• Know your L&D enemy – The Wall of Incompetence

    by  • July 6, 2013 • OD and L&D • 0 Comments

    When was the last time your organisation ran into one of these when en-route to conquering a major business objective? L&D can help you overcome them.

    When was the last time your organisation ran into one of these when en-route to conquering a major business objective? L&D can help you overcome them.

    Having discussed the braving up of HR, let’s extend that to another people related function: L&D.

    Learning and Development is one of the least predictable functions in businesses: you never know where it will fall in an organisation. It may be an independent function that reports to the board, it may be a part of the HR function, reporting to an HRD. It may be part of an organisational change group or even as part of employee communication and engagement.

    I think this is symptomatic of some of the issues the L&D profession has. Whereas finance or marketing always report to board and their agenda and rhetoric are always front and centre, L&D’s agenda and rhetoric are pushed and buried to wherever they may be placed.

    Fact of the matter is, there is room for L&D to be brave as well. Towards Maturity, an organisation that surveys L&D practices across over 500 organisations every year suggests that L&D can do with being more aligned with business needs and do more to measure the success of training effectively.

    From my perspective, both these factors are what would make an L&D function successful in truly enabling the workforce to drive the business towards its goals. Both alignment and measurement are hinged on being able to identify and even predict where Walls of Incompetence are likely to hinder your workforce in achieving their goals.

    About The Wall of Incompetence

    The Wall of Incompetence is the wall your organisation hits when you/it realise(s) it lacks a core competency or skill that is absolutely necessary to deliver a key business objective. A classic example would be launching a new product, but realising post-launch that the customer support team aren’t as au-fait with the product to be able to provide adequate support. Another example is launching a social marketing campaign, but not having any social media marketing experience in your sales and marketing team.

    Once you hit the Wall of Incompetence, you start spending a lot of time doing damage control: you either spend a lot of money hiring consultants who can hit the ground running or hastily attempt to up-skill people very quickly to meet the business objective.

    Regardless – it very quickly becomes a very costly exercise that often costs your company a lot more than the costs of hiring and training. Reputations are shattered, confidence of customers and markets are on the line.

    Spotting Walls of Incompetence

    The trick is to be able to translate business objectives into learning needs long enough in advance to build capability and skills where they are needed, before they are actually needed.  Although I used the word “predict” earlier, this involves no crystal balls. All it takes is some TNAs and knowledge assessments that give you a more-or-less accurate gauge of how knowledgeable and/or capable a team is.

    If it is about a business process or a product, multiple choice assessments and scenario exercises are usually more than adequate. If you would like to gauge personal and interpersonal capabilities, use role playing exercises and assessment centres designed to grade specific capabilities.

    Either approach will require you to be able to know exactly what it is you are looking to measure and – ultimately – improve.

    Sometimes it is worth taking a blanket approach: just up-skill everyone. No assessments or needs analysis required. This often serves a good platform to communicate the business strategy to the employees and makes everyone feels involved (this is, of course, heavily dependent on the content and level of knowledge dispensed).

    There’s a link to L&D KPIs

    The knack of working out and working around Walls of Incompetence serves another purpose. Once you have a framework to spot and avoid walls of incompetence you are ready to have meaningful, powerful KPIs of L&D.


    Want to know more? Contact us! Agree? Disagree? Comment below!


    Photo credit to OeilDeNuit via sxc.hu.

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