Keeping your business profitable and ahead of the competition in whatever way you can are probably the two main focuses of any company. This has traditionally been done by keeping costs down and being as efficient as possible by focusing on processes. In the late 90s, Norton and Kaplan introduced the concept of the Balanced Scorecard, which pointed out that while it was important to manage finance and processes, there was also the need to focus on customer value and satisfaction and organisational capacity, i.e. human capital, infrastructure, including technology and culture.

Supply Chain Management theory says that customer service sets the spec for the supply chain; in other words what the customer is prepared to pay and what their priorities are, are what dictates how the supply chain is set up and what it delivers. There is no point in delivering a Rolls Royce when the customer wants and will only pay for a standard car. And it is your customer that is the only true source of finance to your business. So delivering customer value and satisfaction makes sense.

However, without the relevant organisational capacity, customer value and satisfaction is difficult to deliver. If you are under-resourced you are stretched to deliver satisfaction and if you are over-resourced you are then stretched to deliver value. Your structure and capabilities need to be set up to meet the needs of those you have identified as your core customers. This includes having the properly skilled people in the right roles. It is also the properly skilled people that ensure the efficiencies of your processes. You can have excellent processes and procedures but it is how your people work them that makes them efficient – or not!

How this is done, can depend on an individual’s motivation. Daniel Pink puts forward the theory of autonomy, mastery and purpose as being the three key elements of motivation. Mastery relates to the skills someone has to enable them to do their job.

A skill is the ability to do something well. We all need a portfolio of skills to be able to do our particular job well, i.e. to have mastery, and this includes technical and soft skills. We gain skills in a number of different ways. We have all heard of “learning by doing”. However, David Kolb, in the 1980’s, put forward a four-stage learning cycle – concrete learning, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. Concrete learning is when there is a new experience or an existing experience is reinterpreted by an individual. This is followed by reflective observation. This is where the experience is reflected upon on a personal basis. Then comes abstract conceptualization. Here the learner forms new ideas, or modifies existing abstract ideas, based on the reflective observation stage. Then, in the active experimentation stage, the new ideas are applied or practiced to see if anything changes. This second experience then becomes the concrete experience for the beginning of the next cycle. In reality the cycle may not necessarily happen in that order.

For example, we do a task in the same way that we have been doing for some time, maybe even years, and suddenly it doesn’t make sense to do it that way any more. Maybe something has changed in the environment, maybe there is a technology that makes it quicker and easier to do in a different way. This is concrete learning. We then reflect on what this means for us, i.e. we think about changing how we do it or bringing in the technology and save time. This is the reflective observation.  In the active experimentation we act on this, either by changing what we do or introducing the technology and using it to change how we do the task. The expectation is that time will now be saved. Assuming it is we will more than likely continue to do the task in this new way until we again reappraise it.

There is also a place for formal interventions such as training and learning events as these enable people to understand the contexts and the key elements of the skills required. Equally important then is the opportunity to practice the skill in the work-place and for employees to be encouraged to reflect on the impact of using what they have learned. This strengthens and deepens the learning. If we don’t use what we have learned we tend to forget it. In addition, if the skills we have learned don’t make our working life easier they tend not to be put into practice, which brings us back to having the proper processes and procedures in place!

Do you have something you would like to improve and think that skills improvement may help? If so, contact Liz at the Construction Professionals Skillnet at

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