Reframing the capability framework

There once was a time when I didn’t respect the capability framework. I saw it as yet another example of HR fluff.

You want me to be innovative? No kidding. And collaborative? What a great idea! And you want me to focus on our customers? Crikey, why didn’t I think of that?!

But that was then, and this is now.

Now I realise that I severely underestimated the level of support that my colleagues seek in relation to their learning and development. As a digitally savvy L&D professional, I’ve had the temperament to recognise the capabilities I need – nay, want – to develop, the knowledge of how and where to develop them, and crucially the motivation to go ahead and do it.

But our target audience is not like us. While we live and breathe learning, they don’t. Far too many imho wait to be trained, and our boring, time-guzzling and ultimately useless offerings haven’t helped change their minds.

Yet even those who are motivated to learn struggle to do so effectively.

A businessman thinking

Sure, we’ve read about those intrepid millennials who circumnavigate the languid L&D department to develop their own skills via YouTube, MOOCs, user forums, meet-ups and the like; but for every one wunderkind is several hundred others scratching their heads once a year while they ponder what to put in their Individual Development Plan, before finally settling on “presentation skills”.

This is unacceptable!

While it’s admirable for L&D to be responsive to the business’s relentless requests for training, it’s time for us to break out of the cycle of reactivity. I put it to you that a capability framework can help us do that. It’s a tool we can use to be proactive.

If we inform the organisation of the capabilities that will improve our performance, enable individuals to assess these capabilities to identify those that are most relevant for their own development, and map meaningful learning opportunities against each one, we add value to the business.

In an era in which the ROI of the L&D department is being put under ever-increasing scrutiny, I suggest a value-added approach is long overdue.

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17 Comments on “Reframing the capability framework”


  1. Totally. I’d suggest even, that the percentage of L&D people who are switched on to their own professional development, active in identifying and pursuing what they need, is not as high as we would like to think it is. We get so caught up in everyone else’s development that we often neglect our own (to our and their detriment, as we lead by example).
    My observation is that people often aren’t intentional about their long term career, or their short term role development.
    Have you seen a good capability framework for L&D?

  2. pauldrasmussen Says:

    I have always had a soft spot for capability frameworks, the real trouble is that so many of them are overly convoluted, and do nothing to address the central problem to which you allude, that is, actually helping staff to identify areas for development. The other thing is that and i will try and find the article I read on it last week, which suggests that a much smaller % of millennial types, may be as tech savvy, capable and willing to seek out their own training than previously thought. Simply straight forward and meaningful capability frameworks, which are flexible to meet the changing needs of business are what we need.

  3. Ryan Tracey Says:

    @divergentlearning – So true Neil. We L&D folks are notoriously un-proactive in developing ourselves!

    In regards to a good capability framework for L&D, I’ve seen a few and have even been involved in formulating one, but the observation I’ve made is that the capabilities we need aren’t much different from those of other professions.

    Getting back to your central point, I think it doesn’t matter so much what the capabilities necessarily are, but rather the mindset to own your own development and forge your own career.

  4. Ryan Tracey Says:

    @pauldrasmussen – Ah yes Paul, whenever a particular generation is talked or written about, I take it with a large grain of salt. I hope my facetiousness shone through ;)

    I agree with your comments about capability frameworks, and I intend to delve into these very aspects in subsequent blog posts. Stay tuned!

  5. Bill Says:

    Can I also add that capability extends to the org too. So while an individual or team can take steps to improve their personal capability the organisation is responsible for allowing that capability to develop.

  6. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Good point, Bill. I find enterprise capabilities fascinating as they challenge (in a good way) the role of the organisation in the service of the customer.


  7. The key is in work capability rather than competency. The framework is only as good as its fluidity to changing business circumstances & I have always struggled with the time lag in development to launch. The capabilities need to be broad enough to take into account moving needs but specific enough to provide guidance.

    Like anything..If you get it right it’s fantastic, if it’s over or underused, it can be hazardous.

  8. pauldrasmussen Says:

    Ryan, This is the framework I am currently starting to embed into our organisation if you’re interested.

    http://www.nfpcompliance.vic.gov.au/managing-people/workforce-capability-framework

  9. Ryan Tracey Says:

    @patphillipsblog – Pat, I’ve witnessed a capability framework go through literally years of development, and I ended up leaving before it was launched.

