Star performer: boost your professional reputation by building your capability

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 - 13:22

By AIM Senior Research Fellow Dr Samantha Johnson

‘Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.’ Abraham Lincoln

What’s your reputation?  What are you known for?  What do people think when they hear your name?

That you’re reliable, personable, technically proficient and intelligent?  That you’re highly capable? Let’s hope.  What else is there?  Troublesome, argumentative, narrow minded, ignorant…surely no one wants to be thought of in those terms?

So there are some big questions here.  What are you known for? What are you doing to actively manage your reputation? What behaviours do you adopt to ensure that your reputation is a good one? How are you moulding your character?

Let’s look at capability as a reputable characteristic.  Capability and competency relate to high performance not mediocrity. Competent people have characteristics that make them particularly effective and position them as high performers. So what are these characteristics and how does an organisation embrace and enhance them?

Many a high performer has walked away from a poorly functioning organisation and many organisations have failed to build high performers.  So there are two parties involved in building capable and competent high performers.  The individual themselves and the organisation.  And it’s hard work.  When things become hard, we find support in guidelines and models.  For capability development a good, contemporary model is the ’70:20:10’ model.

Organisations need highly capable people and people need supportive organisations. The ’70:20:10’ model reflects this. 

Building capability means learning new skills and knowledge in the most effective manner.  This model suggests that we, as individuals, would learn best by spending 10% of our development time in formal courses, 20% working with others who can role model, guide and offer feedback and 70% of our time operating at work while gaining guidance, direction, information, feedback and encouragement.

This means that we learn through experience, through social interactions and through formal training. This sounds reasonable and straight forward.  But are you making sure that it happens?

The 10% is the easiest to get your head around.  Get yourself onto a course that will teach you new skills, approaches, perspectives, theories etc that are relevant to your profession.  The hardest part of this is getting approval to spend company money and time out of the workplace.  An organisation that is truly a competitive, contemporary learning organisation will be supportive.

The 20% is a bit trickier.  Who can you turn to, at work, who can mentor you, question you, coach you?  Who will you listen to and respect?  You need to put your pride and ego aside and seek out someone who can challenge you and build your skills and knowledge and this needs to happen alongside formal learning with twice as much involvement.

Now for the rest.  To be competent, capable and a high performer and to be known as such, you need to do more than just get the work done.  You need to integrate daily task progress with an attitude of ongoing development.  This means that while you’re getting on with things, ask questions, seek feedback, engage in discussion, seek out different perspectives, apply new knowledge and skills to your work and test out new ways of working.  If you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, your competence, capability and performance will stagnate, regardless of how many courses you attend.  Reflect, question, challenge yourself and adapt.  This is experiential learning.

This is all pretty hard going and if you’re sighing as you read this, I don’t blame you.  To be a high performer in the current business world, we need to do much more than manage our workload. 

Adopt the ’70:20:10’ model of learning and take personal responsibility for it.  If your organisation also adopts this, you’re in a good place.

Take the opportunity to learn about yourself, your work, new approaches and perspectives, get feedback and take it on board.  Blend your daily workload with a strong and positive attitude towards personal improvement.  Connect with others who can challenge you and encourage improvement and let them do it.  Professional development is not always a comfortable journey.  Be courageous.

And then do what you have probably always done, book yourself onto a well-regarded personal and professional development program and immerse yourself in new knowledge.

Adopt this approach and watch your career flourish.  Be open to new ways of working, seek out a good mentor or coach and see every day as a new learning opportunity.  That’s the basis of a damn good reputation.

Reference: The 70:20:10 Model For Learning and development: An Effective Model for Capability Development? Blackman, Buick & Johnson, 2016.