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Willing and Able May 3, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell, The Daily Grind.
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My dad likes to use the above diagram when he gets philosophical about hiring and working with people. It’s not too hard to figure out, but it is a helpful framework for businesses.

Strictly speaking, dad has only two criteria for hiring: a.) he must like the candidate in question and b.) the candidate must be capable of doing the job. After all, there’s no point hiring someone you don’t want to work with, and if the person can’t get the job done anyway, pretty soon you won’t much like him/her.

Having said that, evaluating a person’s performance boils down to both attitude and aptitude; that is to say, their willingness and ability to do what they were hired to do. As the diagram describes, people tend to fall into any one of the four categories:

  • Willing and Able. These are the best people to work with and, by definition, are or can be assets to the organization, and thus are very much worth keeping. (Top-left box.)
  • Unwilling and Unable. Yes, there are such people. Let’s face it: sometimes people apply for a job they don’t particularly want or aren’t even qualified for. Whatever the reason, these kinds of people should be avoided at all costs; but if they happen to make their way into an organization, odds are they won’t last for long. (Bottom-right box.)
  • Able yet Unwilling. Some people are very talented and quite qualified, yet just don’t have the motivation to do a job well, if at all. (Top-right box.)
  • Willing yet Unable. On the other hand, there are those who simply do not have the skill set required to get the job done, yet are deeply committed to trying as hard as they can.

Of the four, the first two are the easiest to pass judgment on. Managers should hire and work to keep people that are willing and able; meanwhile, it’s inevitable that anyone unwilling and unable will fall by their own weight at some point.

However, the hardest to pass judgment on are the “yets”: the able yet unwilling and the willing yet unable. Consider the former: it’s tempting to think that with the right attitude adjustment or the right incentives (carrot or stick), such individuals might still be useful to an organization. This may work for a time. But at some point it will be much more attractive to simply look for persons willing and able to do the job rather than pull teeth working with someone able yet unwilling.

On the other hand, willing yet unable people are a conundrum. Such individuals can be the most committed and the most motivated to the organization but have are unfortunately outclassed (or Peter-principled) and fumble the tasks they’re assigned. Can they be trained to be better? Maybe, or at least up to a point. They’re like the walking wounded (as dad calls them): though raring for battle, sometimes it’s for their own good to stay on the sidelines.

Of course, there’s a larger point to all this. Inasmuch as the above is a useful framework for managers to evaluate staff or job candidates, it is equally useful to ask ourselves the question: in which box do we belong?

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