Positive living requires sustained accomplishment. Accomplishment is rarely individualistic; it requires at least two parties, in many cases several. Accomplishment need not necessarily be only material; it could be philosophical or spiritual too. Most, if not all, of material accomplishments are bilateral or multilateral. From a conceptual viewpoint, even multilateral accomplishments can be reduced to bilateral ones; for example, an interactive accomplishment between agencies of government and several firms can be seen as a broad government-industry interaction or accomplishment. Even an apparently individualistic accomplishment of attaining spiritual nirvana is an interactive accomplishment between the mind and soul of an individual. The key question is how any interaction between entities can be translated into mutual accomplishment. The answer to this question determines how people and societies can achieve positive living.
Typically, activities precede achievement even as thoughts or intents precede activities. When firms and governments desire to promote industrial growth, several actions such as formulation of industrial policies, establishment of industries and commencement of commercial operations must take place. When someone desire to achieve nirvana, he or she must have a meditative conversation with his or her soul to achieve a state of tranquil mindfulness. All these myriad forms of activities with others and self can be seen as forms of engagement. How well these activities are accomplished is not a function of intent; rather it is a function of how genuine and effective the engagement is. The robustness of engagement depends on two principal factors; competency in engagement and ownership in engagement. Together, these form a competency-ownership interlock.
Competency is the ability to do a job well. Competency, in a more focused sense, is the skill needed to do a particular job or meet a particular task well. Competency has a specific need as well as a broader need. Every job brings in its stride certain unexpected occurrences. For example, in spite of measurement of all parameters a raw material may behave in an unexpected fashion while being machined. In spite of understanding human anatomy well, both academically and practically, a surgeon may experience an unexpected internal organ structure. One therefore needs to have specific competency to do a particular job but also a generic competency to build on the specific competencies by adaptation of specific competencies or integration of additional skills. The artisan who builds a superstructure, for example, must be able to address how a construction must be managed in turns and crevices to avoid water seepage. In other words a construction worker must have enough knowledge of waterproofing, and a waterproofing worker enough knowledge of construction.
Competency gets built through a continuous learning process, first through education and next through experience. Competency building is a behavioral process as much as it is an intellectual process. It is a combination of educating oneself through formal or informal processes. It requires opening up of oneself without ego to what is required for the current state at one level and be prepared for future state at another level. Not respecting the teaching and learning processes in the school and college phase and not respecting the observing and learning processes in the employment phase impede competency building. Competitive learning which dominates the contemporary learning processes takes people ahead on examination or selection criteria but not in terms of true learning. Competency building requires a combination of focus on the core and diversity for the future. Each learning experience gives an opportunity to discover what one is really good at life, and what makes one truly actualized.
The ability to build optimal levels of competency at different stages of life and in the context of various tasks is dependent on an individual maximizing one’s performance through a complex balance of competition and collaboration. Competition is an intrinsic feature of human psychology stemming from recognition that resources are limited and wants are unlimited. Collaboration is a contractual feature of social psychology stemming from a realization that by pooling resources and skills one can be more competitive than others.
Ownership means that something belongs to someone. Ownership had been the central thesis and the vortex of myriad debates of economic policy. Private versus State ownership had been at the center of debate over private versus public capitalism. Over the last centuries, practical economics has seen the relative success of private ownership and enterprise over state ownership and enterprise. Major private enterprises, even in advanced countries wedded to free capitalism, have seen failures of private ownership and management while some public enterprises, even in developing economies, have seen successes of state ownership and management. Yet, on a broader and relative plane private ownership has emerged as a better driver of greater success. In this context, it is somewhat enigmatic that the word ownership gets well used but also misused in individual or business performance context.
The urge to own is inherent in human evolution, transiting from total dependence to semi-dependence, independence and interdependence in different shades. A child who for the first time tries to crawl or walk by himself or herself, or tries to play with articles is unknowingly but spontaneously is, in fact, taking ownership of his or her life. Yet, as the child grows up and as competitive learning and employment processes divide people into different categories, the concept of ownership gets distorted. From ownership based on natural curiosity and quest for independence, people migrate to ownership based on focus and specialization, rules and regulations, and rewards and risks. The trend shifts from doing what one beckons one intrinsically to what one must do, or must appear to do. The context and drivers shift to expectations of others, be it family members, teachers, friends or employers. As a result, individuals may own qualifications but not the intrinsic learning or knowledge, and may own jobs but not the inherent processes or outcomes.
