Monday, June 21, 2010

Excess Capacilty and the Over Qualified

The normal position for performance consultants is one where the capacity is not yet high enough. But what do we do when there is excess capacity? What performance issues might we find in organizations that have excess capacity and how would we recommend that they deal with this.

How each of us defines that “excess capacity” may depend on perspective. Consider these symbols of “excess capacity”.

Images compliments of Microsoft Clipart

The “Fat Cat” viewpoint focuses on trimming the excess. Here we have organizations that lay-off their experienced employees in favor of new graduations with less experience (and less salary). This viewpoint sees increasing experience equal to increasing salary and believes that results diminish over time, since fat cats get lazy. In spite of a vision and mission that says the company believes in building knowledge capital and values its employees, the bottom line is that experienced employees cost more. Therefore, these companies do not hire experienced employees and they try to encourage experienced employees to move on. For example, they might be giving a senior employee more travel, less visibility, the smaller and less influential accounts, providing less support, or just plain laying them off (or re-deploying them… or whatever the term of the day is for giving an employee who is doing good work the boot because you want to free up their salary.)

The “Building Muscle” viewpoint focuses on putting excess capacity to work building innovations, improving processes and tools, mentoring less experienced associates, building an external credibility through professional writing and speaking. This viewpoint believes that muscle needs to continue to be flexed and tested in order to create strong muscles and retain that power for a day when it is really needed. Here the experienced employee is given ways to contribute that can only be done by someone with experience and someone who is not tied down by management responsibilities. (Note: Moving an experienced person into management does not retain muscle because managers lose a certain amount of their professional poweress in return for building their leadership muscles.) Instead, this viewpoint keeps the experienced employee working at their top skill level and challenges them to add on skills such as mentoring, training, special projects, professional writing, community projects, philanthropic works, etc.

The third viewpoint that I see is the “superhero”. Here the excess capacity, like Clark Kent, is hidden behind mundane work behaviors but comes out under times of duress. Here the superpower isn’t something to be built or maintained, it’s an endowed attributes that only a very few possess. As such the superhero must be lauded (he leaps tall buildings in a single bound) and feed crisis situations in which to demonstrate his or her capabilities. This means that only a few people have the right to be considered as a superhero. Therefore, all contenders (including those who can do the work without creating a crisis) are not needed.
There may be more such categories. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.

Let’s look at a common scenario – hiring new talent. Let’s try a case study.

A fictitious company, Qwerty Systems Inc. (QSI), wants to merge their small training function with their quality control function and their document writers from several different product teams. Their objective is to build a performance improvement function which encompasses training, quality and product documentation. The new division manager will be the Head of Corporate Learning and will report to the Chief People Officer (CPO). The new Head of Corporate Learning is a Human Resources Manager who has led a team of recruiters to success and now has been given the chance to build a new function. As the current employees come together in the new team, they discover some overlapping skills, some specialties and some gaps.

The biggest staffing gap is a skilled learning specialist who can provide everything from needs assessment to design to materials development to facilitation and evaluation. Since this team has never had anyone with that skill set, they do not realize that they could have someone who can manage complex learning projects, provide train-the-trainer, and mentor the incumbent team members into a more consultative approach. Therefore, the team builds a job description as follows:

Instructional Designer – 3 to 5 years experience and a high school diploma... Must be familiar with adult learning theory and must follow the ADDIE methodology. Should be a team player who can develop paper-based learning, blended learning and e-learning modules. Should be able to work with subject-matter experts and various levels of management. Should have experience with QSI LMS, Articulate, Captivate, XML, HTML, Dreamweaver, Visio, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Must be able to present to groups of 5 or more.

Along comes Sal Superhero with 15 years of experience, an ABD (All But Dissertation Ph.D. candidate) in Performance Improvement who has developed learning solutions, managed learning projects, led strategic change projects, written articles and acquired field certifications in performance improvement, learning, and project management. However, Sal’s company just redeployed a number of people with 10 or more years of experience in their company. Sal is now looking for an opportunity that will allow growth as the company grows and changes. Sal is interested in QSI’s new Instructional Designer position because it is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a developing organization function and grow with it. That might mean growing into leadership or it might mean creating innovative products and solutions for QSI and its customers. Sal is open to those opportunities.

Should QSI hire Sal? If they did, what concerns might they have about hiring this much excess capacity at time when they are just beginning to build a new function? What concerns might they have about being able to use Sal’s expertise effectively and/or about retaining Sal? Are those concerns legitimate?

Until next time…

The Performance PI

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