Lets Talk About: Capability

As a manager, encountering a team member whose performance raises doubts about their capability can be frustrating. However, before hastily labelling them as lacking in capability, it’s essential to press pause and consider any mitigating circumstances.

Instead of rushing to judgment, taking the time to investigate any underlying issues is a crucial first step. For example, the employee may have recently transitioned into a new role and is still adjusting to their responsibilities. Additionally, instances of underperformance leading to capability concerns might have historical roots. We have repeatedly observed where employees labelled as ‘problematic’ are passed from one manager to another due to the lack of meaningful intervention or communication in the past. The habit of shifting ‘the problem’ is certainly not beneficial to the employee, other team members or the organisation.

Identifying individuals who may lack capability in a busy work environment can be challenging. Still, it’s crucial for managers to recognise the signs. The rumour mill is not an accurate barometer!
Here are some indicators to watch out for:

1. Consistent Underperformance: When an employee consistently fails to meet performance expectations despite adequate training and support, it may indicate an inability to handle assigned tasks effectively.

2. Difficulty in Adapting: Employees who struggle to adapt to changes in tasks, processes, or technologies may lack the ability to learn new skills or approaches efficiently.

3. Limited Problem-Solving Skills: Individuals who frequently seek help for basic problems or struggle to find solutions independently might lack the capacity to analyse situations and develop effective solutions.

4.Strategic Thinking: In managerial or leadership roles, the ability to think strategically is crucial. If an employee consistently struggles to understand the broader implications of their actions or fails to consider the long-term consequences of decisions, it may indicate a lack of capability in this area.

5. Lack of Initiative: Employees showing little enthusiasm or initiative for their work may struggle to take ownership of their tasks and drive projects forward independently.

6.Communication Issues: Poor communication skills can hinder an employee’s ability to collaborate effectively with others and contribute meaningfully to team efforts. It can also mean that they have difficulty expressing ideas clearly or understanding instructions.

Once a manager identifies an employee who may lack capability, proactive steps can be taken to address the situation:

1. Schedule a meeting: Arrange one-on-one meetings to discuss the employee’s performance objectively, providing specific examples of areas needing improvement and seeking their perspective on challenges they may be facing.

2. Hold Regular Performance Reviews: Don’t wait until poor performance becomes evident; conducting regular one-to-one meetings and performance reviews with direct reports is essential. These proactive interactions offer an opportunity to connect with the employee, provide support, offer constructive feedback, and address issues before they escalate.

3. Training and Development: Identify areas with the employee where they need to improve and provide targeted training and development opportunities, such as formal courses, mentoring, or coaching to improve skills and confidence.

4. Set Clear Expectations: This is an area where the ball is regularly dropped. Yes, staff do want to know what is expected of them. So clearly outline performance expectations and provide regular feedback on progress, establishing measurable goals and milestones.

5. Provide Supportive Resources: Ensure the employee has access to necessary resources, tools, and support, including additional training materials and where possible assistance from colleagues or mentors. This may include making reasonable adjustments such as changes to the workplace, altering someone’s working arrangements, finding alternative methods for completing tasks, or providing specialised equipment or other support tailored to their needs.
Remember, making reasonable adjustments is specific to the individual. These adjustments are crucial for reducing disadvantage thereby creating an inclusive and supportive work environment.

6. Monitor Progress: Continuously monitor progress and be prepared to adjust the approach if necessary. Where your organisation allows consider alternative roles or responsibilities if the employee continues to struggle despite support.

7. Alternative Solutions: In cases where an employee may not meet role requirements despite well-documented supportive interventions, involving your Human Resources team is essential. Explore alternative solutions with HR, ensuring you are familiar with organisational policies on performance and capability before proceeding with any formal processes that may lead to dismissal.

An example of an alternative is implementing a formal performance improvement plan (PIP), which HR can assist in developing. This plan outlines specific goals, timelines, and consequences for improvement, providing a structured approach to addressing capability concerns.

Remember, dealing with employees who lack capability requires empathy, support, and clear communication to help them develop the skills and confidence needed to succeed. So, before pressing the capability button, do your due diligence.  

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