7 Approaches to Competence Development

While preparing for various speaking engagements, I once contacted a person who specialized in representing professional speakers. I sent her an email describing myself, my talks at conferences in Europe and the US, the book I was writing, and the opportunity for new business. I waited three weeks and got no reply. After sending her a reminder I promptly received an apology and the promise that I would be called the very next day. Then I waited, and waited… And after three days I reconsidered my idea of hiring her to handle my business emails and customer calls.

I wrote about skills and discipline before, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are seven approaches to developing competence in an organization:

1. The Self
Self-discipline and self-development refer to the training that one gives one’s self to adopt a particular pattern of behavior. Nobody needs to tell me that I should answer other people’s calls and emails within a reasonable amount of time. It is part of the behavior I have adopted myself, and that I intend to stick to.

2. The Coach
Coaching is the method of training a person, with the aim to develop specific skills and behavior. A coach might be able to help someone in establishing proper email usage patterns, making sure that she doesn’t leave other people’s emails unattended.

3. The Certificate
A certificate says (or should say) that some external authority has verified that a person has shown the necessary skills, behavior, and willingness to be able to carry out certain tasks. Like picking up a working phone and dialing a correct number.

4. The Signals
Signs and signals are a way to steer people’s behavior by making sure that they know what they need to do. Just one hour before I wrote this paragraph I ticked off “call back customer” from my own To-Do list. I configured the system to notify me in case I forget about such important items.

5. The Peers
Peer pressure refers to the influence exerted by peers in a group to encourage a person to change her behavior in order to conform to the norms of the group. The first time a person keeps me waiting I gently and understandingly remind her when I am still waiting for a reply. The second time I make sure to communicate honest and heartfelt annoyance. The third time I bite her head off.

6. The Supervisor
Supervising is the act of giving instructions to people, and making sure, on behalf of an organization’s management, that people are doing their jobs properly. For example: in some organizations it might be a good idea to check occasionally whether people are handling their calls and emails properly and timely.

7. The Manager
Leading and governing are part of the manager’s job. It is about setting good examples, and about ruling and judging in case someone has acted against the interest of the organization. Like damaging the corporate reputation by completely ignoring a potential customer.

Apparently, developing competence in an organization is a concern spanning seven levels, where each level can be seen as a fall-back scenario in case the one before it fails. Competence is, in the first place, a personal responsibility. When people aren’t capable of developing competent behavior themselves, they may need to be coached into it. If that coach is unavailable, or incompetent himself, development of competence can possibly be achieved through some combination of certification, properly used tools, and the person’s peers. Finally, when none of this works, and a supervisor is unavailable (or incompetent as well), then the manager is the one who (rightfully) gets the blame for any business lost.

These are, what I’d like to call, the seven levels of competence development: self-development, coaching, certification, signs and signals, peer pressure, supervisors, and managers. The first level is where it should all begin, and each consecutive level exists as a fall-back scenario for the previous ones.

(image by Gilberto Santa Rosa)

This article will be part of the book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. You can follow its progress here.

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