Tag Archives: culture

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.

How Culture Touches the Work

Culture is that unwritten set of rules that defines and enforces the required behaviors in the work that we do together. Many things we do are written down and comprise our standard operating procedures. But most things are unwritten. And, when we think of culture, here are some things that are often missed.

  • Who can belong to our team? (Membership)
  • Who has the authority to make decisions, in what situations?
  • How are team members given work assignments?
  • How often are team members given work assignments?
  • Do team members depend on work product from other team members?
  • How do team members hand off work to other team members? (Integration)
  • When a team member completes a work assignment, how does their supervisor know?
  • When a team member completes a work assignment, how do they know what to work on next?
  • Does anyone review or inspect their work?
  • How often is their work reviewed or inspected?
  • Are they permitted to continue on additional work before their current work has been reviewed?
  • Do they work on multiple assignments simultaneously?

The people system is the most important system you work on. This is just the start.

More Than The Thought That Counts

It’s not the thought that counts. It’s the hug, the squeezed hand, the warm smile, sharing a cup of coffee, dropping by, saying hello, listening.

It’s the card from a friend with a special note, calling to talk about things more important than the weather.

It’s sitting with a family member through a tough time, standing up for someone in their proudest moment.

Sometimes it’s just showing up and being fully present.

Agreements with Others

Every agreement you make with other people, you ultimately make with yourself. When you cheat other people, you ultimately cheat yourself. When you break a promise to other people, you teach your brain to mistrust your own intentions. You sow the seeds of self doubt. You undermine your own strength and integrity.

Agreements you keep with yourself, that are invisible to others, are the most powerful because they are pure. They sow the seeds of self confidence on a foundation of integrity.

Required Behaviors

For many things in an organization, we document our methods and processes in writing, call them standard operating procedures. SOPs codify the required behaviors in the work that we do together.

Culture is different, because it is mostly an unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior in the work that we do together.

It is always a good idea to have alignment between your standard operating procedures (written), and your culture (unwritten). Because, wherever there is a discrepancy, culture always wins.

Looks Like a Personality Conflict

The situation may look like a personality conflict, but the symptom leads us astray. When two people are at cross-purposes, locked in disagreement, it is because we, as managers, created the conditions for the behavior we see.

Still looks like a personality conflict?

If you are in a place of worship, a temple, synagogue, sanctuary, are you likely to be loud and boisterous or quiet and reflective? If you are at a sporting event and your team just scored a goal, are you likely to be loud and boisterous or quiet and reflective? Your behavior in those two circumstances is quite different, but did your personality change?

Your behavior changed because the context changed.

Change the context, behavior follows.

Structure is the way we define the working relationships between people in our organization. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behaviors in the work that we do together. Structure is culture. Culture is context. Change the context, behavior follows.

Be careful how you define the working relationships in your organization. Structure creates the conditions for things that look like personality conflicts.
——
Change the context, behavior follows, first taught to me by Gustavo Grodnitzky.

What Does It Say About a Company?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Many companies are using recruiters or screeners or consultants for the pre-interview. How does that process differ mainly from how questions are asked and answered? I gave notice, am leaving my current company, and I found it easier to be less formal with the consultant. The consultant may get a better sense of the company they are representing and whether I would fit in the new culture or not.

Response:
What does it say about a company when an outsider can better identify, communicate and assess culture fit, than someone inside the company?

Every company has a culture and they have the culture they deserve.

This is a problem of introspection, documentation and rituals.

Most companies do not spend time thinking about behaviors connected to what they believe. This introspective process is mostly absent. Events occur, behaviors happen and we seldom look back. Every behavior and our response to that behavior sets a precedent.

Even if we think we understand behaviors we want (behaviors we tolerate), we seldom write them down. If we do not document behaviors we tolerate, we cannot continually make them visible to the company, to ourselves.

If we do not document behaviors we tolerate, we can never institutionalize them into customs and rituals. If we do not document safe behaviors (culture of safety), we cannot continually review those behaviors in a morning safety meeting (ritual).

So, yes, what does it say about a company when an outsider can better identify, communicate and assess culture fit, than someone inside the company?

Point A to Point B

An event is anything that gets our attention. An event, at work, is any decision or problem that gets our attention. Decisions and problems present themselves as isolated events, yet they exist inside a context. That context will have significant bearing on the outcome of the decision and the solution to the problem.

When we measure the context in terms of time, or timespan, we gain insight into the impact of the decision made or the problem solved.

We can certainly walk from point A to point B. And to carry a payload, we are limited to our backs. In the long term, if we are to carry many payloads, we may want to invest in a vehicle to carry each payload. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.

If we are to carry many payloads in our vehicle faster over a longer period of time, we may want to invest in a road. If we want to go faster, we may top that road with smooth asphalt. If we want the smooth asphalt to remain smooth with minimum repair, over time, we may invest in a strong sub-structure for the road. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.

Still, we can certainly walk from point A to point B.

It is the role of management to think about longer timespan impact at higher levels of work.

The Source of Organizational Pain

Sometimes people on your team don’t fit. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. Some people don’t fit. It doesn’t make them a bad person, they just don’t fit.

Some companies hire for culture, assuming the company can train the technical stuff. Some companies require the technical stuff assuming the candidate can adapt to the culture.

Organizational structure is the way we define the working relationships between each other. Organizational structure is culture.

Based on your product or service, your business model, what is the relationship your customer wants with your organization? The Discipline of Market Leaders documents three types of relationships (why customers buy from us).

  • Product Superiority (Quality)
  • Low Cost
  • Customer Intimacy

This narrative set the stage in 1995, and, now, there are more ways to define the customer relationship. (I would like to hear how you describe yours.)

Your customer relationship platform drives everything else, specifically your structure. It is the basis of your business model. When your organization structure (your unwritten set of rules) gets out of sync with your customer relationship, you will experience pain.

I Care What You Do

There are four pieces to the Culture Cycle

  • Beliefs, assumptions, values, way we see the world
  • Connected behaviors
  • Connected behaviors tested by the consequences of reality
  • Customs and rituals

Unfortunately, we often spend too much time attempting to define our beliefs, assumptions and values, and too little time defining connected behaviors. I don’t care what you know, don’t care how you feel. I care what you do.