Faster Horses

Henry Ford said that if he’d listened to his customers, he would never have developed the car and instead, would have simply bred faster horses.

It’s not that the customer doesn’t know what they want. They just think they want more of the same, but next time they want it bigger or better or stronger or faster, but essentially, the same as what they had before.

Do you ever find this is the case in your industry?

I find this to be the case in my industry too! For example, customers say they want to develop their employees. They say they want to ensure they are providing a ‘growthful’ environment for them, as they value their input every day. So what do they do about it? They do a little Google searching and eventually, after much deliberation about cost, they book a ‘training course’.

The problem is, traditional training courses are not DEVELOPMENTAL!

They are horizontal learning. In other words, it’s the downloading of information in a classroom-type environment, and although the participants might come out with a couple of extra strategies for life that allow them to cope with specific situations, the difficulties they won’t be able to manage are the ones that occur at a higher level than said participants are able to operate at.

Dr Ian Selby, Director of Research and Development at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, said: ‘Modern companies have a large set of incentives available to them, yet many keep reaching for two in particular: exerting pressure from above, or incentivising through bonuses.’

So what are modern companies NOT seeing?

When you talk about your staff today, you might use the modern vernacular of ‘Human Capital’ to describe the organisational asset once called ’employees’, and it’s only proper to have better words to describe how organisations view their most useful and valuable asset. But it would seem that our language is the only thing that has kept up-to-date over the past two decades.

Why? Because when the modern organisation decides to develop its staff, it would appear that they still want to use tools such as psychometrics, or even the very unhelpful MBTI roles. Their thinking is still in the 90’s as though these tools are sufficient for the job of developing the minds of their Human Capital in 2016.

And therein lies the problem: organisations still think that employees need to have better ‘skills’ or they can tick a list of boxes of ‘attributes’ such as ‘demonstrates confidence’ or ‘Uses appropriate body language’.  I have even seen the list include things like: ‘Actively listens’ and ‘Retains information’ whilst keeping a ‘willingness to muck in’… whatever that means for a bank!

What if the employee thinks the information is not worth retaining and is a waste of his or her grey matter? What then? Do they not get a tick in that particular box?

What is more useful?

So what is the answer, you are probably asking.

The answer is Vertical Development. In other words, change how someone thinks about how they think about their role, in relation to their organisation. If they demonstrate particular behavioural patterns, you can guarantee they are using specific thinkingpatterns – drivers – that underly them. And they are probably out of awareness for the person.

Bringing those unconscious, underlying thinking patterns into awareness is key, and what they mean at the various levels of thinking complexity.

The difference between Vertical Development and Horizontal learning is then how we create meaning. The actions and behaviours of a person at a lower level of thinking complexity will have a totally different meaning at a higher level of thinking. So it doesn’t matter what your skills are (and thus negates any skills or competence-based horizontal courses) if you are not sufficiently adept to think more complexly and thus create different meaning for the problems you encounter in your work.

In development right now is the Thinking Quotient. This forms part of my PhD research that demonstrates there is a gap in complexity thinking from an organisational perspective. According to Elliott Jaques’ organisation, they are not aware of anyone extending his research to include the complex nature of organisational roles and the level of complexity an employee is capable of thinking at, thus aligning role complexity with personal complexity capability.

What I am doing is a cognitive and social-emotional approach to creating a new tool that will enable people to understand what their Thinking Quotient is in the context of organisations, for individual developmental growth in a vertical direction. This is possible in some part to Otto Laske’s work.

What this means is, you, as an organisational leader, will be able to benchmark your Human Capital and manage their career progression based on their future capacity, not on a snapshot of their current behaviours that conform to a predetermined combination of letters. You will know how capable they are right now, and the path they must take in order to grow their Thinking Complexity in order to fit the next-level organisational role.

If you want to know more about the research, get in touch. If not, watch this space as the TQ takes shape and enters the business psychology market!