How to Develop Your People: What You Can and Cannot Change


Many leaders often struggle with how to help their people develop and grow. Occasionally, they find themselves trying to change things about a particular employee that simply can’t be changed.

Mark G. Gardner, CEO and Founder of Avatar and Vistage member, has developed a model to better understand the primary characteristics that ensure a person is a good fit for a job. It describes six qualities, three that determine if an employee can do the job and three that drive the employee’s willingness to fully engage in the job, or will do. Knowing what you can change (knowledge and skills) and what you cannot change (abilities, values, motivations and personality) helps you avoid wasting time and money.  For example, you can’t fix an honesty problem with a training program!

Here is a quick video where Mark explains their model:

Avatar Vlog – Can-Do/Will-Do™ Model from Avatar Management Services, Inc. on Vimeo.

Can Do Attributes:


Knowledge, such as management strategies and accounting standards, is what your employees need to know to effectively perform their jobs. Knowledge is learned through educational experiences where concepts, principles and mental processes are taught.


Skills, such as how to use a computer program and how to conduct an employee performance appraisal are the physical manifestations of work performance. Skills are acquired through training and practice and can be observed.


Abilities are the mental and physical traits determined by an individual’s genetic makeup and include height, strength, coordination, visual acuity and to some degree, intelligence. Some jobs require certain abilities. For example, a job unloading trucks for 10 hours, requires physical stamina and enough strength to lift 50 pounds. Abilities can’t be learned.

Will Do Attributes:

These attributes drive the employee’s willingness to fully engage.


Values are the principles and beliefs upon which a person bases all decisions. Values are learned at a very early age and change very slowly once a person has reached adulthood. Some commonly understood values include honesty, integrity and a good work ethic. You can’t change a dishonest employee into an honest one by putting them through a “training program.”


Motivations are activities and rewards to which an employee is naturally attracted. For example, not everyone would like to be a research scientist, nor does everyone want to be a plumber. Both occupations exist and there are people who are willing to, and who even enjoy, spending their lives in each of them.


Personality is the general disposition of a person and is the foundation of how the person is likely to react to situational demands or interact with other people. Personality is usually defined in terms of traits, of which there are more than 100, such as dominance, compliance, attention to detail and extroversion, that can be measured through specialized assessments.

You can’t change a dishonest employee into an honest one by putting them through a “training program.” Click To Tweet

How to Apply the Can Do/Will Do Model:

Performance improvement, both individual and group, begins with an understanding of which characteristics a person needs in order to be successful in a particular role.

Your recruitment and selection efforts should focus on finding applicants who already have the best-fit qualities for the characteristics that you can’t change: Abilities, Values, Motivations and Personality. And, your education, training and development processes should remain focused on improving knowledge and skills.

Understanding the Can Do / Will Do Model and applying it to each key occupational role, helps you establish the most effective strategies for excellent performance.

You can learn more about this at

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