Functional capability

One of the most important aspects of individual performance is functional capability. When leaders Set Clear Expectations for their team, it is important to consider what people are capable of. When people are not confident they can deliver, they might feel set up for failure which erodes psychological safety and diminishes people’s ability to recover from setbacks. 

Functional capability refers to a team member’s ability to effectively perform the tasks, responsibilities, and duties associated with their job or role. It encompasses the skills, knowledge, experience, and expertise that are required to achieve the most important goals  and priorities assigned to a person. It also comprises the core competencies you expect.

Core competencies vs values. One of the most important aspects of functional capability is core competencies. In my coaching I find perceived gaps in core competencies are a common source of frustration, though these are also the most likely expectations to not have been communicated. Beyond technical skills, core competencies define how a leader would like the work to be done, in a way that is not already captured by organizational values. 

In my experience, leaders have commonly not taken the time to fully develop wording that articulates the competency. It’s more of a sense or a feeling. Have you ever found yourself saying, “this person is getting the work done but I want them to be more proactive, more strategic, more supportive or more collaborative”? The list may include skills like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, and innovation. It is critical to clearly articulate core competencies and integrate them into your performance expectations. 

Values impact perceived capability. Core competencies are distinct from organizational values. That said, in our ongoing research we see an interesting phenomenon whereby people who do not live the values of the organization hit a perceived ‘capability ceiling’. We are still studying this but it is definitely an outlier to see somebody rate very high in perceived functional capability when they are rated very low on living organizational values. Even if a person has deep expertise and is technically proficient, not living the values appears to diminish their perceived capability. Given that disrespectful behaviour or poor collaboration skills would undermine team and individual effectiveness, this shouldn’t be surprising.

Talent mapping. One of the most important things we do as leaders is ensure we have the right people in the right roles on the team. In our High-Performance Leader framework we assess this with a Talent Matrix, plotting each team member based on their Functional Capability and whether they truly Live Organization Values. 

To plot functional capability we need to establish core competencies for the team overall, and perhaps for each role. What are the 2-3 things that are critical in terms of how people do their work? These might include practical abilities needed to complete job duties effectively and efficiently. It could also be adhering to the use of agreed processes, methods, tools or techniques. This is less about technical expertise and more about following a specific approach to how the work is to be done. 

A Talent Review is a structured conversation where team leaders present their team’s talent matrix to their peers. It is a very powerful exercise focused on creating mutual awareness of how team members are performing and identifying development opportunities to help people grow. The process really hones in on people who are below expectation for Functional Capability and Living Organizational Values, ensuring each person has a development plan. The process also identifies Top Performance . 

Developing vs departing. One of the toughest decisions team leaders ever face is whether somebody should be terminated. This should be a last resort after working through a process to identify gaps in capability and co-create a development plan. In making this determination, leaders may consider the following questions:

  • What is the impact or level of risk associated with the underperformance?
  • How confident are you that the person will ever be proficient in all aspects of their role?
  • How willing is the person to do the necessary development work?
  • Will they become capable quickly enough?
  • If they are unable or unwilling to do the development work, is there another role they could perform in and would be interested in?

If you believe the person can develop to proficiency quickly enough then the person is developing in role. If you do not expect the person to become capable quickly enough and there is no other suitable role, you may be in a situation where termination is the only viable option. While this is very difficult, keeping a person in a role they will never be successful will be frustrating for everyone involved. While terminations should always be the last resort, you are also giving the person a chance for a fresh start at another organization where they may thrive.

While it is common sense that functional capability underpins individual and team performance, the nuances of how to cultivate capability make the difference. It is important to map out where the team is strong and where it has opportunities to improve. We also need to co-create the right development program for each person and look for systemic issues across the team. With reasonable expectations, a solid development plan and team member follow-through, your team will raise its game.

Put this into practice

To help leaders rapidly become more effective, we have created The Playbook, our free guide to the foundations of high-performance leadership. If you would like to pinpoint your personal development priorities, take our free High-Performance Leader Self-Assessment or we can help you get a 360° review. 

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