Is the person you’re about to select for an important team or project truly ready? Are they fully capable? Have you thoroughly assessed their capability accurately? Are you sure?
When asked for their take on assessing capability, Stuart Spencer, a long-standing consulting firm for boards and CEOs, had this to say: “Sometimes the differences between today’s and tomorrow’s leaders lie not in the capabilities themselves, but the level of sophistication of the same capabilities — for example, being able to create strategy for an inherently larger and more complex organization, or adapting to new technologies with speed, or getting greater leveraged impact through one’s direct reports into a larger organization.”
The distinction they identify here is a powerful one. Here are two additional questions to consider:
What if you could develop the ability to know if someone was going to be successful at a project before you even assigned it?
What if you took the time to pre-assess your own likelihood of success before saying “Yes!” to an opportunity you’ve been offered?
As we detail in the chapter on empowerment found in our book Thriving in Business and Life, we describe how in a workshop based on their book Empowerment for High-Performing Organizations, authors Guillory and Galindo suggest that there are three areas to explore in determining a person or group’s level of capability (or your own):
Cognitive skills are often overlooked, but a person’s level of cognitive ability significantly impacts their capacity to implement the other two skill-sets. Here are six questions we suggest managers or leaders ask:
What is the person’s attitude?
What’s the story they’ve been generating?
What limiting perceptions, biases, or assumptions do they tend to manifest?
Do they understand the potential ripple effects of their actions or inaction?
Can they stand upstream and project likely future consequences?
Making a cognitive skillset assessment will allow you to understand where coaching or mentoring may be needed and anticipate potential pitfalls in advance, regardless of whether you are the one making the invitation or the one considering the opportunity.
Interpersonal skills are difficult to quantify without asking open-ended questions. Here are three that work:
How well have they resolved past conflicts?
Do they have a history of turning professional matters into personal issues?
Have they demonstrated the ability to respectfully deal with differing viewpoints while still collaborating effectively?
Technical skills usually receive the most attention. In fact, these types of skills have been euphemistically referred to as “hard skills.” Technical skills are typically the most clearly understood and easily assessed elements of a person’s capability. Technical skills are also most easily trained.
We suggest considering the following questions when making a capability pre- assessment regarding technical skills:
Do they have the training and experience that enables them to apply a hard skill to this specific circumstance?
What additional technical skills might they need to acquire in order to successfully complete this task or assignment?
Who might they need to involve in the project who possesses a complementary set of skills necessary to fully achieve this goal or assignment?
If you’re considering someone for an important longer-term role, one that impacts others significantly, performing this type of assessment process could avoid trouble and better prepare you for what’s downstream. If you’re taking on a new assignment or role, you should be pre-assessing yourself with these questions, to determine whether or not you’re well-suited for the opportunity being offered.
Obviously, this kind of thorough assessment would be overkill for simple tasks, but some kind of pre-assessment is always wise. Why do we often miss this? The fundamental problem relates to a tendency towards being impulsive. The International Society for Research on Impulsivity offers this definition:
“Impulsivity has been variously defined as behavior without adequate thought, the tendency to act with less forethought than do most individuals of equal ability and knowledge, or a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these reactions.
When we add the factor of implicit bias into the mix, we can often mistake the “halo effect” (a pre-disposition to select or favor people we are more comfortable with) for objective decision making.
Perhaps we can sum all of this up in a simple saying most of us have likely heard: “Look before you leap!”
With that in mind, here’s your Thriving challenge for the week:
Consider an offer you’re contemplating or one that you are offering someone else.
Refer to the questions above to pre-assess capability.
Use the exercise as a way to overcome your impulsive tendencies
and notice how this process affects your decision-making.
Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding