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Are They Willing? Are They Able?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a local earthwork contractor about how his business was doing this year.  He said it was okay but his biggest problem was a new worker who was sometimes causing him to pull his hair out.  After a little while, it was evident that he didn't want to lose this person because there were "glimmers of hope" from time to time.  Sometimes the person's productivity was good but his safety performance was deficient.  A couple days later and this was reversed.  I bet right now there are some who are reading this and are saying, “That person works for me!”

That's not unusual.  If you haven’t had to deal with a similar situation, you probably haven’t supervised many people, or maybe you work for the perfect company.

I was reminded of one item that we use in our MEMIC Leadership Training sessions, and I shared it with the contractor.  It’s a simple coaching technique that looks at willingness and ability.  There are times when an individual is willing to do what you want whether it’s involving safety or productivity (or both), but are not able to because they lack experience, training, clear direction, or a similar barrier.  Other times they may be able but are not willing because they don't like the job or they don't think it's important.  There are a number of combinations explained in the table below: Scan 3

Although it looks pretty simple, this grid has a lot of information and we spend a fair amount of time on it during a training session.  What it will do for even a first-time user is to get you thinking about your communications with your employees. For instance, if you want to find out if your employee is able to do a task, you have to ask first and then verify through observation that, in fact, they can.  Everything between those two points, depending on their proficiency, will involve some degree of training if they can't demonstrate the skill.

Once you get into a situation where it's a question of willingness, you will be earning your supervisory pay.  This is 99 percent communication skills and this is what separates the great supervisor from everyone else.  Any supervisor who can modify someone who is not willing to be a "can-do" person has a unique ability and probably does not lack for job offers.


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John Dodge

Paul, you are right on the money!

Motivation and attitude are essential elements in worker performance as most already posses some technical skills.

And I've also heard you say that workers can move in and out of these categories. Supervisors can use this tool to help guide employees back to the high willingness, high ability box and to keep them there.



Paul, as nailed it!
This post / example fits any industry and I wouldn't be surprised if business owners weigh in on this.
Q: Do you have advise on where I can get a tool that will help me select potential employees who best fit the "High Willingness & High Ability" quadrent.?

Karl Siegfried

Great topic Paul!! This one has very pertinent information for all of our customers. I know of many that have used the grid to assist in supervising their employees by identifying opportunities for growth. Thanks Paul!!


Thanks Paul. Every supervisor, whether working with CNAs changing bed pans -- or laborers digging ditches -- can relate to this topic.

Most supervisors understand the importance of training the high-willingness/low-ability workers -- and, any insight you can provide with motivating the low-willingness/high-ability worker (especially as this relates to safety behavior) -- will be a big help.

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