This statement is very common in many organizations. If you want to apply for a job which require a high qualification and offers you nice benefits in return, you will get first a long list of requirements from that company which is asking you to prove your competencies in as many of your future tasks as possible. You must be skilled and experienced in a lot of things and you have – let’s say 1 hour for the interview – to prove that. If you are weak at some criteria or you really don’t have one of the required skill or competency at all, you may already expect to be rejected without too much talk. The company will tell you usually after few days that they decided for another candidate, which in many cases is a lie. They didn’t decide for anything, they just did not find the perfect candidate which can fulfill 100% all the requirements. They are all following the idea that the best candidate is well-rounded and therefore they put effort to spend time and money to find that candidate. Well… let me say, that anything more stupid in any hiring process than this it can not be.
Those organization who have this approach are just wasting their money for nonsense. It’ s definitely wrong to judge like that, saying: the best staff is well-rounded. Maybe at some point in the future the Artificial Intelligence will create such a tool perfect for everything, but humans will never ever be well-round for any job. This is a very big lie. I am gonna talk about this lie in this post.
Look, the best example I have in mind in this moment is Lionel Messi.
For all the football fans, there is no need for me to tell you who Leo Messi is. In case there are still some who probably don’t know about him, Messi is one of the best (because Cristioano Rolanldo also is 🙂 ) football player in the world. We won’t see another one like him soon. He is good in this sport. Extremely good. But he has all the credit for that; First he has talent and second he plays with pleasure, he really loves what he does. He gained the admiration of the whole world and he really shine in his actions on the football field.
Messi plies his trade on the world’s largest sporting stages, but you may have experienced similar admiration for colleagues at work. One of them puts together a presentation and delivers it with wit and clarity, and you smile. Another handles a grumpy customer with just the right mix of empathy and practicality, and you marvel at how easy he made it look. Another defuses a complex political situation, and you look at him in awe and wonder how on earth he did it. As humans we are wired to find joy in seeing someone else’s talents in action. We resonate with the naturalness, the fluidity, and the honesty of a thing done brilliantly well, and it attracts us and draws us in.
You will have recognized the Messi’s joy when it is your own performance that you’re experiencing, too – that is, when you are expressing your own strengths. This sensation is not, at root, created by how good you are at something. Rather, it’s created by how that activity makes you feel. A strength, properly defined, is not “something you are good at.” You will have many activities or skills that, by dint of your intelligence, your sense of responsibility, or your disciplined practice, you are quite good at, and that nonetheless bore you, or leave you cold, or even drain you. “Something you are good at” is not a strength; it is an ability.
And, yes, you will be able to demonstrate high ability – albeit briefly – at quite a few things that bring you no joy whatsoever.
A strength, on the other hand, is an “activity that makes you feel strong.”
This sort of activity possesses for you certain definable qualities. Before you do it, you find yourself actively looking forward to doing it. While you are doing it, time seems to speed up, one moment blurring into the next. And after you’ve done it, while you may be tired and not quite ready to suit up and tackle it again, you nonetheless feel filled up, proud.
It is this combination of three distinct feelings – positive anticipation beforehand, flow during, and fulfillment afterward – that makes a certain activity a strength. And it is this combination of feelings that produces in you the yearning to do the activity again and again, to practice it over and over, to thrill to the chance to do it just one more time. A strength is far more appetite than ability, and indeed it is the appetite ingredient that feeds the desire to keep working on it and that, in the end, produces the skill improvement necessary for excellent performance.
This is what work does to Stevie Wonder when he composes and sings – he finds joy. This is what work does to Lionel Messi when he dances round defenders and finds the net from impossible angles – he finds delight. This is what we see when we see anyone who is really good at their work – we see someone who has found love in what they do. And this is what your company hopes your work will do for you. When your leaders say they want you to be creative and innovative and collaborative and resilient and intuitive and productive, what they are really saying is, “We want you to fill your working hours with activities that bring you joy, with tasks that delight you.”
