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Thursday, 19 April 2012 01:31

Can Coaching Raise An Employee’s Cognitive Capacity? Featured

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Some people resist the notion that cognitive capacity is constitutional – that its maturation cannot be affected by any intervention.  They may have what they consider to be evidence to the contrary, that with proper managerial assistance, an employee’s cognitive capacity can be raised.

I wish to explain here how I understand RO would explain such occurrences.  Consider an employee with Str-II judgment capacity in a Str-II role for which they lack skills and knowledge.  Let’s say the role has to do with building staff capability within a business unit.  The question is how the manager can support the employee.  We’ll start with looking at results of having no support and then the consequences of increasing support.

No Support

You interview the employee about building staff capacity or you ask their manager about their performance, and everything shows the employee to have Stratum-I capability for this work.  You ask them what must be done to improve staff capability and they say, “Hire better people”.  Anything else?  “I guess we could train people better.”  Anything else?  “Hmmm.  It might be useful to do a survey the capacity we currently have.  I hadn’t thought about it.”  The answers are declarative.  They have no experience in this subject matter.  It has never occurred to them how hiring the right people and doing the right training are both necessary and must be combined to get the best capacity.  But if you assess their judgment capacity by asking them about retail, where they come from, they will tell you about the importance of the right mix of price, style and quality and can tell you in situations new to them how to get that combination.  They can tell you how to combine service and quality to maximize revenue.  They would show cumulative processing and prove themselves capable at Str. II.  But what they accomplish in their current role is not as much as one expects from a Str.-II-capable employee.

First Level of Support

Now they get the first level of support.  In the most passive form, it is exposure to facts and methods; the employee observes peers approaching work in a particular way and copies it.  But a more effective and efficient approach is to send them on training programs and for their manager to give them coaching so they start thinking about how to combine hiring with training and even how to combine a number of elements to maximize the effectiveness of training.  Through either approach – the more passive observation and copying or the more directed training and coaching - they acquire templates and methods that enable them to apply their cumulative-processing ability to their current work.

Their performance has gone up a stratum, not because they have just acquired Str-II judgment capacity – they already had that – but because the experiences they have give them the skills and knowledge that enable them to apply their Str.-II judgment capacity to their current work.  And this would also show in an interview of them regarding building staff capacity as well as on their performance.  When an observer says, “We have raised their ability by a stratum” we need to be careful.  You have raised their performance and their applied capability by a stratum but you have not raised their judgment capacity.  That was and remains Str. II.  They could and can exercise judgment using cumulative processing.

As an aside, consider their over-promoted colleague in another department, one who is actually only Stratum-I capable.  Exposed to the same training, the second employee will learn that recruiting is important and training is important.  But they can only think of these as separate interventions.  They are in danger of a) recruiting people who are in roles that do give employees the time to take training or b) designing training that is not appropriate to the people being recruited.  Our  Stratum-II-capable employee, on the contrary, will implement recruiting + training as a combined intervention.

Second Level of Support

Enter the next level of support.  Through training, coaching, software or some other support, the employee learns a serial method:

  1. Survey the capabilities you currently have and will shortly need
  2. Determine the gap between what you have and what you will need
  3. Hire people who can be trained to fill the gap
  4. Train them

This method produces better results than before.  It may even produce better results than you would get from someone capable at Str-III who hasn’t learned this method, particularly if the serial method is learned richly.  With the manager’s Str-III guidance, our Stratum-II capable employee may acquire variations of the methods refined to solve particular types of problems, and if the variance in the environment is small enough, this density of skill and knowledge may practically substitute for judgment.  An interview with them might rate their performance at Str III working on issues related to development of staff capability. Someone assessing their judgment capacity by listening for structure could hear serial processing in “How do we build staff capacity? Well, first we survey the capabilities we currently have and will shortly need and then we try to determine the gaps between them.  That tells us how to hire people who can be trained to fill the gap completely, people with the needed judgment capacity who might just lack some skills but who are interested in learning those skills.  So we can then train the new hires to be fully capable of doing what we need.”

But all they have acquired is a method, and perhaps a way of describing the method, something they could have learned when they were Str-I capable.  They can follow the method step by step.  But they cannot design the type of survey of current capabilities that will facilitate the type of description of the gap that will facilitate the hiring of just those people who can, from the type of training you will provide, be trained to fill the gap.  (Again, sufficient density of skills and knowledge may in some circumstances practically substitute for that judgment.) The method will likely improve the results of the cumulative processing the employee does, but it would be an error to call it “serial processing”.  RO’s focus on judgment capacity sometimes puts skills, knowledge and even performance in the shadows.  We sometimes do not probe sufficiently to determine whether the observed series is created by or repeated by the employee being assessed.

The method, richly as it might be learned, is still followed mechanically.  When the employee matures into Str-III capacity, they have insights about it.  “That’s what my manager was trying to get me to understand!”  At that point, they can fully use the serial method with serial processing and apply it effectively in new situations.

