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Competence: The Intersection of Persistence & Quality


I’ve been cutting my own hair for ~25 years. I started in college and decided to make a game of it to see how long I could do it before, 1) I got tired of it, or 2) it negatively impacted my life in some way. The fact that I’m still doing it today has far exceeded my expectations. Fortunately, from a haircut perspective, I can live with imperfection.


To-date…

  • I haven’t lost work, a job or income because of my self-haircutting ability

  • My wife still says she loves me, and my daughters aren’t embarrassed to be seen with me (or if they are it’s not because of my haircut)

  • The friends I have still socialize with me

  • Most people I meet for coffee or lunch are up for follow-on meetings (or if they aren’t, again it’s not because of my haircut)

Bottom line, I’m good enough at it to get by and not create adverse impacts to myself or those around me. 


About 18 months ago my wife convinced me to get my hair cut at the salon she goes to. In truth, she’s always believed there was someone better than me at cutting my hair. I’ve never disagreed, but my rationale (i.e. stubbornness) was that if I can do it 'good enough' why would I spend money on it and have to schedule an appointment that required me to drive somewhere to do something I can do on a whim, at no cost, at home? 


Much to my surprise the haircut at the salon was fantastic for several reasons:

  • Good recommendations from Hannah, my “haircutter”, about Netflix / Amazon Prime shows I should watch

  • She washed my hair…twice!…during the process

  • Brief shoulder massage included in the Men’s Cut package

  • The result was better than when I do it 

At the end of that first professional haircut in 25 years I went to the counter to pay (it was more than the $10 I was hoping it would be) and they sold me on an overpriced jar of “styling stuff” to put in my hair to make it stay in place. They were not impressed with my normal practice of using hand lotion in my hair (even though it works perfectly). The jar I bought was meant to last a couple months, assuming you used the suggested amount each day. Fortunately, given my modified usage method, I anticipate the jar lasting between 3 and 5 years, so the investment seems reasonable. 


I continued to have my hair cut at the salon for a few months, enjoying it, but then one day had a work conflict so I canceled the appointment without rescheduling. My laziness kicked in and I decided “just one more time” to cut my own hair again. That was a year ago and I haven’t been back to the salon since.


I’ve probably cut my own hair around 300 times. I don’t know that there’s a specific number of times doing something that equates to a given level of competence, but at this point I’m comfortable with the results. Given what passes for acceptable with haircuts (seems like anything), it would likely be hard for me to be judged as incompetent with regard to my self-haircutting.  


Regardless, there are many other things in my life that require more focus on continued competence development. In my experience, competence in my professional life receives way more scrutiny, as it should, than my grooming hobby.


What is the Competence Intersection?

Competence is the intersection of persistence and quality (see Intersection 20 image below). Persistence without quality is like saying, “Oh, but he tries hard.” Quality without persistence is a one-hit (only, ever) wonder. Competence is a point-in-time measurement of capability plus capacity on a dynamic spectrum.


Persistence

In business, as in haircutting, persistence is a key to success. The reason is simple. Success rarely happens on the first attempt, and even if it does there was likely a lot of effort that went into making that attempt a reality, all of which required persistence. “Try and try again” is a phrase that comes to mind. I’d modify it to be “Try, learn and try again”. Repetitive trying without learning seems like the definition of insanity…doing the same thing multiple times expecting a different result.


In the historical biographies I like to read, whether they be about business, political or social leaders, relentless persistence is a common trait. The unwillingness to give up, the optimism of possibility and the capacity to innovate, drives successful people and organizations. As an example, let's apply those measures to my hair cutting:

  • Unwillingness to give up: I cut my hair for 25 years, just because I can

  • Optimism of possibility: I believed I could do it well, and still do

  • Capacity to innovate: I can cut my hair any way I want to and experiment with it (which rarely happens, but is still an option)

There are countless stories of business leaders and entrepreneurs who have knowingly or unknowingly applied these three measures to projects large and small within their organizations. Think about any successful product, service or company and you can create a bullet point list like the one above, outlining in great detail specifics related to not giving up, optimism about what’s possible and how innovation played a role. That is what persistence is all about.


Intersection 20: Competence = Persistence + Quality



Quality

Quality seems straightforward. There’s an aspect of it in every part of every business. It’s an input to competence. Competence requires quality in the following:

  • People

  • Data / Information

  • Processes

  • Decisions

  • Culture

  • Technology / Systems

  • Products / Services

  • Partners / Vendors

  • Customers 

This dependency on internal and external quality is what drives complexity within organizations and their ability to build and sustain competence. Quality is a mindset. Without a focus on it you’re left with the data processing gem, “Crap in, crap out."

In my hair-cutting endeavors I need quality in:

  • My clippers, otherwise they won’t cut and / or last very long

  • The clipper guards, otherwise they won’t cut the right length

  • The mirrors so I can trust that the image I’m looking at is accurate and not a situation where “Objects are closer than they appear”, which could be disastrous

  • My own coordination and dexterity so I don’t cut an area shorter than I intend to

The same is true in business. We need quality in the inputs to generate quality in the outputs.


What Can Leaders Do?

Competence is a subjective judgement. Goals, objectives and tasks require varying degrees of competence to successfully achieve or complete them. Leaders must be able to determine when enough competence exists and when it doesn’t. They can build it in their teams, just as they build any other skillset.


Recognizing when to invest in it and how to invest in it separates strong leaders from average leaders. Additionally, leaders need to have a plan in place when incompetence persists and must be dealt with. The decision of whether to fix incompetence or to get rid of it is an important one.


Wrap Up & Up Next

The need for competence permeates all corners of an organization. Competence requirements and competence levels are constantly changing, meaning it never stops being evaluated or adjusted.


Next time we’ll examine the 21st intersection of performance, which is the Attitude Intersection.

In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.

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