How does the Accordion Metaphor Link Personal Capabilities and Organization Competencies? Overview In pursuit of ‘good work’(1) in organizations, many theories and practices are available to leaders and managers. Upon review, one constant exists among these theories and practices. That constant is the need for people to provide their best performances to ensure organization productivity. For this outcome to occur, all employees must understand their personal capabilities. They must be clear on what knowledge, skills and attitudes they bring to their work. Complementarily, the organization must specify its needs and wants. It must list the competencies it asks its employees to fulfill. As both share, they match personal capabilities with organizational competencies. Linking Capabilities and Competencies Capabilities highlight the accomplishments, skills and talents a person possesses. These capabilities are the potential a person offers to his or her workplace. In addition, capabilities highlight the ability for people to learn, evaluate, organize and apply personal knowing to a situation. Capabilities answer the inside-out question of “What is my fit in the workplace?” The person says, “This is what I have to offer; these are my expectations and requests and what I bring to the workplace.” Competencies, on the other hand, are action-based statements of what the organization requires and requests from an employee. For some work assignments people may share a similar set of competencies (i.e. a group of data-entry personnel) However, there may be a distinctive set of competencies listed for a vice-president of manufacturing. In either example, when the person fulfills the competencies, they meet the requirements and requests of the employer. Competencies denote an outside-in conversation for employees. The conversation focuses on questions like, “What do employees need to know and do to fulfill the assigned task and/or job? What competencies do people need to ensure a culture of safety? How is regulatory compliance achieved through competencies and verifying competence?” An everyday example of capabilities and competencies in the workplace follows. First, consider capabilities as the knowledge, skills and attitudes the person brings to the work situation. Second, competencies are the challenges the person faces. Drawing on the work of Csikszentmihalyi who introduced the concept of ‘flow’(2), when knowledge and skill (and attitude) are mapped on the Y-axis against the challenges on the X-axis, this figure is produced. Knowledge and Skill Capabilities Boredom Flow Anxiousness Challenges Competence Csikszentmihalyi found that when challenges exceed knowledge and skill (and attitude), it stirs up anxiousness. To resolve this situation, the manager acts as a coach urging the employee to find solutions. Additionally, training and education are often recommended. When knowledge and skill (and attitude) exceed challenges, Csikszentmihalyi suggested boredom occurs. For this situation, corrections are possible when managers (a) outline new competencies to encourage new learning; (b) provide more invigorating challenges; (c) encourage the employee to become an internal assessor of others’ competencies; and/or (d) develop employees as educators to assist others in reaching the listed competencies. Three Considerations First, where a difference exists between personal capabilities and organizational competencies, workplace learning occurs. Herein a tension exists. On the personal side, someone requires, requests and brings knowledge, skills and attitudes to the workplace. Countering the personal view are the requirements and requests of the organization as well as what the organization supplies (i.e., physical resources, office space) to support the work. This tension is easily dealt with when the competencies are known and the person can self assess against the competencies and afterwards ask for validation if they have met the competency criteria of theory and task, knowledge and skills. Second, in matching capabilities with competencies, there is the matter of employee compliance. Employees must commit to their follow through with what they know and can do in fulfillment of the competencies. For this reason, it is imperative that a person be assessed on theory and practice of the competency. Persons can be assessed as knowing they can do the work; it is yet another thing for the person to do the work. Consider a person assigned the task of cleaning valves on gas pipelines. It is one thing to know how to clean a valve; it is another thing to do it safely and in a timely fashion. Third, the organization must implement a tracking system (as an example see www.worldicu.com and its UTRAC System) that identifies when persons are matching and not matching competencies. Knowing who is competent provides managers with information to make talent management decisions. Examples: a) in pursuing a new customer account, what employees have the knowledge and skills to participate? Where matches are not available, the deficiencies suggest workplace learning initiatives are needed. b) when the organization implements a new software system, who needs training in the system? c) for situations where safety tickets are expiring, people must be informed on a timely basis of the need to recertify. Accordion Metaphor Throughout this article personal capabilities have been aligned with organizational competencies. A metaphor that illustrates their linkage is the ‘accordion metaphor’ (3). When playing an accordion one can produce music to accompany the ‘dance of work’. See the simple reproduction of an organizational accordion below. On the left side is what the person requires, requests and brings. On the right side is what the organization requires, requests and supplies. The middle ground is the internal situation, the job in which people find themselves working to align with organizational vision and mission. The horizontal box across the accordion columns highlights areas that require the matching of capabilities and competencies. When it comes to communication, for example, what does the organization require and request from the employees? In what ways does the organization supply communication both as a message and as a means of transmitting the message? In the same way, what does the person require and request from organizational communication? What does the person bring to understanding, comprehending and reviewing communication? Where a gap exists, workplace learning happens through incidental learning and/or from formal and informal learning. Person Capabilities Requires Requests Brings Situation Supplies Organization Competencies Requests Requires Issues like Communication, Leadership, Management, Remuneration, Administration, Governance, Design, Development, etc. For example: What are my personal capabilities re: leadership? What are the organization competencies I must fulfil? When this diagram is working as an organizational accordion, the organization has clear, written competencies that are readily available to the person. The competencies are robust. They are quantitatively reliable and valid and/or qualitatively trustworthy and dependable. Consider the competencies of a pupil learning the accordion. While the ‘to do list’ is available, it is practice that matters. The same is said for employees. They must be given competencies that matter and opportunities to continually update/upgrade. Like the accordion player who continues to learn new music, employees must be given new competencies to ensure currency in their job knowledge and skill. Rock Crusher Metaphor Conversely, there is a paradoxical view of the accordion metaphor. It’s called the ‘rock crusher’. This new metaphor suggests there is limited logic and consistency in how competencies are written and communicated. Upon reviewing job descriptions many of the action-based statements broadly list what is considered significant for the job. However, the statements do not indicate if they are critical and/or important to that job. When persons encounter a situation with blurry competency they are confused as to what they must do and are susceptible to the whims of those evaluating them. With a lack of consistency and measurement, people will feel like ‘crushed rock’ spilt on the manager’s carpet during their performance review. They experience the ‘quarry of work’. Summary This article highlights the linkage between personal capabilities and organizational competencies. Both are important within the workplace to ensure ‘good work’. The person brings knowledge, skills and attitudes to their ‘good work’; what challenges or competencies does the organization present to its employees? What level of competency is required and how is this measured? The ultimate question for you becomes: which metaphor (dance of work or quarry of work), best describes and explains how your workplace is organized? Resources (1) Gardner, H., Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Damon, W. (2001). Good work: When excellence and ethics meet. New York: Basic Books. (2) Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins. (3) Hobbs, S. (2001). Exchanging expectations. In Silberman, M. (Ed.), The consultant's tool kit. New York: McGraw-Hill. or Hobbs, S. (2000). The team accordion: exchanging expectations. In Silberman, M. (Ed.), The team and organization development sourcebook. New York: McGraw-Hill. For more information about the content of this article or others in the series, please contact: Dr. Stephen Hobbs CLO www.worldicu.com/resources firstname.lastname@example.org ______________________ Copyright © World ICU World ICU www.worldicu.com is the author this Resource. You have permission to publish this article electronically, in print, in your ebook or on your web site, free of charge, as long as the author bylines are included. A courtesy copy of your publication would be appreciated.
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