Oddly-and sadly-this set of observations is often dismissed in business circles, because business is meant to be about rigor and objectivity and competitive advantage, next to which the idea of looking for joy in work, as a precursor to excellence in work, seems rather soft. Fixing shortcomings, no matter how hard that might be, seems like the hard-boiled business of business; finding delight is the province of poets.
Somehow, on the best teams, the team leader must be able not only to identify the strengths of each person but also to tweak roles and responsibilities so that team members, individually, feel that their work calls upon them to exercise their strengths on a daily basis. When a team leader does this, everything else recognition, sense of mission, clarity of expectations-works better. But when a team leader doesn’t, nothing else that he or she tries, whether in the form of money or title or cheerleading or cajoling, can make up for it. Ongoing work-strengths fit is the master lever for high-performance teams: pull it, and everything else is elevated; fail to pull it, and everything else is diminished.
Nothing thus far should be particularly surprising. We’ve all seen people like Lionel Messi demonstrate their brilliance, and been uplifted by the sight. We’ve watched colleagues excel, and we’ve felt happy wonder in their success.Which makes it all the more surprising (or frustrating, or depressing) is that companies are not, in fact, built to help us pinpoint and then contribute our unique strengths. In their systems and processes and technologies, in their rituals and language and philosophies, they evidence exactly the opposite design: to measure us against a standardized model, and then badger us to become as similar to this model as possible. They are built, that is, around the lie that the best people are well-rounded.
At some point in your career, if you haven’t already done so, you will bump into a thing called a competency model. A competency is a quality you are supposed to possess in order to excel in your job. They look like this: strategic thinking, goal orientation, political savvy, business acumen, customer focus, and so on. The idea behind them is that excellent performance in a job can be defined in terms of the right grouping of competencies.
Thus the company’s top leaders will be asked to examine a long list of these competencies – there are literally thousands to choose from-and then pick the ones that everyone agrees each incumbent in each job should possess. One widely used model, for example, identifies five categories of competencies (core, leadership/management/business/interpersonal, job functional, job technical, and technical-task specific) and then a further list of competencies within each of these, so that “core,” in this case, includes for example 22 leadership competencies, 18 management competencies, 45 business competencies, and 33 individual competencies, for a total of 118.
Entry-level jobs are assigned fewer or simpler competencies, and the further up the hierarchy a job is, the more numerous and the more complex the competencies assigned to it tend to become. Having defined competencies for each role, the leaders will also usually define a desired proficiency level for each competency on a scale of 1 to 5, so that they can say, for instance, that such-and-such a job requires strategic thinking at a proficiency level of 3, whereas it needs customer focus at a proficiency level of 5.
This entire construct – the chosen competencies and their required proficiency levels, for each seniority level, for each job, across some or all of an organization – is called a competency model. In a typical model, a given job might be defined to require a few dozen competencies at varying proficiency levels.
So far, this might seem unobjectionable, if a little unwieldy: a group of leaders getting together to define what they feel the ideal employee should look like. It might not be our first choice for how they should spend their time, but at least no one has been harmed in the making of this model. It’s what happens next, however, that leads us into choppier waters, because once created, the competencies show up everywhere.
Your manager and your peers will rate you on them, and your overall performance rating will be derived in large part from how much of each of them you possess. During annual talent reviews, the competencies will be the language used to describe your performance and potential: if the consensus is that you possess them all, you will be considered for promotion, or paid more, or selected for plum assignments; whereas if you do not possess them, or display gaps in a few of them, you will be told to take the relevant training programs, and work on proving to your company that you have plugged your gaps. These competencies will become the lens through which your company sees you, understands you, and values you.
All of the major Human Capital Management tools – the enterprise software systems that companies use to keep information about you, pay you, allocate benefits to you, promote you, develop you, and deploy you – are built around competency models, and how closely you and your colleagues match up to the models. The concern here is the theory of work that those companies embody and that underlies so much of what we do in organizations today. (in automotive industry all of them are guided by such competency models: B.M.W, Dailmer, AUDI, VW, Renault, Toyota, Ford, NISSAN, and so on, all of them.)