Ownership is both transactional and philosophical. A teacher needs to own his or her subject but more importantly must also own his or her pupils. The teacher must also own in a broader sense the school itself, even though he or she is just one stakeholder. Effective ownership comes from genuine identification with a cause. Real ownership comes with one’s genuine sense of belonging to a cause or with a role rather than from a view that a role belongs to oneself.
Obviously, if one is competent for a task and has ownership of the task, one would be able to deliver an optimal performance for the benefit of all stakeholders including the performer. However, life being not so simple, we have opposing polarities of incompetence and escapism to competence and ownership respectively. To be objective, both competence and incompetence are relative terms which need to be understood with reference to a task (and a natural or acquired ability to meet the performance requirements of the task) while ownership and escapism are also relative terms which need to be understood with reference to the task (and a natural or conditioned aptitude to stay committed to the task). Competency-ownership matrix therefore needs to be assessed on a case by case basis by individuals as well as organizations. As with a 2X2 matrix, there could be four combinations of Competent Ownership, Incompetent Ownership, Escapist Competence and Escapist Incompetence, all of which tends to be individual and organizational realities.
Competent Ownership drives long term sustainable performance in all bilateral and multilateral relationships. It should be the goal of all team members and leaders to find periodically the right match of abilities and tasks on one hand and instill and continuously encourage a sense of belongingness on the other hand. Competent Ownership does not stay fixed throughout entire career spans and organizational journeys. Individuals and leaders need to continuously review the effectiveness of competent ownership. Incompetent Ownership is a correctable feature of team dynamics but needs careful solution. Just because an individual is not suited in terms of skills to a domain placing the individual in another domain may not guarantee success unless the individual has a sense of belongingness to the new domain as well. Moving one from Incompetent Ownership to Competent Ownership needs to be a calibrated exercise.
It is relatively easy to evaluate one’s competence but is difficult to assess one’s sense of belongingness. It is not unusual, therefore, to find Escapist Competence in organizations, which is unfortunate. Individuals who do not have a true sense of belongingness and leaders who are unable to assess the pockets of escapist competence leave the individuals and organizations in a state of false complacency. And, of course Escapist Incompetence is an organizational nightmare. Individuals who are neither matched to the tasks in terms of their skills and have no belongingness to the tasks constitute a category that needs to be addressed with urgency and understanding both by individuals and the leaders. Whether a drastic restructuring of talent and tasks helps in minimizing the occurrence of Escapist Incompetence needs to be evaluated prior to drastic actions.
A virtuous grid
Clearly, it would be ideal for all individual, organizational and social endeavors to have only Competent Ownership as the underlying human factor of performance. It is, however, unlikely that in an organizational continuum, it would be a natural occurrence. Even structured processes of self-selection by individuals and multi-layered assessments by others may not result in a virtuous grid where all, or almost all, space is occupied by the Competent Ownership segment. It is, therefore, an individual responsibility as well as a leadership responsibility to constantly retool oneself as the tasks evolve, and recommit to tasks on one hand with a continued sense of belongingness. That said, mismatch of task-competency and task-belongingness equations need not necessarily mean end of the road. Such awareness may simply open up new vistas of opportunity.
The basic thesis is not as much as about the grid, per se but the need to be on a mode of continuous learning and developing a sense of belonging to the tasks on hand. In a dynamic world, knowledge keeps increasing and the tasks keep transforming in scale and scope. When one stops learning, one starts becoming less successful. When one starts losing the sense of belonging, one stops enjoying what one does. The good news is that self-awareness as well as team awareness can help individuals stay in the zone of Competent Ownership. Virtuous organizations excel not only in the much emphasized aspects of strategy and execution but also in the matching of abilities, tasks and ownership at individual, team and organizational levels. In all forms of bilateral and multilateral engagement, individual to individual, individual to entity, entity to entity or government to society, Competent Ownership is the only solution to sustainable and equitable development.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on June 8, 2014