. But I still want to know if they might have the potential for higher levels of work now, or sometime in the future.

There is a temptation in this discussion for managers to visit a place called Hope Island. Hope Island is a wonderful resort destination with luxury accommodations at the Assumption Hotel. The five-star Assumption Hotel has a water theme park sporting a replica of Egypt’s Denial River and a water flume ride where participants ride down the steep Pitch of Performance into a pool of reflective water.

As long as we are not going to Hope Island, we can continue this discussion.

Kevin Earnest replied to yesterday’s post to discuss some specific tools that may be useful to the manager and the manager-once-removed. “As we know from Human Capability, when an employee, manager and MoR “calibrate” to a person’s CPC (current potential capability), they are placing a dot on the Talent Pool Maturation Data Sheet and making a hypothesis about the person’s potential development. If you follow the trajectory on the Data Sheet, we can foresee their anticipated long term potential development. CEOs and managers must continue testing the hypothesis with additional tasks or special projects (real talent pool development) to determine if, in fact, the person is maturing as anticipated.”

So, there is an instrument, a chart that can be useful to the manager and manager-once-removed. This chart is documented most thoroughly in a book first published in 1994 called Human Capability, by Elliott Jaques and Kathryn Cason. This chart is a visual representation of how a person’s natural capability matures through time. It shows different trajectories as each person, in their own life, is on their own path.

Talent Pool Maturation Data Sheet

Talent Pool Maturation Data Sheet

But here is the critical part of Kevin’s response. While the chart may be helpful, it must be tested continually with projects and tasks. Stay off of Hope Island. The only measure of performance is performance. Lee Thayer said that.

Capability in the Team

I was talking with Claude, a supervisor, about his team. “Those two over there, are the new guys, one has been here a month, the other just got out of orientation last week. They are learning, but it will take them a while to catch on to how we do things around here.”

“How often do you have to check up on them?” I asked.

“In the morning, we go over the work orders from the production schedules. A little huddle meeting. I check back in about 15 minutes to make sure they are moving in the right direction. Then, they’re good for a couple of hours. Right now, I am not as worried about their production output as much as doing the work correctly.”

“And the rest of your team?”

“The rest of the crew has been here at least a year, some, four or five years. They know what to do. For them, our morning huddle is as much social as it is to look at production for the day. I walk the floor a couple of times, morning and afternoon, just to see if they have questions, admire some of their handiwork.”

“When they run into a problem, how do they solve it?” I pressed.

“There are some things they can try, but if they can’t figure it out pretty quickly, they either come to Tony, or me?” Claude replied.


“Tony is the team leader. Sharp kid. Only been here two years, great technician, twenty-eight years old.”

“So, how does Tony solve problems?” I was curious.

“Same as the other guys, but he is quick. If one solution doesn’t work, he has something else to try. If that doesn’t work, he tries something else. Boom, boom, boom, problem is usually solved. When I have to be out of the office, or on vacation, Tony is my assistant. I can leave him in charge, and not worry. But Tony won’t be with us much longer.”

“Why’s that?”

“I was talking with my manager. She has had her eye on Tony since the beginning, thinks he ready for supervisor training?”
Orientation for our online program Hiring Talent kicks off tomorrow. Registration is now open. Follow this link for more information. Hiring Talent – 2013.

Not a Matter of Training

“And that’s where he stops. He can keep one or two machines busy, but we have fifteen machines and plenty of work for all of them.”

“Who was the supervisor before Ryan got hired?”

“Oh, he was a good guy, kept the place humming. Got promoted to our other plant in Michigan,” Drew explained.

“And there was no one else on the production crew that could take over?”

“No, a good technician doesn’t necessarily make for a good supervisor. It’s one thing to push out today’s work. Totally different to make sure all the machines are scheduled for each shift for the next three weeks. Lots of moving parts.”

“Can’t you train someone?” I probed.

“It’s not a matter of training,” Drew shook his head. “Some people have it and some people don’t.”

“So, what is it, that some people have and others don’t?” I wanted to know.
Orientation kicks off this Friday. Registration is now open for Hiring Talent – 2013. This is the only program that blends Elliot Jaques’ Levels of Work with the Behavioral Interview. This 6-week online program is practical, hands-on, coached by Tom Foster. Follow this link for more information and registration.

Why Can’t Ryan Handle It?

Drew was beside himself. “I don’t know why Ryan can’t handle this job. We asked him all the questions in the interview. We were quite thorough. He knows the name of each piece of equipment. He can tell you exactly what it is used for, how it is used. We even have trained technicians for him to manage to run the equipment.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“All he has to do is keep the equipment busy. We have sales orders that come out of the front office. All he has to do is look at the sales orders, translate those into work orders, make sure we have the right materials in stock and schedule the work on each machine.”

“And?” I pressed.

“And that’s where he stops. He can keep one or two machines busy, but we have fifteen machines and plenty of work for all of them.”
Registration is now open for Hiring Talent – 2013. This is the only program that blends Elliot Jaques’ Levels of Work with the Behavioral Interview. This 6-week online program is practical, hands-on, coached by Tom Foster. Follow this link for more information and pre-registration.