There is another possibility here for how the employee and manager might work together.  The employee submits their plan to their manager who then tweaks it and enhances it, describing how to:

  • design the survey so the results can be compared with what is needed.
  • design the survey so the results will be useful in determining how to hire people who will most closely fill the gaps.
  • design the survey so the results will be useful in determining who should be hired who would be most trainable to close the gaps.
  • describe the gaps so they will be most useful in determining who, when hired, would best fill the gaps.
  • describe the gaps so they will be most useful in determining who, when hired, could best be trained to fill the gaps.
  • hire people who, when trained, would best fill the gaps.

If this is what is going on, it is important to describe this situation accurately.  The work is the manager’s work.  The performance is the manager’s.  The 18-month task of getting the staff capability we are looking for is the manager’s task.

Third Level of Support

There is another level referred as”manipulation” (Michael Commons in posts at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).Manipulation changes measured stage of performance by 3 stages. This level of support involves one being moved through each step to perform it. This is literally walking individuals through the task by moving them through each step of solving a problem.”

So the MoR (manager once removed, manager’s manager) says to the employee, “It’s great that you are building our staff’s capability.  But you know at the same time we are going through a series of moves in our marketing organization and another in our sales department to increase the number of customers.  I need your staff capacity building to be integrated with these other two processes. As you are a high-potential employee, I want to work closely with you on this and have you coordinate all of these processes.  I will walk you through it all step by step.”

You can call this “support”, but be clear that you are supporting outcomes or supporting the organization but you are not supporting the employee.  Depending on how detailed the “step-by-step” walking through is, the employee might be able to get away with Str-I declarative judgment, Str-II cumulative judgment or Str.-III serial judgment.  There is no sense in which one could say that the employee’s performance has risen.  The employee’s performance is at whatever level it was before.  The parallel processing is all done by the MoR.  This may be a useful for the organization.  Certainly organizational performance will be enhanced; it is better for the organization if the employee’s work in building staff capacity is coordinated with marketing activity and increases in sales.  If you can first bring in new clients who can be served by existing staff capability, then new clients who can be served by unskilled new employees, and then new clients who will most benefit from newly-trained staff members, profits will be maximized.  But we would be deceiving ourselves to label the support as supporting the employee.

If the MoR is “walking individuals through the task by moving them through each step of solving a problem”, then this task is the MoR’s, not the employee’s.

Here’s where things net out:

  • The employee’s own work – the result of the judgment they exercise and the output resulting from it – are enhanced when the employee is enabled to develop relevant skills and knowledge either by copying them or by being taught them.  This is not an enhancement of the employee’s capacity to exercise judgment; they had the potential for cumulative processing before the help, and cumulative processing is still all they can do.  But the result of that judgment will now be more effective.
  • The employee’s own work may also be enhanced by codification of work at a higher stratum.  If there is a type of service to provide, for example, and someone at III recognizes six patterns in which that service can be provided, those six patterns can be taught to the employee at Stratum II.  The employee at Stratum II will miss subtleties and will not optimize the patterns but their own work will be optimized by the patterns.

In this case, we must recognize what the work is that the employee is doing.  If the task is to create a process through which to serve customers in sector X, and if by “process” we mean a series of steps, each leading not only to the next but also to the steps after the next, then we must recognize that the employee is not working on that task.  They cannot work on that task.  It doesn’t fit in their head.  If the task is to provide service, and if that service can be provided by filling in the blanks in a general process already developed by their manager, then their manager has developed a method that allows the Str.-II capable employee to produce output previously requiring Str.-III capability.  (As an example of this general concept, there is software that allows the Str.-I-capable employee to do insurance sales work that previously required Str.-II capability.)

  • If the work cannot be successfully codified, then the subtle distinctions in applying the general process to different customers in sector X can be observed by a manager at III who adjusts the employee’s output, but we must then recognize that it is the manager, not the employee, who is carrying the task of developing the process.
  • The value to the organization of the employee’s work is enhanced when the employee’s manager makes good use of the employee’s abilities and the MoR makes good use of the manager’s abilities.
    • The MoR uses parallel processing to integrate the multiple series developed by several subordinate managers.
    • The manager uses serial processing to guide the employee’s work in developing a survey, a recruitment program and a training program.
    • The employee takes that guidance to make optimal use of their cumulative processing ability to design a survey, a recruitment program and a training program each meeting the specifications set by the manager.

I suggested understanding support as coaching, training or use of an employee to conduct sub-tasks that makes better use for the organization of the employee’s abilities.  The point of this blog is that it is useful to understand who does what work within different categories of support:

  • enabling the employee to do better work through building their skills and knowledge
  • enabling the employee to produce more output through codification of higher approaches
  • enhancing the employee’s output, after the employee has produced it, by the manager’s taking on the task themselves by editing the employee’s output
  • optimizing the employee’s output by optimizing the specification of tasks assigned to the employee.

While output may be increased by any of those methods, none of them increases the employee’s ability to exercise judgment, only to make better use for the organization of that ability to exercise judgment.

Read 29475 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 April 2012 17:20

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