Tag Archives: competence

Clumsy at First

Last week, I published the following excerpt –

Those permanent adaptations will seem clumsy at first, just not the same, but permanent nonetheless. And the clumsiness will become practiced, and those among us who practice will become competent at a new way. And the new way will improve on par with the old way. And, we will wonder what took us so long to get over our resistance.

Now, a list of questions, from which I would like to get your response.

  • In your business, what have you learned over the past month, that you did not know before?
  • In your business, what changes have you made out of necessity?
  • In the changes that you have made, what might become permanent?
  • How are you practicing those new things, to become competent in those new things?
  • In your business, what is likely never to return?

Post your comments, I am curious. -Tom

Four Factors of Competence

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about competence as a primary driver of performance. If the underperformance is a matter of competence, what do I look for? It is too easy to say, “Oh, that person is just incompetent.”

Response:
Competence is made up of four things –

  • Capability
  • Skill
  • Interest or passion for the work
  • Required behaviors

These four factors can be used to trouble-shoot any underperformance, even mis-behavior.

Capability
Capability is an elusive concept to articulate, but we understand it intuitively through analogies. Some call it horsepower, mental acuity, light bulbs in the box, a few cards light in the deck. Most would agree that some problems are simple, some more complex. And, that some people can solve simple problems, but struggle when the level of problem solving becomes more complex. This is not just grasping all the facts to make a decision, but making a decision in the absence of facts, where there is ambiguity and uncertainty.

Skill
Where capability is more difficult to articulate, skill is easy. Competence related to skill is observable. There is evidence of output. A skill is anything that can be learned, anything that can be taught. Two pieces to every skill, one is technical knowledge, the other is practiced performance.

Interest or passion for the work
Without interest or passion, it is unlikely the person will put in the time to practice the skill. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, talks about 10,000 hours of practice required to master (become competent) a skill. A person who has no interest will not put in the time.

Required behaviors
There are three strings connected to required behaviors, contracted behaviors, habits and culture. There are some behaviors we simply contract for, like showing up on time for work. Competence can also be observed in habits. We are competent in those behaviors that are repeated (practiced), routine, grooved. As an organization (or team, or group) we enforce some required behaviors through culture.

So when I look for competence in performance, these are the four things I look for.

Discretionary Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You indicate the reason people do what they do is because they can. How does if-they-can relate to competence? And, if someone can-do, has the competence to-do, then how do we get them to do it? I am always looking for discretionary behavior.

Response:
Lot’s of questions embedded here. The first cause of underperformance is the lack of competence to perform. The accountability for this goes to the manager. It is the manager that determines the capability and skills required for the role. The manager is accountable for selecting the team member for the role based on their possession of that capability and skills. If the team member does not possess the requisite capability and skills, then that is poor selection on the part of the manager. This has nothing to do with discretionary behavior, this has only to do with competence.

If someone has the competence to perform, the only way for a manager to influence effective behavior is to make it necessary. The reason we don’t get the performance we want, and need, is because we do not make it necessary. If a person has the requisite skills and capability (competence) and the performance has been made necessary, then the only reason for underperformance is a matter of discretion. We can only assume underperformance occurs, is because underperformance was chosen.

The conditions for performance require –

  • Competence
  • Necessity

—–
For a more thorough discussion, please read Leadership: Thinking, Being, Doing by Lee Thayer

Not a Matter of Motivation

“It is difficult to lead the charge if you think you look silly on top of a horse.”

I am often asked to describe the most important qualities of leadership. What does it take to make a good leader? There are many qualities. Today I am thinking of Mastery.

Mastery is the beginning of self-confidence. Many times, people believe they can pump themselves up with a motivational book or by attending a motivational seminar. While there are temporary positive feelings of invincibility, it doesn’t take more than a few hours for that to wear off.

True self-confidence begins with mastery. “Mastery over what?” – just about anything that requires some new degree of skill, anything that requires a person to truly push performance beyond their current level of self-confidence. Most folks seldom push themselves beyond their current limits, for fear of failure. It is in the facing of that fear (fear of failure) that I see true growth, a new level of mastery. There can be no mastery without the possibility of failure.

When was the last time you pushed yourself beyond limits? When was the last time you engaged in something new, something that required you to think in a new way, that required more tenacity than you have ever mustered before? It doesn’t come from a book. It doesn’t come from a seminar. Get off the couch, go do something new.

A Level of Competence

“We all have habits that support our success,” I started. “We may have some habits that detract. It is those routine, grooved behaviors that chip away at the world. It is our discipline.

“Emily, why does a star quarterback throw more touchdown passes than others? Why does a singer perform so well on stage? Why does an Olympic swimmer break a record?”

Emily knew there was a very specific answer to this question, so she waited.