In the FIRST part =The theory goes something like this: we live in a world of machines, code, and processes, and when these break, we have to identify the faulty component or line of code or process step and fix it – to take dysfunction and repair it. The first part of this competency theory of work, then, extends this thinking to performance. Once we’ve located you on our proficiency scales, we tell you that your lowest scores – those where you are most “broken” – are your “development areas,” and that the best path to greater performance will come from unrelenting focus on these areas.
The second part of the theory takes this line of thinking to its logical conclusion: we reason that if improvement in performance comes from remedying shortcomings, then high performance excellence – must be the result of having removed shortcomings across the board, from having a high score on every scale. Excellence, in other words, is a synonym for all-round high ability: well-rounded people are better.
This is the lie that underpins the tyranny of competencies, and it is persistent and pervasive. But to see the truth, we need only to understand two particular facts
FACT NR. 1 = competencies are impossible to measure.
Take “strategic thinking” as an example. Is this a state, something that is variable and subject to flux? Or is it a trait, something that is inherent and relatively stable over time? Well…We can measure these two phenomena quite differently. When we are measuring states, we either devise surveys that ask a person about his or her state of mind, or we create tests with right and wrong answers to determine whether a person has acquired the necessary knowledge.
- STATES = A person’s voting preference is a state, as expressed in a survey. We presume it can change, such that when we ask a person about it at Time 1, and then give her new information, we expect her preference might well be different at Time 2. Mood is a state. Although it does appear that each of us has a unique happiness set point, we assume that a person’s mood can change around that point, such that when we ask about it at Time 1, and then a change in situation or circumstance occurs, we may well observe a difference in the person’s mood by Time 2. Similarly, skills and knowledge are states. If we test you on a certain skill or knowledge base at Time 1, and then give you more training in these areas, it’s likely that you will get more of the answers right at Time 2. These are all states, and we expect them as such to change over time.
- Traits = on the other hand, are inherent in a person. Extroversion is a trait, for example, as is empathy, and competitiveness, and need for structure. Each of us possesses certain unique predispositions and recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior, and the overwhelming evidence is that, while each of us can learn over time to be more intelligent and effective at contributing through these patterns, the patterns themselves persist throughout our lives. Traits cannot be measured with a survey or a skills test. Instead, they have to be measured using a reliable and validated personality assessment. The two most prevalent kinds of personality assessments are self-assessments (involving a number of carefully worded statements measured on a strongly agree-to-strongly disagree scale) and situational judgment tests (involving a number of situations with a list of possible response options from which the test taker selects the one that fits her best).
Before you set about measuring something you have to decide which of these – states or traits – you are trying to measure, so that you can properly select your measurement method.
Here’s the point. Seen in this light, what is a competency such as “strategic thinking”? Is it a state or a trait? We need to know, if we want to measure it – and the entire purported purpose of competencies is to measure something.
- If we think a competency is the former, a state, then we should measure it either with a survey asking about the person’s state of mind or with an actual test that has correct and incorrect answers. I should never ask your manager or your peers to rate you on it, because they can’t possibly know how much of this abstract quality you possess, any more than they can accurately divine your voting preferences or the score you would get on a test.
- And if we think a competency is the latter, an inherent trait, then we should use a personality assessment to measure it, and I should never tell you to take a “strategic thinking” class so that you can improve in it, because if it’s a trait, then, by definition, it probably won’t change much.
But the truth about competencies such as strategic thinking, political savvy, or any of the others is that they are a haphazard mix-up of states and traits. I don’t know whether goal orientation, say, derives from the way you are wired, or from what you have learned to do, or from what you have been told to do. I don’t know whether “customer focus” is a different piece of your wiring, or a different skill you have learned, or the same skill used differently, or something else entirely. A scientific approach to performance would start with what is measurable, and only then study how those things contributed to performance.
