Open Forum

Our view of what makes people “intelligent” is no longer relevant to today’s social care workplace, writes Roy Smith.

Historically, intelligence is viewed in a one-dimensional way. If you are good academically, this generally rewards you with a position of power and money. You may not be competent at what you do, but you are good at exams. An example of this is the ability of doctors to communicate. I have known doctors who may know what they are talking about, but who have mumbled, avoided eye contact or told patients what is best for them. Clever people no doubt, but able to effectively do their job?

The current view of intelligence is outdated, and not always appropriate in social care. However, the psychologist Howard Gardner describes seven kinds of intelligence that people can possess (in no particular order): linguistic intelligence – the ability to use words; logical-mathematical intelligence – good with numbers; musical intelligence; spatial intelligence – people who “think” visually; bodily kinesthetic intelligence – an athlete or dancer; interpersonal intelligence – those who are good with other people; and intrapersonal intelligence – people who know themselves.

Whereas academics may be good in the first two, I would suggest that many of our workforce are strongest in the last two intelligences. Recognition of this fact starts to dictate how we then manage our staff. We need to recognise and reward our staff for what they are good at – that is, talking to people and being interested or putting people at the centre of what they do. After all, this is what we want them to do.

We also need to continue to take a competency-based view of effectiveness. NVQs and the social work degree require evidence of competency, so that it is not your ability to pass an exam that is measured, but your “intelligence” in your required area.

It’s high time we recognised the true intelligence of our staff and properly valued what they are good at.

Roy Smith is the learning and development adviser for adult services at Devon Council. He is writing in an independent capacity

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