From Competence to Innovation…and Back Again

What does it mean to “develop the organization”?

From vision and mission to processes, products, and services, organizations develop as people in the organization develop.  What we do and how we do it makes a difference on the job: thinking, researching, communicating, persuading, questioning, understanding, confirming, executing, testing and scores of other discrete human behaviors repeatedly applied in nearly infinite combinations to the organization’s purposes.

These are the very skills that we must Learn-Do-Teach-Lead.

Assuming that personal and organization development is intentional and directional, we can plot a path such as the following:

Competence–Do the job. Essential skills to perform task at a minimally acceptable level.  Less than this is unacceptable assuming proper instruction, an adequate practice period, and real-time corrective and reinforcing feedback.

Efficiency–Do the job better. Tasks are skillfully performed often in a more timely manner, in less time, or in fewer steps.

Proficiency–Do job/Teach job. Insight and fluency with tasks provides basis for guiding others.

Mastery–Do job differently. Breadth and depth of understanding tasks leads to re-conceptualizing how the job is done.

Innovation–Do different job. Innovation imagines not only new means (as with Mastery) but also re-conceptualizes task objectives themselves (new ends).

This ability to innovate quickly is the only truly sustainable  competitive advantage.  This is why we need to care greatly.

The progression, from competence to innovation (C => I) applies to any given skill or task, which, of course, means that it applies equally to learning, doing, teaching, and leading.

Applying the C => I progression mindfully to business functions, we can reasonably expect improvement (to get better); applied to L-D-T-L functions, we can reasonably expect to get better at getting better. At this juncture, we both leverage improvement and accelerate its realization. This is the epitome of performance management.

Such an enviable state is not stable, however, because the world is in constant flux.  Individuals and organizations will cycle through the C => I continuum as circumstances change.  What can remain constant, however, is awareness of where we stand at any given time on the C => I continuum and which L-D-T-L activity is most helpful at the time.

Such awareness must be practiced with great effort at every present moment.

Do you have examples of cycling through the C => I continuum?

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4 Responses to From Competence to Innovation…and Back Again

  1. Mike Meier says:

    Erik, I really like this. The progression you describe is true and moreover it is useful as a conceptual tool. My experience is that at the Innovate stage we run into trouble because we haven’t brought enough people to Proficiency. “I don’t understand why we have to change the way we do it.” Every one of the steps is important and should be part of a competency program. I think we can actually measure capability right up to the Innovate step.

    • erikjul says:

      Mike: You raise a good point, namely, insufficient proficiency within the workforce. Another dimension is the scope of innovation. Because all work is a process and all processes can be improved, innovation can, indeed, should occur in small units–how I do my job–on a continuous basis. (Perhaps this is “innovation” writ small, but it can be innovation nonetheless.)

      If we have embraced the teaching component of LDTL, we will soon be telling others of our insights and solutions, small as they may be.

      Companies can encourage, accelerate, and spread self-initiated learning and job/task/process improvement by enabling, if not requiring, work-group members to bring forward, in a systematic way, “Opportunities for Improved Efficiency” (OFIE). I will be writing more on OFIEs soon. Please watch this spot.

      Thanks for your comments and engagement. –Erik

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