Because competencies are unmeasurable, it is impossible to prove or disprove the assertion that everyone who excels in a particular job possesses a particular set of competencies. It is equally impossible to show that people who acquired the competencies they lacked outperformed those who did not-that, in other words, well-rounded people are better.
These two statements together are the foundation for most of what companies do to develop the talents of their people, yet each of them is unfalsifiable – you will find no academic papers in any peer – reviewed journal proving the necessity of possessing certain competencies, and no proof that acquiring the ones you lack nets you any increase in performance. Both of these assertions, despite the good intentions that created them, are conjured from thin air-and we can never know if they are correct.
But hang on, you may say:
- Isn’t the art of business the art of making decisions with incomplete data?
- Isn’t that what business people get paid for-taking risks in the face of uncertainty?
- Even if we can’t prove, measurably, that acquiring a list of competencies helps a person to excel, what’s wrong with trying nonetheless?
Surely a good team leader should encourage each of his people to pinpoint capability gaps, to strive to plug these gaps and thereby become more well-rounded. Surely both the team and the individual would benefit from getting each person to conform ever more closely to the well-rounded ideal. Indeed, surely that’s what growth is – the process of gaining ability where we have little.
Well …again, no. Which brings us to the second fact.
FACT NR. 2 = the research into high performance in any profession or endeavor reveals that excellence is idiosyncratic.
The well-rounded high performer is a creature of theory world. In the real world each high performer is unique and distinct, and excels precisely because that person has understood his or her uniqueness and cultivated it intelligently.
We see this most easily in the world of professional sports. If we were to design the theoretical model of a high-performing attacker on a football team, we would not create a Lionel Messi, with his diminutive stature and ineffectual right foot. Instead we might devise a player who looks more like Cristiano Ronaldo – a taller, more physically imposing player who is equally at ease with his left foot, his right foot, and his head (though even here we would likely erase from our theoretical design Ronaldo’s ego, individualism, and occasional petulance).
In our theoretical world, in other words, we would pick and mix the qualities we thought preferable. But obviously, in the real world no one gets to do this, whether they’re a football player, a tennis player, or a team leader.
In the real world each of us learns to make the most of what we have. Growth, it turns out, is actually a question not of figuring out how to gain ability where we lack it but of figuring out how to increase impact where we already have ability. And because our abilities are diverse, when you look at a great performance you see not diversity minimized but rather diversity magnified; not sameness but uniqueness. But these are all extreme examples, and might seem remote from the real world of work. What happens when we measure the strengths and skills of a regular job? Do we find idiosyncrasy or well-roundedness?
Excellence in the real world, in every profession, is idiosyncratic. In the theoretical world that exists inside most of our large organizations – a world preoccupied with the need for order and tidiness – the perfect incumbent of every role possesses all the competencies that can be dreamed up and defined. In the real world, however, these long lists of intricately defined competencies don’t exist, and if they did, they wouldn’t matter.
In the real world, each of us, imperfect as we are, strives to make the most of the unique mix of traits and skills with which we’ve been blessed. Those of us who do this best – who find what we love about what we do, and cultivate this love with intelligence and discipline-are the ones who contribute most. The best people are not well-rounded, finding fulfillment in their uniform ability. Quite the opposite, in fact-the best people are spiky, and in their lovingly honed spikiness they find their biggest contribution, their fastest growth, and, ultimately, their greatest joy.
On some level, we have all long known this. But then why do these competency models and their associated 360-degree assessments, feedback tools, and development plans exist? What could have prompted otherwise sensible people to have spent so much time and energy and money building models whose efficacy is intrinsically unprovable, that require enormous amounts of time and energy to create, and that fly in the face of our own experiences in the world? The simplest answer is that, though we are deeply aware that each of us is unique, and that no amount of training or badgering will remove that uniqueness, it is still quite overwhelming for a busy team leader to allow himself to come face-to-face with the fact that each of his team members thinks differently, is motivated by different things, responds to relationship cues differently, and gets a kick out of different sorts of praise.
