Does a technically superior workforce mean a high performing business?

Article two from Dr. Tim Baker’s new book.

The short answer to this question I pose is: No, it’s not. I’d rather I had a technically skilled workforce than not. But technical capability isn’t necessarily going to lead to superior performance. It’s a little like the well-used cliché that a champion team will always beat a team of champions.

There’s more to high performance than technical know-how; as useful as it undoubtedly is. Yet, I would estimate that we spend approximately 80% of the L&D budget on building technical mastery.

What’s the other 20% of the L & D budget and why should that be increased?

There are three dimensions of learning and development I express as:

  • job- centred
  • person-centred, and
  • problem-centred.

Each dimension has an apparent focus in its application. They separately emphasis a philosophical belief about development and have strengths and weaknesses. Yet, we devote most of the time, money, and resources on the first dimension—job-centred training.

The incentive for an enterprise to sponsor personal development learning opportunities is to grow and nurture abler employees.

Briefly, the job-centred dimension focuses on technical training. The person- and problem-centred dimensions are non-technical in their orientation. Together, the three dimensions make up the multi-dimensional approach needed for agile performance.

Let’s take a closer look at each dimension.


The most popular and conventional method overwhelmingly adopted by most organisations is job-centred, as I mentioned. This dimension emphasises superior technical performance and skill mastery. The justification for expending money on building technical capacity is the tangible link between job skills training and job performance.

So the primary motive is to develop the employees’ job skills to directly improve performance on the job. Of the three dimensions, the job-centred approach is the one most directly related to the specifics of one’s job performance.

Training programmes, for example, that improve an employee capacity to operate a piece of machinery, master some form of technology, or a work-related system or process, are job-centred. These activities specifically related to a job task an employee does.

Training programmes in this realm promise to be job-centred in their orientation. Successfully learning anything straight from a job-holder’s job specification promises to have a direct pay-off in their increased job performance. Quality learning programmes that are job-specific increases the employee’s efficiency and effectiveness in their job role.

The ultimate triumph of job-centred training is a more technically proficient employee. It’s obvious why most enterprises invest heavily in job-centred training programmes.


The person-centred approach emphasises self-development; it involves the employer investing in the personal growth of its employees, as people. While the job-centred approach is directly linked to job performance, the person-centred approach has a less direct link between the learning experience and job performance.

The motive for an enterprise sponsoring person-centred development is basically the same as the job-centred approach, but has a different impact. With the person-centred method, it’s expected that the learning experience develops certain personal qualities in the employee’s repertoire that ultimately improves their work performance.

Unlike the job-centred approach, however, person-centred learning can indirectly—rather than directly—influences job performance. The person-centred approach is based on the idea that a more accomplished person can be a more accomplished employee.


Is the job description obsolete?

Training programmes that improve one’s mastery of themselves—rather than mastery of a job skill—such as goal-setting, personal motivation, time management, and emotional intelligence potentially increases work performance in the right circumstances. 

The incentive for an enterprise to sponsor personal development learning opportunities is to grow and nurture abler employees. Further, it’s based on the belief that by developing the organisation’s more precious resource: its people, employees can be more efficient and effective in their work role.

Over the past quarter of a century, the proliferation of personal development experiences, courses, and activities suggest this premise is well-founded.


The problem-centred approach, the third learning and development dimension, is focused on problem-solving; that is, being more effective at solving work-related problems. The aim of this approach is developing the employee’s ability to analyse and resolve problems at work.

With more capable problem-solving skills, people can make better decisions on-the-job. The argument for using this learning method is the direct and indirect connection between problem-solving capacity and performance. The primary motive for investing in problem-centred learning is to improve the employee’s decision-making aptitude to cope with the escalating and unpredictable challenges they face in their work.

People can make better decisions in their day-to-day work if they have the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitude to deal with random problems, challenges, and dilemmas. Besides, with greater problem-solving capabilities, employees inevitably exercise greater autonomy in dealing with ambiguous issues affecting their work.

This increased independence reduces the employee’s dependency on their supervisor. Topics such as creative problem-solving techniques, research skills, or analysis of real world case studies are examples of problem-centred learning.

It remains a mystery to me why this approach isn’t more rampant in workplaces. When you consider the obvious relevance of problem-solving today, why isn’t there more of this type of learning? When it’s applied, this dimension of learning is based on the belief that by developing people’s problem-solving capacity, it stimulates faster and better decisions.

A multi-dimensional approach

There are strong advocates with compelling arguments for each of the three learning and development philosophies. And that’s fine; they all have their place in organisational and individual learning. But each school of thought has its limitations too.

So it stands to reason that the best learning and development strategy is multi-dimensional. An eclectic strategy is comprehensive and bringing to light the value of each perspective.

It’s not important which philosophical approach is the best; rather, a more constructive question for L & D professionals to consider is: What does each approach offer in improving performance?  Understanding and appreciating each dimension helps to be more informed about their learning and development choices.

A multi-dimensional approach is the pathway to a high performing organisation.


About the author

Dr Tim Baker is an internationally recognised OD consultant and author of seven books including Performance Management for Agile Organization: Overthrowing the Eight Management Myths That Hold Businesses Back.



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