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Moving Mountains: Re-Skilling the Firm Part 1

What does a firm do when the principal realises that the market has changed and his firm is not now best placed to meet the customer’s needs? What does a firm do to sustain competitive advantage through its people when those people as a whole are not up to par?
These are issues that face many firms today. Many were oriented and organised to meet the needs of an old paradigm, an old market state that was more tolerant of shortcomings and less fast-moving. In many segments, customers demand more service, higher reliability and more immediate response. It prompts some principals to lament that their people are no longer up there with the best. But what does a principal do? They re-skill the firm.
A critical part of the activity of re-skilling is establishing where the firm is now. The key thing here is to develop objective measures. This paper discusses a framework for measuring competence.
The key element of this is placing staff in one of four categories – Expert, Practitioner, Supervised Practitioner or Trainee. These categories are well defined and objective. Each staff member performs a job that comprises several roles. For example, a salesman may meet clients, write proposals and negotiate contracts. Each is a separate role requiring different competencies. The aggregation of jobs make up the total firm and hence scoring every role shows an assessment of the total competence in the firm.
The second part of any competence improvement programme is an assessment of what total competence management want the firm to have in order to meet the needs of its market and give it competitive advantage. For firms with clear business plans and objectives, this is a simple exercise in categorising each competence group, then saying how much of each level is needed to meet that business plan. Typically, for example, a firm of property developers will need one expert plumber, one or two practitioner plumbers, some supervised practitioner plumbers and a trainee plumber. Once the required competence set is in place, it can be compared to the measured set representing the firm today. Gaps will then be obvious.
The great thing about this is that it is a process. When measuring, no-one is saying that any single member of staff is not performing, simply that we need to capture the competence in a low-threat way. Nonetheless, the suspicion surrounding the activity must never be underestimated. It’s important that management communicate what the activity is about.
Once the ‘as is’ has been captured and ‘as wanted’ has been developed, it is then an issue about developing change management plans to bridge the gaps. In the next article in this series we’ll look at how one develops plans for change and what degree of success one can expect from these plans.