I believe in capacity building. I believe in building an organization that makes space for staff to demonstrate capacity, that creates opportunities to engage that capacity, and that allows demonstrated capacity to inform growth (both individual and organizational). A capacity building organization is inherently people focused, and always ensures that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
At a prior institution I had a staff member – we will call him “Bob” – who was the perfect example of capacity building. Bob worked as a coordinator with very specific tasks related to his work area of administrative services. Bob was always on time, always did good work, but probably wasn’t very challenged after spending a few years in the role. Bob took the opportunity to volunteer to work with a departmental committee looking at policies. He took ownership for that work, did research, and looked for process solutions that would gain staff buy in. After about a month with the committee, Bob reported out on his work. I was amazed at the amount of work he had put in, the solution he was suggesting, and his mastery of the content area. He really impressed me. Later that month I approached Bob and asked him if he would be willing to do a project for the department researching what other institutions do regarding public relations and making recommendations on how we could improve. Here again, Bob demonstrated his capacity…but also demonstrated something to us as an organization. Bob showed us that we needed someone permanently doing the type of work through his recommendations.
What is capacity?
Capacity comes in two forms: time and talent. Capacity of time happens when an individual is working in a role that requires less than full time attention/effort. It doesn’t mean the person isn’t working hard, but that perhaps the structure of the job doesn’t call for one FTE. Often, it has less to do with the staff member and more to do with the job itself. Maybe the job has changed over time, or technology has eased the need for the attention of a full time staff member, or that staff member has become so operationally efficient that they don’t need 40 hours to do that work. Whatever the reason, the result of these situations is time capacity.
Talent capacity is the opposite. Talent capacity is always about the individual staff member. Staff with talent capacity may not have a single extra second of time, they may already be working overtime or skipping breaks and lunch to keep up, but have talent to work above or outside the role they are currently in.
How do you figure out where capacity exists in your organization? Time capacity is fairly easy. You can often observe it by walking around, asking departmental leaders, or getting to know staff and understanding how they approach their work. If you have created a culture where it is clear that capacity is valued and important, staff may even volunteer that information (ideally).
Talent capacity is more difficult. Because talent capacity is often not aligned with time capacity it is critical to make space for it to surface. In my organizations this often comes in the form of volunteer opportunities, side projects, or committee work (think about Bob). The key is to put willing staff into positions to demonstrate skills and talents that they can only hint at in their regular duties. Do you have an entry level staff member who always has their monthly reports don’t on time, accurately, and presented in ways that is extra helpful? Perhaps ask that person if they would be willing to write the SOP for monthly reporting.
When employed together, time and talent capacity can accomplish two things. First, you create operational efficiencies that give your organization opportunities to accomplish more. Secondly, you create a people-centric ecosystem that acts as a talent recognition and retention initiative.
Using time and talent capacity together to create operational efficiency
A few weeks ago I sat in a room with about 200 divisional staff members. As I looked around the room I recognized two things. First, there was a lot of capacity in that room. There were staff with time, staff with talent, and a few who even had both. It’s an amazing problem to have. Secondly, with very few exceptions there were really only three big categories of jobs represented in the room: people who program/support students, people who support those programming/supporting (admins), and process administrators (finance, IT, etc.). As an operations guy I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities we had in front of us. The possibility to use capacity of time to free up capacity of talent and to ultimately do more with less. Higher education is constantly seeking resource, yet overburdened with bureaucracy and redundancy. Imagine if rather than hoarding positions and resources, we utilized capacity building strategies to broaden our expertise and operate at a higher level.
The ecosystem of capacity building
The opportunity to improve organizations through capacity building is evident, but the benefits for individual staff is even more intriguing. When you create an ecosystem of capacity building you not only improve the team, you make new opportunities for talented staff. Remember Bob? Not only did he demonstrate to our department that we needed a role we hadn’t considered prior, he also built his resume along the way. Through his capacity building exercise Bob had built and demonstrated the ability to take on that new job. It is a perfect ecosystem. At the same time, other staff with time capacity were able to pick up parts of his role. In the end we were also able to reassess their jobs. The final result was staff using their capacity, less people making more money (both in time and talent capacity individuals), and the organization doing more with less. I want to be clear, this wasn’t an exercise in creating jobs for favorites. There are plenty of examples where needs for new/different roles emerged and the capacity builder was not the successful candidate. Rather, it’s an example of how capacity building practices help you build a more effective organization.
In a field that is constantly exploring ways to demonstrate value and do more with less, enabling a capacity building organization could make all the difference. How can you build capacity in your organization?