My friend and sometimes workshop partner Jack, loves to talk about the importance of assessing an employee’s capabilities and capacity. Regarding the importance of these concepts, I could not agree more.
Yet over the years, I have rarely heard them discussed among managers when addressing the abilities of their subordinates. Credentials, degrees, occupations and recommendations get plenty of attention. So also does those long lists of skills many organizations identify by occupation and profession as essential to the successful performance of their employees. Not that these skills are unimportant but the intense focus on certifying their presence in everyone often becomes an end in itself in an effort to produce the perfect mix of employees.
One of the reasons I believe Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s “First Break All The Rules” remains such a staple part of the management literature is the simple, straight forward formula for managerial success their data suggests: hire for talent not credentials; focus on people’s strengths and forget what is not there; find the right assignments for people that play to those talents and strengths; then define the desired performance outcomes and get out-of-the-way.
For me, the concepts of talent and strengths easily translates into capabilities and capacity. That is, what is it that observed performance indicates an individual actually can successfully do up to acceptable professional standards (CAPABILITIES)? And, based on observed performance, how much can an individual do, how many things can they manage at one time and what is their likely potential for growth (CAPACITY)?
I believe the considerable value of looking at those entrusted to your management skills in terms of their capabilities and capacity lies in several factors.
First, these concepts allow you to bypass those common indicators of what should or could be a person’s skills; i.e. credentials, degrees, training taken, organizationally sanctioned lists of required skills, pay grades and the recommendations of others. Capabilities and capacity are easily empirically verifiable through your direct observation. However one acquired their skills, you can either see them or you can’t. This is one reason I have always loved baseball. A player’s skills are plainly observable on the field and precisely measurable no matter how long or where they have been working to acquire them. This allows the manager to select a young starting pitcher with a 95 mph fast ball and low earned run average, over an older veteran whose arm has slowed and earned run average has ballooned.
Second, relying upon clearly observable capabilities and capacity is incredibly motivational for subordinates who wish to accelerate their ability to play an important and influential role in your organization. Especially in organizations where seniority or pay grades often determine who gets what plum assignments, shifting the paradigm to one where demonstrated ability outweighs seniority and salary, encourages everyone to show you what they can do. Your job as a manager is to ensure that every subordinate understands the required performance standards and that they have ample opportunities to demonstrate them.
Finally, it has been my experience that focusing on the capabilities and capacity of those subordinates entrusted to you, allows a manager far more flexibility in making assignment decisions likely to produce the desired results. Trusting in the strengths and abilities you have actually seen in individuals — regardless of any other factors — allows you the flexibility to assign everyone to those tasks most likely to play to those strengths. As a formula for producing exceptional results, it is hard to beat that.
Yes, some noses will get bent out of shape. Leapfrogging junior subordinates, for example, over more senior colleagues whose sense of entitlement says a given assignment should be theirs, will ruffle a few feathers. But once you have established that demonstrated capability and capacity outweighs age, salary, experience, or anything else in your assignment decisions, you will have also established a required performance norm, encouragement and an expectation that all your subordinates must personally decide if they are willing to meet.