Tag Archives: applied capability

Endorphins in the Brain

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Do you think the time span for an individual changes depending on their passion for the task they are working on? I observe some employees who seem to have a hard time effectively planning some specific shorter time span tasks (1-2 weeks out), while at the same time they are able to effectively plan out personal “work” over a year in advance. I have observed this with more than one employee and was curious if you had contemplated this or come across research related to this.

There is a distinct difference between maximum capability and applied capability. Maximum capability is the stuff that we, as managers, cannot see…but it’s there.

Applied capability is the stuff that we CAN see. Applied capability is observable, there is evidence of output. The longest time span tasks are most observable based on these conditions –

  • The team member has the necessary skills (technical knowledge and practiced performance).
  • The team member has interest or passion for the work.
  • The task or behavior is consistent within the context (culture) of the work environment.

So, it’s that second condition you are asking about. Interest or passion drives focus, attention and duration. Applied capability (what you see) gets pushed further out whenever there is interest around the work.

So, what you are seeing is an attitude (lack of interest) related to shorter term tasks. Your role, as a manager, is to tie things together, make the connection between interest and the task. Sometimes it is not intrinsic interest, but connected interest. I may not have interest in the project, but certainly have interest in the reward of the project that allows my to purchase the boat (home, car, lifestyle) of my dreams. Connect the work with interest, you will see higher applied capability.

But, here is the hat trick (three goals in a single game). Intrinsic reward comes from challenging work. Any work. Successful completion of challenging work creates endorphins in the brain. There is some work that is simply not challenging, yet has to be done. It is likely that work is a candidate for delegation. You are the manager. What is your role in accurately assigning challenging work and coaching people through work they should delegate to other team members?

Interviewing for Potential

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Many proponents of Requisite Organization claim that a person needs to have work commensurate with their potential capability to be engaged and fulfilled at work. They claim that being required to work at a level of work that is below one’s potential capability can lead to high levels of stress and negatively affect a person’s health. Assuming this is true, how do you assess a person’s potential capability in an interview? If you ask questions about their past experience to assess the level of work they have done before this may not reflect their potential capability (because they may not have had the opportunity to do work commensurate with their potential capability before). Doesn’t this approach entail the risk of hiring someone who will be frustrated, stressed or bored by the level of work in the position?


You make it sound like working below one’s potential capability is devastating. Everyone works on Time Span task assignments all over the place. What is necessary is that a significant portion of one’s work be fully challenging. And understand that this is ALWAYS a moving target. People constantly grow and mature, we are constantly changing, our Time Span capability constantly increasing. Matching the Level of Work with capability is, as Elliott puts it, always a “work in progress.” So, we do the best we can. As managers, we do the best we can to make this match.

Conducting a candidate interview is likely the most difficult assessment challenge we face, as managers. In most managerial situations, we can observe behavior and output, we can have managerial conversations with our team members, we can ask very direct questions about problems that have to be solved and decisions that have to be made. It’s a walk in the park compared to the candidate interview.

Hiring Talent always carries risk. Making the wrong hire is expensive. It costs dollars, time, energy, morale. I will only make hiring decisions based on evidence of work output based on past experience. I will not speculate, I will not hope, I will not assume. I will only hire on evidence. This means I will restrict my questions to real situations that can be observed and verified.

Does that mean I might miss potential? Perhaps. But I don’t use the interview to assess potential capability. I use the interview to assess applied capability. I am not a clinical psychologist, I am not a soothsayer, I am not a fortune teller. I am a practitioner.

And, as a practitioner, here is one method to get an accurate picture of the prospective candidate.

I take the resume and work it chronologically. This means, I start at the back and work forward, because resumes are typically presented in reverse chronology. I have difficulty seeing patterns and progress in reverse, so I start young and work forward. This simple chronological method reveals natural progress of increasing capability as someone moves through their career. Gets me really close to their highest level of current applied capability.

I have some other thoughts about interviewing for potential capability, so let’s pick that up tomorrow.

The Measure of Performance

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

I attended one of your workshops last week. How do you evaluate the Potential Capability of prospective or current employees, using Time Span as the metric?

While this sounds like a simple question, there are many elements to it. Your question is all about Capability.

  • Does this person have the Capability to fill the role, now?
  • Does this person have the Potential Capability to fill this role in one or two years?
  • Is the underperformance, that I observe, related to a lack of Capability, OR another factor?

These are all absolutely legitimate questions for a manager to ask when making a decision related to task assignment, internal promotion and external recruiting from a candidate pool.

It is critical to understand that successful performance in ANY role can be traced to these four factors –

  • Capability (your question above)
  • Skill (Technical knowledge and practiced performance)
  • Interest or Passion (Value for the work)
  • Reasonable Behavior (Habits and the absence of extreme negative temperament)

And I depend on the judgment of the manager to determine which factor(s) are most directly related to the performance I observe. And if the primary factor turns out to be Capability, the most descriptive term is Applied Capability. Indeed, the person may have greater Potential Capability, but as a manager, I am only able to see Applied Capability. I can see Applied Capability because there is a work product, direct output.

But your question was about Potential Capability. As a manager, I may make an intuitive judgment that a team member has greater Potential. This typically means, that, as a manager, I observe underperformance that I deem “could be better.” The question is “why?” What factors could be changed to create higher levels of effectiveness in the role (or task)?

Changing the degree of Applied Capability has little to do with Capability. It has more to do with the other three factors. The limits to Applied Capability have to do with Skill, Interest and Reasonable Behavior. Change any one of those factors and you will see a change in Applied Capability.

But your question was about Potential Capability. The only method, as a manager, to gain insight into a person’s Potential Capability is to test for it. Project work is the single best way to test for Potential Capability. Lee Thayer says it best, “The only measure of performance, is performance.”
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