How Capable Are Your Employees? 4 Indicators to Get the PICK of the Litter

Feb 1, 2013

commodoreHave you ever been stuck using a painfully slow and inefficient computer because it still worked?

Just a few weeks ago, I emptied my garage and office of over a dozen CPUs, printers, and monitors. The cargo area, back seat, passenger seat, floors of my SUV were filled with equipment and components. During the short drive to the local computer recycling center, I was struck by a strange thought: the similarity between these still working working-but-outdated computer hardware and many employees in jobs whose best days have passed.

The simple truth is these functional, reliable, and hard-working computers were no longer able to keep up with the tasks I needed them to do — and when they did, it took too long. Booting up took 5 to 10 minutes, sometimes longer. The operating systems — you know the Windows “stuff” like Windows 98, Vista, and even XP — kept crashing. The CPUs took too long to process information. They couldn’t handle new software upgrades. The hard drives were full and the boards couldn’t support new ones. The modems needed to be replaced because good, consistent high-speed connections required new versions. And let’s not forgot the 15-inch black-and-white monitors. Need I go on?

That same resourceful philosophy for many of us, my friends, doesn’t stop with computers. Many workforces today are filled with loyal, dependable, hard-working employees whose skills don’t match the needs of the organization anymore.

It has been reported that the skills for over 60% of all jobs are held by less than 20% of the population. In 1950, 60% of jobs required unskilled labor. Today, less then 15% of these jobs are unskilled and the number is falling fast.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting a wholesale liquidation of employees. In fact, many of these employees are working harder than ever and even improving their skills through training. The problem is that in today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing, no-room-for-waste environment, many of these same employees are just not keeping up with the increasing demands of the job. Why?

To function successfully in any given role, individuals need capability. Capability can be described as the ability of someone to handle particular levels of complexity and ambiguity. Predictors of employee capability can be narrowed down to four key indicators, represented by the acronym P-I-C-K.

P Stands for Performance (or Pace)

To compete now, employees need to produce more in less time with less waste. Referring back to my computer analogy, employees who run on a 386, 486, or Pentium processor can still get the work done; it just takes them longer. If time isn’t a factor, then working faster is a non issue. But few businesses can afford to ignore drags on productivity. When working harder than necessary to get less-than-optimal output, these employees, like older computers, throw off a lot of heat, too — aka “waste energy.” While the older processors were next-generation at one time, today they are relics, unable to keep up with higher expectations and more demands.

How many employees do you have who are still working with yesterday’s processors when their responsibilities require speeds only available with 3 GHz or more, possibly duo- or quad-core speed for more effective multi-tasking? (For you non-techies, that’s the equivalent of walking fast vs. driving a NASCAR!)

I Stands for Innovation

Innovation fosters growth. Innovative people do more than just throw out new ideas, the proverbial crap against the wall, and hope something sticks. Innovators identify critical constraints and find solutions to relieve bottlenecks. They see the opportunity in the “white space,” where others just see what lives in the here-and-now.

High-performing innovators are also capable of grasping how multiple outcomes might interact with each other. Innovation requires employees, primarily managers, to thrive in a constantly changing and ambiguous world. That in turn requires employees who take risks but continually exercise good judgment.

How effective are your managers at encouraging and stimulating innovation? How innovative are your employees? Do they have the ability to get beyond obstacles and grow your business?

C Stands for Complexity

History may have a habit of repeating itself, but life sure seems to get more complicated every day. Analytical and complex-problem-solving skills are critical competencies in today’s ambiguous, paradoxical, and confusing business environment. These skills are defined by cognitive capacity. Cognitive capacity is a measure of mental horsepower, the ability to unravel complex situations, extrapolate consequences, and apply the information in making effective and timely decisions.

Unfortunately, just like yesterday’s computer being incredibly inefficient at running a complex spreadsheet or watching a DVD, many employees aren’t equipped with the capacity to perform simultaneous complex tasks efficiently or effectively. The ability to multitask and work quickly are also hard-wired, intrinsic skills. Like your old computers, sometimes upgrading is just too expensive. After all is said and done, what you have is an old machine working harder and faster but still putting out mediocre performance.

Do your employees have the horsepower and capacity to decipher and unravel your business’s toughest problems at a pace equal or faster than the competition?

K Stands for Knowledge

The days of graduation signaling the end of learning are long gone. Lifelong continuous learning is more than just a buzz-phrase. It’s the catalyst for innovation and competitive advantage. Knowledge is more than information. It’s more than academic degrees, technical certifications, and years of experience. Knowledge is taking what you’ve learned and experienced and applying it in ways you never thought imaginable.

How effective is your culture at attracting and supporting employees passionate about continuous learning? How well do your best and brightest apply the knowledge in effective and productive ways?

Following the four- indicator PICK sets a strong foundation for evaluating the preparedness of your workforce, your leadership and production bench-strength, and leadership growth potential.

How prepared is your business to attract and retain employees who are the best PICK? What tools and assessment methods are you using to evaluate which employees will be able to perform and innovate, deal with complexity, and keep up with the necessary knowledge?

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