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No One Makes Mistakes on Purpose

“Bob is not doing his job. Always mistakes. What should I do with him?”
“Mary has messed up our relationship with a key client. I had to step in to save the day.”

Having done a multitude of projects in all kinds of private and public organisations, we have frequently encountered these and other remarks by managers about their staff. Although the comments are usually based on symptoms that come in the disguise of facts, starting a project, especially an improvement project, with this type of mind-set is generally a bad omen. It sets the wrong focus and leads very often to failure.

Increasing Productivity by Living our Values

On a recent trip to Japan, I took a Shinkansen high- speed train from Kyoto to Tokyo. The train was scheduled to arrive at Tokyo Station at 9.03pm. Since I had made an appointment to meet a good friend after arrival, I asked the train conductor whether we would be on time.

Increasing Productivity by Being on Time.

Punctuality reveals one’s attitude towards the most basic values of integrity, professionalism and respect.

The conductor looked at me, not understanding my question, and said: “We will arrive at 9.03pm.” I thought to myself, yes, I know the schedule. But will we be on time?

He must then have somehow guessed my real meaning. He said: “There is no reason for a delay. We have not had an earthquake or tsunami today. So, we will be on time.”

I had not heard this kind of answer for a while.

 

My professor at a German university where I studied – let’s call him Hofmann – was very strict in many aspects. His style displayed a deeply ingrained set of values. One of them was punctuality. Unless there was a very, very good reason for being late, we had to be on time – always.

Once, I was quite late for a meeting. However, I thought I had a good reason: “My train was late by 40 minutes.”

His reply was, “Okay, you take this train every day, right?”

“Yes, of course,” I replied.

“Was it ever late before?”

“Yes, this happens from time to time,” I answered, thinking that I was off the hook.

His answer: “Then you should have taken this into account and been prepared. Don’t use this excuse again!”

With this management style, we were able to deliver outstanding results. No project was ever late.

Despite this tough regime, Professor Hofmann was known as one of the professors everyone wanted to work with. He was not only able to develop one’s IQ (intelligence quotient) but also took strong care of our EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) as well.

As a result, punctuality is one form of behaviour that I hold very dear to my heart, because it reveals one’s attitude towards the most basic values of integrity, professionalism and respect.

 

Every human relationship starts with basic courtesy.

“Punctuality is the politeness of kings” is a saying coined by King Louis XVIII of France. He was making the point that educated people, and people who aspire to have and try to show a certain status, will fail if they don’t master the most basic of all manners: punctuality. Without punctuality they are just “small men”.

In Singapore, I have had to get familiar with the phrase, “Sorry, I’m late”, uttered by members of all levels of society without hesitation or shame. Often, it comes without any excuse. Only sometimes is it paired with statements such as “heavy traffic on PIE”.

No one is really surprised about the fact that some people are late, or the fact that there is heavy traffic on the Pan-Island Expressway, although both facts really have nothing to do with each other.

It is very likely that there is some heavy traffic on the PIE at certain times. This happens daily.

But heavy traffic is as good an explanation for being late as something like “There are many birds in Changi Village”.

 

So what is the real reason for being late? I think that this is, because we are good in talking about values. But we have forgotten that these values should also form part of daily courtesy and kindness, and not only be put on display on National Day. A good example of the huge gap between theory and practice is when meetings regarding value development or competency deployment cannot start on time because of the late arrival of key players.

Their entrance with a “Sorry, I’m late” can be directly translated into “Sorry, I don’t respect you”. Would you want to say this to your colleagues or friends? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to show the correct behaviour ourselves before we try to plant this seed in others? This would be good for our credibility as well.

In Singapore, we should live every day the way we deliver great projects: excellent quality, on time.

How much time gets wasted and how much productivity gets squandered every day due to our inability to walk the talk? How about increasing productivity by living our own values?

There are always excuses for not doing things. Can we instead try to find reasons for doing things such as being on time? Our co-workers would thank us for it.

Remember, behaviour is contagious. Is yours worth catching?

 

 

Published on 15 Jul 2013, on AsiaOne, 18 Jul 2013, on Training Buzz, Jul 2015

Why Competency Framework? Isn’t SOP Enough?

“Why do we need a Competency Profiling?  We have SOPs. That should be enough” was one of the statements I heard from a colleague. Here is some rational explaining why there is usually an added value in having competencies defined in addition to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

When SOP is in Place

Spending some days in Nanjing, the former capital of China, is enjoyable. People are nice, work is fun, food is outstanding and my hotel is awesome. Nowadays, the service in most hotels in China is world class.

Competency Profiling

Competency Profiling starts with Understanding the Job

Monday morning I make my way to the restaurant, expecting my usual sumptuous breakfast. I am greeted with a smile and with the usual dialogue:

“Good morning, sir. Your room number, please” requests the waitress with a sweet smile. I answer 1326.

“Smoker or non-smoker?” I opt for the first one.

“Tea or Coffee?” I answer this one as well and start toasting my bread.

On Tuesday morning, it is nice to meet the same waitress with the same sweet smile.

“Good morning, sir. Your room number, please” she wants to know again. I did not expect her to remember, of course.

“Smoker or non-smoker?” I answer as well.

“Tea or Coffee?” I answer this one, irritated.

Wednesday morning the same waitress, the same questions.

On Thursday and Friday exactly the same procedure.

I am very sure it was always the same girl. And, I am very sure I was always myself staying in the same room, being violent non-smoker who always likes coffee with milk in the morning. And I would bet she must have recognised me from Tuesday onwards. I just assume she was following her procedure and was not willing to think one step beyond.

