Strengthening Employees through Competency Alignment

John Larry Wright was a nice guy. A very nice guy. Just about everyone in the organization loved him … except for his own team in the IT Department. For all of his interpersonal strengths, John struggled to perform his job adequately. In fact, John had caused two major network outages in the past three months.

I worked directly with John at the time. His problem was correctly identified as an issue with competency, and he was ultimately reassigned to a role where he could use his strengths without sabotaging himself. However, that process seemed longer and more painful than it could have been.


In Performance Management there’s a methodology called FOSA+. This stands for:

  • F – The facts of the performance deficiency, such as what happened, when did it happen, how did it happen, etc.
  • O – The specific expectations (or objectives) that the business has of the employee. These are the specific behaviors that the employee is expected to engage in, and the measurements by which that behavior is assessed.
  • S – The solutions that the employee may use to resolve the issue. Examples may include receiving training, mentoring, coaching, etc.
  • A – These are the actions that will be taken if the employee fails to improve.
  • + – This represents the additional support, guidance, and encouragement that management may provide.

I believe that FOSA+ is most effective when the employee is in a role that they are competent in, but have some deficiencies that need to be improved. It’s useful as a discipline method. However, I don’t believe that FOSA+ is useful in helping an employee that demonstrates actual incompetence in their role (although it may be helpful in diagnosing that).

For John Larry Wright, the issue was not that he was making mistakes in a job that he should have been able to perform competently. The issue was that he was incompetent in the role. He simply couldn’t improve at a rate that would justify the expenditure to bring him up to competency. I know it sounds like an matter of semantics, but the distinction is important. John was a poor fit for the job.

A Better Approach

There’s a few Improvement Strategies that you can use when handling a situation such as John’s:

1. Improve his Competency

If you have the time, you can work to improve John’s competency. I don’t recommend doing this via the FOSA+ model, however. I think a slightly softer and more collaborative approach would be better (this strategy is based somewhat on ideas expressed in Total Alignment: Tools and Tactics for Streamlining Your Organization, by Riaz and Linda Khadem).

The strategy is as follows:

  1. Have John write down the core skills that he believes he needs in order to perform his job successfully
  2. Have John rate himself, on a scale of 1 – 5 (1 being low competency, and 5 being high competency) for each of those core skills
  3. You write down the core skills necessary to perform the job successfully
  4. You rate John on the same 1 – 5 scale for each core skill
  5. Meet with John to compare and discuss your lists. Your lists will differ. As you discuss the various items, listen carefully to John as he explains his perspective. Try to see the world through his eyes. As you make your own case, do so with kindness and consideration. Make corrections collaboratively until you both agree on the core skills necessary, and where John stands in relation to them. Don’t berate John if he’s falling short. Explain that this exercise is meant to establish a foundation from which he can learn and grow.
  6. Working together, create a plan for John to increase his competency in those skills. This plan may include online courses, books to be read, having a more experienced employee mentor John, etc. This is a forward looking exercise. Create a clear path from where John is now to where he needs to be.
  7. Plan to follow-up with John, and continue your collaboration for his success, near the conclusion of your weekly one-on-ones.

2. Transition him into Another Role

Another strategy is to transition John into a new role. This role doesn’t have to already exist in the organization, and it may not even require a change in title. It should, however, focus on John’s existing strengths.

Implementing this option could be done by doing the following:

  1. Make a list of John’s strengths and weaknesses. These could be skills, knowledge, or behaviors that John possesses.
  2. Make a list of John’s goals and ambitions (as evident through your employee-lead one-on-ones)
  3. Comparing the two lists, create a third list of possible roles or responsibilities that John could assume. These roles/responsibilities should add genuine value to the company while providing John with a sense of accomplishment. This may be a difficult task. Here are some general guidelines that I would recommend:
    • Try to emphasize John’s strengths, but
    • It’s not necessary to steer him completely away from areas of weakness. Just ensure that those weaknesses won’t pose a serious liability to him or the company, and
    • Give him opportunities and means to improve those weaknesses.
    • Present the role transition as an opportunity. Most people want to do well, and can easily recognize when they’re not. John will probably be relieved to be able to transition into a better fitting role, where he can make a meaningful contribution.

Deciding on an Improvement Strategy

When determining which strategy to use, the question you want to answer is “With John’s strengths and weaknesses, how can he best contribute to the mission of the company?” If the answer is “to improve in his current role”, then seek to improve his competency. However, if there is an opportunity to leverage John’s strengths in new ways, be proactive in exploring that option as well.

What Happened to John?

As I mentioned, John was transitioned into a new role. His new responsibilities included being the dedicated Technical Support Engineer for the Executive Leadership Team. There he was able to utilize the technical skills that he did have, and also his incredible interpersonal skills. He forged positive, meaningful relationships with various executives that even extended beyond the workplace.

He eventually became somewhat of a liason for the Executive Leadership Team. Whenever a member of that team had a technical problem, they would call John. John would listen patiently and document the problem. If it was something that he, personally, couldn’t fix, then he would work with his colleagues to craft a solution.

Last I heard, John was in good spirits. He’s excelling in his new responsibilities and finds satisfaction with the work he does.

In Closing

As Business Leaders, I believe we have a moral obligation to create an environment where employees can leverage their strengths to make a meaningful contribution to the company. Letting a sincere employee go because “they’re just not getting it”, is a difficult situation – one that we all want to avoid. By helping them improve their competency, or transitioning them into another role, we have the opportunity to create success and opportunity in the place of failure.

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