“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” James C. Collins
An incredible symphony is a harmony of instruments, notes and timbres of sound – be it percussion, wind, or string. And people who play music. Let’s not forget the conductor either. Without talented people, whatever role they play, there’s nothing special, and even less so, if they can’t cooperate together in an orchestra under the conductor’s baton. A great company is no different. In his book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't”, James Collins put it succinctly: “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”
How know if you have great people in your organization?
Imagine management sets fantastic goals for next year. How do you know you have got a workforce that can get there? You don’t, you can’t, unless you can measure something and judge it for starters. The things you measure should tell you the pulse of the organization and whether it has what it takes to reach the goals. And if the workforce doesn’t measure up you can take steps to fix that, so they can truly be great.
This is where development planning comes in. This is all about investing in and developing your human capital so it can achieve new goals. What do humans have to contribute to a company? Various levels of skills, knowledge, abilities and competencies— everyone knows that. Collectively I refer to these as skillsets. The challenge is what skillsets for what corporate goals in what jobs. This is even harder when the company’s goals are about going where no one has gone before. How do you factor what you don’t know you need yet? Developing the unknowns is a challenge that never goes away; there are always new frontiers to explore. Still it is possible to be successful.
The tricky part is that you need human capital to develop human capital. That is when it is handy to have the right stakeholders involved in development planning and implementation in the right way, and likewise, the right tools to support this by the way.
Engaging stakeholders in development planning
HR department, managers, collaborators and employees must engage with one another in a variety of ways get a pulse on the collective skillsets. That refers to abilities the company requires that both exist and don’t exist. It also refers to the ones that employees have, which the company doesn’t yet need, or perhaps never. What’s required, but doesn’t exist are important in two ways: the gap you discover for today’s needs and the gap you have to envisage covering for the future.
Getting skillsets right is half the battle
However, just collecting information of this kind isn’t quite enough. Here’s an example of one such list given for someone well-known, can you guess who?
“1. Knowledge of Literature: Nil.
2. Knowledge of Philosophy: Nil.
3. Knowledge of Astronomy: Nil.
4. Knowledge of Politics: Feeble.
5. Knowledge of Botany: Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Knowledge of Geology: Practical but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
7. Knowledge of Chemistry: Profound.
8. Knowledge of Anatomy: Accurate but unsystematic.
9. Knowledge of Sensational Literature: Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.”
If you guess correctly, please send in your CV to our HR department straightaway! Joking apart, this is actually Dr. Watson's summary list of Sherlock Holmes's strengths and weaknesses taken from the book, “A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle. If you didn’t guess this was Sherlock Holmes, I am not surprised. Although the list is quite accurate, it doesn’t reflect Sherlock’s extraordinary talent. In fact all this list does is to describe someone who could just be a well educated lawyer with forensic expertise who practises martial arts and loves music.
This is where HR flexes its muscles and applies their craft to best describe someone’s unique skillset. Obviously, Dr. Watson isn’t an HR expert, so he fell short. However as a co-worker he has done a pretty good assessment on his partner. That’s useful to HR who might find it difficult to decide how good Sherlock is as a swordsman. That’s outside HR’s domain of expertise, but not that of perhaps Sherlock’s manager, if he had one, or external maestros or colleagues who have sparred with him.
So it is HR’s responsibility to engage managers, collaborators like external trainers or other colleagues and other peers to help assess a given employee’s abilities. So if Sherlock were to have a case about a murder at famous horse-breeding stables, HR would need to help him develop horse riding skills, as well as an understanding of horses, and the breeding business.
Deciding development actions is the other half of the battle
One of HR’s key tasks is to define development actions for gaps. In Sherlock’s case, HR will have to decide on the best actions so that Sherlock can get up to speed fast enough to be able to take on this case. Horse riding classes? Mucking out chores? Veterinary seminars? Maybe assign him a jockey to coach him and show him the ropes around the stables? Perhaps even a combination? Is there enough time for all that? Because if there isn’t, then perhaps it’s better to give the case to someone else like Indiana Jones.
Often managers are the ones who see most clearly what an employee needs, more than HR. In this case HR should make the most of that. A stable manager would probably be able to tell HR what Sherlock is likely to need to know, or be able to do, if he is to infiltrate the crime scene incognito to get to know the suspects, for example.
The secret to successful developmental preparation is based on what types of actions, when and how to plan them.
Winning the battle is being able to measure results
If HR correctly defines complete skillsets correctly to cover current and future needs and gaps in their workforce, and if they also define the right types of development actions, then measuring results will be both straightforward and far more likely to come close to achieving corporate goals, or actually meet them, or even surpass them.