“Is it a will or a skill issue?” I’ve been asked this question countless of times regarding non-performance of individuals, teams, and organizations. I guess it’s a main-stay in the office cliché list - and with that being said, it’s expected that everyone knows what is what. Honestly speaking, when I started out, I had no idea what this ‘will’ or ‘skill’ hullabaloo is all about – as do most people.
For most of us, ‘will’ issues require developmental interventions like coaching or mentoring. ‘Skill’ factors, on the other hand, require training/learning interventions like seminars, classroom training, and such. Sounds easy, right? Guess what? It’s actually more complicated than classifying issues into two buckets.
To raise a very important point, giving a hurried response and deploying the wrong intervention can cost your company thousands of wasted dollars in training costs or hundred of wasted work hours in coaching and mentoring – with little to no effect on performance at all. This then makes will and skill two very short possible replies worth thousands (and even millions) of dollars.
So, how do you get it right?
Here are the two most important points we need to put into consideration before answering the riddle:
1. DATA, DATA, DATA
Data plays the most important part in any business decision. Most of the time, it tells us what’s wrong and directs us to the most viable solution. We must; however be mindful of the two types of data: ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ – and we need to use both in determining what type of intervention we need to employ.
Hard data, in layman’s terms, are the ‘end of day’ (uh-oh, another office cliché) numbers. These digits are directly related to a person’s performance rating in his or her job. Soft data, on the other hand, is the feedback from the person(s) or group(s) involved in the issues. Soft data is not based on actual numbers, but instead, they’re based on the subjects’ perceptions, feelings, and behaviors.
A complete ‘will’ or ‘skill’ analysis will involve both types of data from at least three sources. Try to think of it this way: “numbers are only part of the equation; you need the operatives to complete the equation to come up with an answer.”
2. Not everything is in black and white
Most of the time, there is no single solution to address performance issues. More often than not, will or skill ramifications can be resolved with a mix (or succession) of different interventions. And oh – there are even some interventions that don’t fall under skill (training/learning) or will (development); and these are (drum roll please…) organizational interventions.
Organizational interventions are actions that aren’t covered by the scopes of training or development. These interventions implicate change in some aspects of the organization – and more importantly, they might be more time-consuming, challenging, and costly to implement. However, they do pay off BIG TIME - if you hit the nail just right. (Yipes! Another cliché!)
Below are some examples of organizational interventions my team and I helped implement in previous projects. I’ve also included their root causes:
-pay structure change (cause for non-performance: uncompetitive pay vis-à-vis the industry)
-adjustment of office facilities (cause for non-performance: A/C is too cold, office too noisy)
-business process re-engineering (cause of non-performance: cash flow gets stuck with certain individuals, thus delaying payroll)
-and of course, our favorite – teambuilding! (cause for non-performance: poor communication among team members/employees)
Oh, did I mention that most performance issues require a combination of all three (will, skill, and organizational)? I think I already did.