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The third and final of the three fundamental capabilities of managers is Application. Defined by McDonald, Burke and Stewart, it is, “the effort and energy that a person puts into applying the other elements of capability to their work.” Often, individuals can have the appropriate problem solving capability and possess the skills and knowledge to do work effectively. But yet for some reason, they do not apply themselves sufficiently to be successful in their work. Application has everything to do with valuing the nature of work and applying oneself fully. In the absence of either, the value-added work of the position will not be completed.

It Takes More than the Right Skills

Imagine a front-line worker who is looking to get promoted. The  most logical move would be to become a manager in charge of former peers. In fact, in most organizations, this would be the only way that the front-line worker can “move up” in the organization. From the perspective of the Director who needs to hire a Front-line Manager, the temptation is to promote their best front-line worker. If the Application requirement is not understood, this may be a mistake.

It is usually clear that for a manager position, it is important for the incumbent to have the skills and knowledge necessary for managing individuals, such as ensuring timely feedback, delegating, setting context, and so on. The question becomes whether the candidate would value this managerial work, because success requires not only having the specific skills and knowledge, but also, the recognition of the value of that type of work and actually doing it.

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Individuals who move to management positions often do not truly value the work of managing, but instead spend most of their time on the floor solving problems as they did in their previous position. Because they don’t appreciate the value of managing, they are not applying themselves to that part of the job. As a consequence, managerial leadership declines. At all levels of an organization, moving forward requires the same understanding and importance of valuing the type of work involved.

What Causes Work Value to Diminish?

There are several reasons why an individual would no longer value the type of work they are required to do. One of the primary reasons is that an individual has outgrown a particular job. When their problem solving capability has matured, they will be looking for value in other places.

The goal of every promotion or new-hire is to engage an individual who will be high-performing from day one. If there is a vacancy for an entry-level position, it’s critical to ensure that the person who is hired values the work of the job.

Let’s think of an Administrative Assistant position, for example. Whether it’s making copies, drafting meeting notes or assembling binders, these tasks provide critical support to managers and executive-level professionals. Lessening the administrative burden on superiors allows those individuals to focus on more complex work that is appropriate to their positions. I’ve often seen the situation where the hiring manager will select an individual for administrative positions who is simply overqualified. When presented with a candidate who has no advanced degree, aspires to move up the organization, and makes the case that they would be very happy in this entry-level position, the temptation is to “get the best bang for the buck” and hire this person. In every situation where I’ve seen this happen, the successful candidate does not value the work that needs be done, but rather, wishes to solve problems and use capacity at the next level. As a result, work either does not get done or does not get done well.

Failing to recognize the significance of Application can result in putting people into position where the necessary work of that position is undervalued, inefficient and ineffective.