    A capability framework is a perfect contender for the agile approach – get it out there, then continuously improve it to meet the ever-changing circumstances of the business.

  10. Ryan Tracey Says:

    @pauldrasmussen – Cheers Paul. I love how the tool kit not only includes a description of the capabilities, but also explains how they might be used in performance appraisal, staff development and recruitment. Bravo!

  11. Gai Reddin Says:

    While capability frameworks provide an outline of necessities to perform well in a role and for assessment and other checks and balances, by their very nature they can be limiting for professional development opportunities. I say this because the need to keep developing, learning and growing is just as important as is the need for the ‘now knowledge’! Perhaps a type of framework that addresses present and future capability needs for this growth would allow for a more personalised design to cater for change as well as offer staff ability to be better equipped for their step on the career ladder! The ‘lominger’ competencies offer levels for this type of growth. Just saying….

  12. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Indeed Gai, future capability needs are important to accommodate, not only for individual career progression but also for the changing nature of work. This, in turn, means that the framework needs to be organic.

    I’m not familiar with the Lominger competencies, but I’ll look them up. Thanks for the tip!

  13. tanyalau Says:

    Hi Ryan

    Whilst L&D might play a role in developing the capability framework and identifying how it aligns with particular roles – their manager really should be the person identifying capability gaps and providing development support for addressing these gaps for individuals and across the team…particularly since capability development is most impacted through on the job development opportunities more than –
    or at least in addition to, formal training. Perhaps L&D can add the most value by supporting managers to develop this capability.

    If you’d like to explore what Transport OD is doing in this space – Fiona’s Engineering & Ops area have developed capability frameworks for specialist technical roles
    Also – interested in your view on the difference and/or need for competency frameworks in addition to a capability framework? Do we need both? I assume so for technical and operational roles? How do you see them working together?

  14. Ryan Tracey Says:

    You’re right, Tanya. The capability framework is a tool to be used across the organisation (not just by the L&D team). The role of managers in the learning & development of their team members is crucial, and yes perhaps the L&D team can add the most value by supporting them to develop this capability.

    Thanks for the tip regarding E&O’s technical capability frameworks. To answer your question, I’m thinking in terms of an organisational capability framework that applies to all roles, which complements the technical frameworks that apply to specific roles. Whether the latter comprise “capabilities” or “competencies”, I have no view on that either way.

  15. pauldrasmussen Says:

    Tanya, and Ryan, We are using our framework as a tool for managers. One of the big values for us is commonality of language, so that whether it is during recruitment, reviews, staff development or just in the general day to day we have a common language set to utlise. Showing management and staff how the use the tool is also incredibly vital if you want to get the best value out of it.

    I also think that there can be value in what could be called competency frameworks although one of the issues is that it can get very complicated for some rolls where they have both a standard capability framework and then on top of that a framework of technical skills. The two need to be separated as the organisational one needs to be that, a strong single common framework for the organisation. The technical frameworks can then be layered under that.

    One of the issues i have encountered however is that of the technical people getting very caught up in their technical framework and having little shall we say commitment to the organisational one simply because they view themselves through that very technical lens.

  16. Anna Keavney Says:

    Great discussion. I think capability frameworks are a great concept and an appropriate response to workplaces in constant flux (i.e. experiencing increasing rates of change in a disrupted evolving market) and to enable L&D to be “more proactive” in meetings those emerging business needs. That said, and to mirror some of the other comments in this stream, the ability for L&D to be fluid and responsive (in the agile world to be ‘reactive’ is actually a positive and not a negative as it shows a closer connection between customer needs and the solution) is essential to not undercut the value of the framework in practice. An iterative approach to the development of capability frameworks could be beneficial to enable continual improvement and ensure these are working tools not bureaucratic hurdles.

  17. Ryan Tracey Says:

    @pauldrasmussen – A common language is indeed a major benefit of an organisation-wide framework, and yes, one of the dangers of having a second technical framework is that the target audience only bothers with that one.

    @Anna – I wholeheartedly agree, Anna. Unless you do something with the capability framework, it’s just a bunch of words. I like the idea of iterative development to keep it relevant.


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