Who has the time for all these subtle shadings of diversity? Better to just define a model, and then manage to the model (hence the automated feedback writer we encountered earlier). For a company, it’s all about control. The strong instinct of most corporate leaders, faced with the teeming diversity not just of gender, race, and age but of thought, drive, and relationship inside their organizations, is to look for some way to exert control – to rein it all in, to impose conformity on the chaos, and hence to be able to understand what’s going on, and to shape what will happen next.
And so companies have spent, and continue to spend, large quantities of time and money trying to work around each person’s uniqueness – and this is where these models bubble up from. The models promise rigor – a dear set of characteristics against which everyone can be measured, a sort of “apples-to-apples” comparison (even though in the real world it is always “apples-to-oranges”).
The models promise analytical insights a way to understand the entire workforce. (It’s no accident the systems are known as performance management systems) The models promise fact, evidence, truth. The creeping suspicion, on the part of more and more leaders, is that the models offer none of the things they promise, is an inconvenience to be minimized. And to be dear, it isn’t just the competency models that are dubious but the ideas behind them. There is the idea that improvement comes from repairing our deficits.
There is the idea that failure is essential to growth. Failure by itself doesn’t teach us anything about success, just as our deficits by themselves don’t teach us anything about our strengths.
Just let’s consider for example that recently the following:
- Facebook is facing numerous government inquiries into the use of its data to influence elections;
- Uber has curtailed its self-driving-car testing because one of its cars hit and killed a cyclist;
- Yahoo has long since ceased to exist in any meaningful sense.
It is unlikely that anyone is celebrating these and other failures, and the “fail fast” speed with which they’ve been achieved.
And then there is the idea that our strengths are to be feared-that we should avoid overusing them because that will somehow pull us away from our proper focus on failure and shortcomings, and instead pull us toward laziness and complacency. Of course, if we were able to watch a great athlete training, or a great writer writing, or a great coder coding, we would see that honing a strength is hard work – it is by no means easy to find that incremental margin of performance when you are already operating at a high level-and that a strength is not where we are most “finished” but in fact where we are most productively challenged. Yet we are told to resist the temptation to “just”play to our strengths, and instead to work constantly on our weaknesses.
Yet these are the ideas that competency models, 360-degree assessments, talent reviews, feedback tools, and much more are built on – that what is most important for us is to understand our deficits, embrace failure, and be wary of our strengths. To be dear, I are not, here, making an absolutist argument: I am not saying that there is nothing to be gained from trying to improve our shortcomings, or that we shouldn’t try new things for fear of failure. I am, however, arguing for priority, for focusing first, and predominantly, on our strengths and our successes, because that is where the greatest advantage is to be had. And the great shame in all of this is that the very systems that we might hope would be aimed at discovering and unleashing each person’s unique talents have, in fact, the effect of inhibiting those talents, and denying what makes each one of us unique. They don’t, in the end, help performance. They hinder it.
While the outcomes of high performance are visible and clear, the ingredients of high performance vary from person to person. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to human beings; and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to great performance.
Well-roundedness is a misguided and futile objective when it comes to individual people; but when it comes to teams, it’s an absolute necessity. The more diverse the team members, the more weird, spiky, and idiosyncratic they are, the more well-rounded the team. Competencies, and all the other normative and deficit-focused tools we have, don’t push in this direction – of expressing and harnessing diversity. They do just the opposite, as we’ve seen.
So we should remove from our competency models the levels of ability, the individual evaluations, the feedback, and all the other things that they have become encumbered with, and we should instead simplify them, clarify them, recognize them (and name them) for what they are, and stick them on a wall for all to see. When we carry our competencies across the measurement bridge, we enter a fake and dangerous world-as a tool of assessment, order and control, they are worse than useless.