Capability Building in a challenging and resource constrained world
The traditional view of capability building focuses on short, medium and long term training for staff and management. Often, it has taken the form of hands-on support through “technical assistance” from outside experts who are embedded in a host organisation for a period of time.
FJP is highly experienced at designing, implementing training programmes and in providing technical assistance for our clients in the private, not-for-profit and public sectors. Our “Fighting Fit For Business” training brochure can be downloaded from HERE. Training is essential, but must not be considered as a standalone activity, remote from the strategic goals of the organisation. On their own, such isolated traditional capability building measures can be labelled as systems that provide – at worst, loose control – and –at best, planning control – in the context of the planning and control matrix shown below.
Organisations vary greatly in the way in which they attempt to control capability building planning outcomes. The attempt to control and evaluate planning outcomes is complicated by the degree to which planning has been undertaken in the first case. “Loose Control” organisations, in the sense of the classification of the matrix, have a high planning influence but adopt a flexible approach to evaluation and control. “Planning Control” organisations may have evaluation and control systems, but they may be rigid and inappropriately focused.
A Planning & Control Matrix
Capability building investments can inadvertently stray into the “loose control” segment of the matrix. For example, training of staff is a necessary, but high risk investment due to the portability of the investment. An organisation exchanges an asset over which it has near-perfect control (i.e. cash) for one over which it has relatively little control (personal knowledge and skills).
The risks with such an investment include:
- High turnover of staff – leading to loss of capacity.
- Unwillingness of staff to utilise the knowledge gained towards meeting the organisations’ objectives. This often results from the “personal culture” where the short term interests of the individual are placed at a premium over the interests of the organisation. In such situations, the application of knowledge and skills to deliver systemic growth is accorded a low priority.
- Systemic dis-incentives that result in the failure to implement the knowledge gained. This often results where there is excessive uncertainty and arbitrary change in an environment.
- Training of un-trainable staff –leading to a waste of resources. Where performance management systems are poorly developed, or where the organisational or societal culture is not in favour of giving frank assessments of individual performance – this can often be the outcome.
- Training that is not directed to meet the strategic needs of the organisation – leading to a misallocation and waste of resources.
- The “workshop attendance” culture – where attendance at a training or other workshop is seen as an end in itself – to gain the financial rewards that accrue – with little focus on gaining or applying knowledge and skills.
In the experience of our firm, FJP, there is significant evidence that all of the above factors are at play in the context of West Africa. As a minimum, organisations – public, private and not-for-profit -must acknowledge the existence of the risk to their capability building investments posed by these factors. A Training Needs Analysis (TNA) should be undertaken at the assessment stage of each capability building intervention. Further, periodic analyses must be undertaken during the implementation to ensure that the training is properly focussed, coherently planned and that impact is maximised.
This provides a basic, but still insufficient structure for ensuring the adequacy of any proposed investment in training and capability building. Our position derives from experience gained from the applications of the principles of quality management. We have a potential problem with the investment in training. A problem can be defined as:
“ …a deviation from a standard.”
In essence, organisations require a system that provides continuous direction, control, feedback and corrective action on the deployment of training and capability building resources. Crucially, that system must not be restricted to the provider of capital or funds, but must operate internally as part of the management systems of the beneficiary entity. Risk mitigation in the investment of training resources demands the implementation of a Performance Management and Appraisal System (PMAS) that would provide a standard-based framework for the ongoing processes of continuous direction, control, feedback and corrective action.
Training and technical assistance that is undertaken outside of a PMAS framework that is internal to the beneficiary is high risk in the context of the West African operating environment. A modern PMAS should ensure:
- Strong championing of the process at the highest level of an entity’s governance structures
- Competitive compensation structures;
- A credible commitment to merit and due process as the basis of entry, progression and exit.
- Unambiguous responsibilities, tasks and performance evaluation systems.
- Timely and firm monitoring, appraisal and action to
- recognise good performance and
- assist and/or discipline under-achievers and
- outplace retrograde elements – including incompetent technical assistance.
In general, it is vital that staff see the PMAS as an important and routine part of the signalling processes within the entity that enables the organisation to achieve its strategic goals. Consequently, PMAS must be designed as a year round process that is formally documented at least quarterly. Staff should be clear as to the status of their current performance in order to give them the time and opportunity to respond and deliver improvement (where necessary). Equally, good performance should be acknowledged on a timely basis as part of the motivational structures that will sustain output. The outcome of an annual appraisal should never be a surprise as all staff should be aware of the trend and their performance during the year.
In times of economic prosperity, as in the decade leading up to the global financial crisis of 2008, organisations can often sail through, relying primarily on traditional “loose control” capability management systems. In a harsh competitive environment, such as in the period since the 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 sovereign debt threat, survival will require much more!
In the middle of the planning and control matrix is the entity which uses a variety of control methods and gives a balanced weighting to planning and control influences. This approach to integrating capability management with operational and financial performance measures to achieve “strategic control” can be the difference between survival or demise in a demanding and harsh economic environment. As the sovereign debt crisis of 2010 shows, this reality applies to all forms of entity – private, not for profit and public.
FJP commands the knowledge, experience and skills that are required for making the transition to strategically based capability management by ensuring the integrated deployment of human capital management information. We recommend that:
- The first stage in the control process should involve the selection of relatively few appropriate objectives within an appropriate performance management system.
- From these objectives, suitable targets, for results and staff behaviours, can be derived so that pressure can be created for effective strategic performance, but without setting up a costly bureaucracy to achieve it.
- A series of milestones can be identified which are tracked over time; these serve as benchmarks for evaluating strategic performance, and provide early warning of deviations from expected outcomes.
- Capability building measures must be integrated with operational and financial systems to provide the overall strategic view which is necessary for survival and/or competitive advantage. Relevant operational systems will include integration of a PMAS with the entity’s conditions of service and with its discipline and grievance handling processes.
- In general, many of the operational objectives and targets cannot be measured with accuracy, and a great deal of subjective evaluation is necessary. In the managing of capability building investments, this challenge is at a peak. The values and systems inherent in a merit based PMAS will be essential to delivering strategic human capital control.
The experience of your expert adviser in designing and providing guidance to a feasible strategic human capital management process will be essential. Finally, the inherent capability of your staff to cope with:
- the judgment calls
- the discipline demanded by the process and
- the likely demand to implement a change of staff behaviours and corporate values to sustain the strategic change
will be central to your success.
If you are ready to move beyond traditional uses of capability building for private, not-for-profit or public sector environments, then you need to talk to FJP.