She knew her procedure. No doubt. Even with a smile. However, I gave her a not so pleasant rating when I checked out. She was the wrong person for the job.

After Competency Profiling – SOP and Competency Framework Come Together

A friend mentioned the following story to me.

She arrived in her hotel in Myanmar on Sunday in order to work the following week. The hotel was ok. It was clean and nice but not really comparable to hotels she was used to. She went for breakfast on Monday morning and was greeted by the waiter. The waiter asked the usual questions that seemed to come from the worldwide handbook for hotel waiters. This waiter, dressed in a not perfectly clean suit, was not too busy so that he started a small talk with my friend.

“How did you sleep”, was one of his questions – in starter English. And my friend hesitated but replied truthfully that her night was not that good. Just by the way, she mentioned that her pillow was too hard.

When she returned from her client meeting, she was truly surprised. On her bed she found two additional pillows with different height and filling. Exactly what she needed. I am sure this little deed resulted in a nice tip for the waiter upon check-out.

Competency Profiling - Competency Framework and SOP Working Together

Competency Framework and SOP Working Together

We do not know what the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for the waiter in this hotel says – if they have an SOP. I do not believe it instructs him to do what he did for my friend. If he got an SOP it was surely for waiters, not for chamber maids.

Conclusion

SOPs describe how a task has to be performed – often step by step. Competencies describe knowledge and skills needed to perform this task. Additionally, they formulate requirements towards attitudes to apply knowledge and skills. Competencies describe WHAT it takes to complete a job successfully with the “HOW” to do it. This HOW is of less importance when the job is about repairing a car, for example. However, it is of paramount significance if the performance has to be shown in the service line of business.

SOPs and competencies combined can help delivering the best results. Job competencies often take over the instructional task of SOPs in case SOPs are lacking substance or don’t exist at all. If it serves the purpose, why not? Investing in Competency Profiling may add value to performance management as well.

Performance is achieved through application of knowledge and skills with the right attitude. The waitress in Nanjing did her job, but was lacking exactly this attitude whereas the waiter in this second class hotel in Yangon did. He displayed competencies we could summarise with Customer Orientation, Collaboration and Teamwork as well as Alignment with Organisational Values.

He sincerely listened to customer needs and translated them into actions. This attitude is completely unlike the usual “How are you?” for which no one really wants an answer. Furthermore, he showed a great degree of Collaboration and Teamwork by helping his colleagues to satisfy the needs of their customers – beyond his own scope of work. And, he exhibited his organisational values, probably without even knowing.

His mind-set made the difference between poor rating and commendation by customers.

Finding The Right Star

We are working on a very tight project schedule. Most of our staff members work late almost every day. Are you prepared to work long hours?

What is cost control? Are you good at it?

We often hear these leading questions during job interviews – a common mistake hiring mangers make. As a result we end up having a wrong person on the job. We getting frustrated, and worst, we have wasted money and time on recruitment.

Figure 1: Chinese Character for "Human"

Figure 1: Chinese Character for “Human”

Most recruiting managers find it relatively easy to identify the characteristics that a candidate will need to possess to make them eligible for a job. Typically, Eligibility has to do with professional or academic qualifications, relevant experience or specific job-related skills and knowledge. These can be verified by reference to certificates. This includes diplomas and records in the case of qualifications. Or, it is done fairly straightforward by tests in the case of technical skills.

In many situations, however, an excellent performer is someone who has not only technical skills but is also suitable for the job. Suitability is much more about the way people will go about doing the job once they are on it. Suitability tends to be about people’s attitudes and behavioural tendencies. They are the factors defined as Value-Based Competencies. It is typically much more difficult to get a clear idea of how suitable people will be before they are appointed.

Hence, suitability is one aspect we often overlook. As depicted by the Chinese word “Ren” illustrated in the Figure, where the two strokes supporting each other signify that “knowledge and skills” have to be complemented by “Attitudes”, a person with relevant knowledge and skills but inappropriate attitude will not be able to contribute as much to his corporate and the community. Moreover, the higher the skills and knowledge of a person, the greater damage he can do to the organisation if his attitude is flawed.

The art of finding the right person (Star) is to use a structured approach. Therefore, we identify the relevant past behaviour to allow forming a judgement on likely future behaviour. Such approach is known as Competency-Based Interview (CBI). Using this approach helps to:

  • Eliminate misunderstandings about an individual’s experience,
  • Prevent personal impressions from affecting evaluation and
  • Reduce an individual’s opportunity to mislead or exaggerate their capability
Figure 2: Star Approach for Developing Competency-Based Interview Questions

Figure 2: Star Approach for Developing Competency-Based Interview Questions

A skilful interviewer is a detective who tries to find examples that are evidence of desired behaviour from a person’s past experiences. To achieve this, some preparation is needed:

  • Define job requirements that are essential for a successful job holder – purpose of the role, line of reporting, responsibilities and competencies.
  • Decide on the competencies you are looking for
  • Develop competency based interview questions using STAR approach Figure 2.

Focus on the three key competencies that the role requires. In order to allow a sufficient conversation you should plan for 10 to 15 minutes per competency.

Hence, through using CBI, the candidate’s fitness, his suitability for the job is measured by projecting his past behaviour on the required competencies. This usually gives the candidate the benefit of talking about real experience – if he has. And it gives the interviewer the advantage of getting into a much more fruitful discussion using an important measuring scale, the required competencies and their necessary behaviours.

Conclusion

In conclusion, identifying knowledge and skill set of a candidate is rather easy. However, finding the right mind-set is a more difficult task. Using a set of value and competency-based interview questions enables managers to spot the STAR, the person who does not only bring the required aptitude but also “fits” in the organisation.

 

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