“They all do those things because they can. They spend great periods of their life creating the habits to support the skills that drive them to the top. They reach high levels of competence because they practiced, tried and failed, got better and practiced some more, with a discipline to master those skills. They perform at a high level because they can. The great numbers who have not mastered those skills, who are not competent, were eliminated in the first round.

“Those who achieve mastery are a select few. And that includes effective managers.

“It takes a discipline of habits to achieve competency. For a manager, these habits support the leadership skills necessary to be effective. And that is where we will start.”

What Determines Success?

Emily shifted to the edge of the chair in anticipation. “Okay, I’m game,” she said. “If I want my team to make changes, I have to look at myself first. So, I am willing to do that. I want to make things come out better, make my team better, make myself better. I want to make a difference. I want to change the outcome.”

“Emily, we don’t choose the way things turn out. I mean, we may think we choose our success, but we do not. The only thing we choose are our habits. And, it’s our habits that determine our success. What are those grooved and routine behaviors that chip away at the world? If you want to know how to influence others, you have to first understand how you choose your own habits.”

Training Does Not Create Competence

The training wasn’t working, but Crystal was looking in the wrong place.

The skill was simple. Enter the data into the computer during the phone call, not after the call. The software was in place, the training program was clear, with exercises and interaction.

The problem wasn’t the training, the problem was AFTER the training. Once training was complete, the operators were literally abandoned. They were introduced to the skill, performed the skill two or three times during the training, but afterwards, NOTHING. Only one day later, all the operators abandoned the new process and were back to taking notes on paper during the call.

“Crystal, I want you to develop some practice sessions following the training. Create some scripts based on the ones used in training. Then have the operators practice, practice, practice.

“And you are going to have to take off your training hat and put on your coaching hat. Your training is only intended to get this process started. Before you let them go, you have to bring them to a level of competence. Competence comes through practice and coaching. Training comes before the behavior. Coaching comes after the behavior.”

How to Coach Increasing Competence

“Sustained, discretionary effort. That’s what we are after,” I said. “The training period requires more attention and focus from the manager. But as time passes and new behaviors become competent skills, the reinforcement changes.

“In the beginning, the manager has to overcome push-back and fear of failure. But, as the new behavior turns to competence, the issues change.”

“So, what does the manager do differently?” asked Travis.

“Lots of things, but let’s start with the easy stuff. In the beginning, the manager may reinforce good old fashioned effort. But as time goes by and the effort becomes accomplished, the manager changes to reinforce a specific sequence. As the specific sequence becomes accomplished, the manager may reinforce speed or efficiency.

“Let’s go back to our example of the video game. Modern game designers structure training sequences into the lower levels of the game. Leveling up requires certain fundamental skills be demonstrated. Once accomplished, the player is introduced to more complex scenarios where mastery of the fundamentals must already exist. Each level becomes increasingly complex. The schedules of reinforcement change, but the principle remains the same. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”

Biggest Room in the World

What is the struggle? I want to know the pain. Often, the largest pain is the crucible for the largest gain. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.

Don’t avoid the struggle. I know it hurts. It appears debilitating. Lean in. These are the areas of greatest opportunity. Context is important because the struggle that is causing pain looms large when you are up against it. Step back. Place the event of your struggle into a longer time frame.

  • What does the pain teach us?
  • What are the most effective moves now to change the painful circumstances going forward?
  • What are the most difficult moves that must be made now?
  • What must we learn to make those difficult moves?
  • How long will it take to learn those new skills?
  • How long will it take to master those new skills?
  • What is the long term impact of that mastery?
  • What will be different about you when that happens?

The Link Between Necessity and Competence

“I thought about what you asked. What is it that I have to do? What is it that I have to do to become the manager, to become the person I want to be?” she started.

“And, where did you arrive?” I asked.

“I am back to competence. To be the manager I want to be, requires competence.”

“So, you have to become competent in the skills of management, you have to become competent in thinking like a leader?” I asked.

Emily paused to reflect.

“More than a decade ago, I took up the sport of cycling,” I said. “The more I rode, the higher my level of fitness, the more competent I became at the skills of cadence and wind resistance. In short, I did the things I had to do to reach a specific level of accomplishment. It was not a choice. To reach my goal, I had to do those things. Without those things, I would never have reached the goal.

“What is interesting to me,” I continued, “is that level of accomplishment has become who I am. And to stay at that level requires me to continue. It is now one of my internal disciplines.

“I suspect, as the manager you want to be, you will have to practice in much the same way. You will have to become competent at the skills of management. You will do what you have to do to reach a specific level of competence. It will not be a choice. To reach your goal, you will have to do those things. Without those things, you will never reach your goal.

“That level of accomplishment, as a manager, will become who you are. And to stay at that level will require you to continue to practice. It will become one of your internal disciplines. Competency requires no less.”
___
In the USA, this week we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a time to be with family and give gratitude for the lives we have. And, we might eat a little turkey. See you next week. -Tom