Skill and Will

Once purpose has been elevated, specified and integrated the next step is to consider the skill and will of the people within the company. It is important to ensure the right people are in place and the mix of people is appropriate.

This brings us to the first sub-blade of the People blade in the Windmill Theory within Powered By Change (PBC), which is Skill and Will. In essence, this is about the ability of people within the company, in particular leaders, to identify opportunities for business growth and ensuring there is the willingness and processes in place to enable these changes to be implemented.

That is, Skill and Will reflects how the company goes about getting inspiration for opportunities once it has elevated its purpose and views the business with a clear understanding of the main thing. Then how it executes upon these opportunities. This is a key reason why the People blade is adjacent to the Purpose blade. And likewise why it is also adjacent to the Product blade. Without the right people in place to make decisions to enact the company’s purpose, the purpose will not be fulfilled. Similarly, the right people are needed to identify opportunities for innovation and enact these through the development of products that reflect the company’s purpose. 

The Skill and Will sub-blade is not an annual ‘tick and flick’ exercise or performance review. At its core, Skill and Will is about understanding whether the company has team members with the ability and desire to execute the company’s purpose. As well as the overall distribution of team members across the Skill/Will matrix to understand if the company has sufficient leadership and people who are willing to learn, if there are actively disengaged people that could be re-engaged, and not too many people that are the wrong fit for the company. The focus is on the attitude, mindset and alignment. It is these things that ultimately manifest throughout the company to create:

  • A culture of curiosity about inter-industry innovation
  • A willingness to test, learn and improve
  • An impetus to actively engage in innovative activities 
  • The disposition toward change, i.e. resist or embrace
  • The lens through which decisions are made that determine company success or failure.

This is the spirit of the people needed for the company to succeed and thrive, particularly in times or perpetual change. Therefore, having the right people in place is crucial. 

In regard to Skill, this is referring to the ability, experience, understanding and knowledge of people within the company. Whilst Will refers to the attitude, desire, alignment and engagement. It is possible to move from either no or low skill/will to high skill/will and vice versa. Personally, I’d rather have people at the company that may not have the most skill but have a willingness to learn and the desire to try over people who are highly skilled but just not interested or have a really bad attitude, i.e. the brilliant jerk. This is because there is disengagement and misalignment which, as has been discussed in previous articles, impacts on productivity that translates to lost revenue and profit. The willingness to try is, to an extent, more important than ability or skill longer term as skill can be improved. Whereas it can be much harder to actually change someone’s attitude or mindset, although it’s not impossible and is worthwhile trying to do this through alignment. Therefore, there is a dire need for people that will consistently try. They don’t need to consistently win and succeed but they do need to be willing to learn and have that effort metric. 

As the pace of change today is as slow as it ever will be, and the only real certainty is that things will continue to change, ensuring there are people in the company who are willing to change and use change as a fuelling mechanism is essential. It is often the problem in the willingness to change that has led to many companies going under. Some examples of where this has occurred include Blackberry, BHS and MySpace. According to the Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Advisors, over ¾ of bankruptcies are attributable to management decisions, or lack thereof in the face of change. This illustrates the importance of ensuring the People blade is operating effectively. This is paramount to ensuring perpetual success. In fact, having the right people in place ultimately determines the company’s ability to respond to change. As the pace of change is only going to increase, this ability and willingness is absolutely required.  

Within PBC, one of the tools used to assess Skill and Will is the Skill/Will Matrix, which is the below 2 by 2 grid that plots skill level and will level or people into the 4 quadrants:

There are 4 quadrants into which the people within an organisation can be mapped to see the distribution across the quadrants. People who have skill and will should be in a position or have some ability to lead, even at a matrix level rather than hierarchical. If there are not enough leaders or too many leaders the outcome is confusion and lowered productivity. Likewise, if people with the ability and desire to lead are not given the opportunity to do this they will likely become leavers and go to your competition where they can lead. People who have no or low skill but have will are learners. These are people that should be nurtured and given opportunities to learn to develop their skills and progress within their careers to eventually become leaders. Again if they are not given the opportunity to learn they will also likely become leavers and go elsewhere. People in the lead and learn quadrants are engaged. That is, they believe in and align with what the company is doing. These segments are 50% more productive and 33% more profitable than those that are not engaged. Therefore, it is definitely worthwhile from a financial perspective to provide learning, growth and leadership opportunities to retain them. 

People with no skill and no will should be avoided. Largely because they don’t have the desire to learn. Having too many of these people can create a toxic environment so its important to manage people in this quadrant ethically but ultimately there is probably not a place for them within the company. Finally, those people who have the skill but are lacking in will fall into the ‘potentials’ quadrant. This quadrant is usually representative of people who are actively disengaged due to a lack of alignment with purpose, either theirs to the company or the company to theirs, or unengaged as a result of a lack of clarity of purpose or limited leadership within the organisation. Statistically, this quadrant accounts for approximately ⅔ of the workforce globally. It is possible to create alignment and move them into the learn or lead quadrant which costs the US economy $350 billion annually so it is definitely worthwhile. 

In terms of trying to re-engage those in the align quadrant, the below 5 steps can be used:

  1. Establish most understandable way of communicating mission
  2. Speak to the people about what resonates with them in their life 
  3. See where there is potential overlap for the company’s mission to empower their personal mission 
  4. See where there is a potential overlap for their desires to fuel the company’s mission
  5. If no alignment is possible, attempt to learn from them as much as possible.

Failure to do this is essentially leaving ⅔ of profit on table and ⅔ of market share at the door.

In the PBC toolkit, thresholds have been identified to optimise the balance between each of these quadrants and solutions are provided to rectify imbalances. Likewise, within the toolkit the assessment can be conducted at the lowest granular level, i.e. each person, and then roll-up to the team, department or company level. 

Remember, the difference between success and failure is how we respond to change. Its the willingness and ability to make decisions to embrace and use change rather than resist it. To do this though requires having the right people in place. In light of the significant financial impacts of having the wrong people in place, it makes sense to regularly monitor and review how the company is performing in this regard. The PBC solution provides the ability to do just that to ensure ongoing success, especially in times of change. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Skill and Will reflects how the company goes about getting inspiration for opportunities once it has elevated its purpose and views the business with a clear understanding of the main thing.
  2. The willingness to try is, to an extent, more important than ability or skill longer-term as skill can be improved. This manifests in an unwillingness to change, which is a problem as the pace of change will only accelerate in the future. 
  3. Many companies have gone under due to the in the willingness of leaders to change. 

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