Tag: behaviour

Roses are red

It seems like overnight the L&D profession has started to struggle with the definition of terms such as “capability”, “competency” and “skill”.

Some of our peers consider them synonyms – and hence interchangeable – but I do not.

Indeed I recognise subtle but powerful distinctions among them, so here’s my 2-cents’ worth to try to cut through the confusion.

Old style botanical drawing of a rose and violets

Competency

From the get-go, the difference between the terms may be most clearly distinguished when we consider a competency a task. It is something that is performed.

Our friends in vocational education have already this figured out. For example, if we refer to the Tap furnaces unit of competency documented by the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment, we see elements such as Plan and prepare for furnace tapping and Tap molten metal from furnace.

Importantly, we also see performance criteria, evidence and assessment conditions. Meeting a competency therefore is binary: either you can perform the task successfully (you are “competent”) or you can not (in the positive parlance of educationalists, you are “not yet competent”).

Capability

Given a competency is a task, a capability is a personal attribute you draw upon to perform it.

An attribute may be knowledge (something you know, eg tax law), a skill (something you can do, eg speak Japanese), or a mindset (a state of being, eg agile).

I consider capability an umbrella term for all these attributes; they combine with one another to enable the behaviour that meets the competency.

Capability is an umbrella term for the attributes that combine with one another to enable the behaviour that meets a competency.

Frameworks

According to the definitions I’ve outlined above, we frequently see in the workplace that “capability frameworks” are mislabelled “competency frameworks” and vice versa.

Terms such as Decision Making and Data Analysis are capabilities – not competencies – and moreover they are skills. Hence, not only would I prefer they be referred to as such, but also that they adopt an active voice (Make Decisions, Analyse Data).

I also suggest they be complemented by knowledge and mindsets, otherwise the collection isn’t so much a capability framework as a “skills framework”; which is fine, but self-limiting.

Deployment

I have previously argued in favour of the L&D team deploying a capability framework as a strategic imperative, but now the question that begs to be asked is: should we deploy a capability framework or a competency framework?

My typical answer to a false dichotomy like this is both.

Since capabilities represent a higher level of abstraction, they are scalable across the whole organisation and are transferable from role to role and gig to gig. They also tend to be generic, which means they can be procured in bulk from a third party, and their low volatility makes them sustainable. The value they offer is a no-brainer.

In contrast, competencies are granular. They’re bespoke creations specific to particular roles, which makes them laborious to build and demanding to maintain. Having said that, their level of personalised value is sky high, so I advise they be deployed where they are warranted – targeting popular roles and pivotal roles, for example.

Semantics

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Yet a rose is not a violet.

In a similar manner I maintain that capabilities and competencies are, by definition, different.

In any case, if we neglect them, the next term we’ll struggle to define is “service offering”.

Louder than words

My last couple of blog posts have argued in favour of extracting value out of organisational capabilities. Due to the nature of my role I have posited these arguments in terms of employee development.

However, I further advocate the use of organisational capabilities across all parts of the employee lifecycle.

Using the 4+4 Part Employee Lifecycle as my guide, I will share my thoughts on some of the ways in which your capability framework can add value to your organisation’s activities in terms of recruitment, onboarding, performance, and offboarding.

The 4+4 Part Employee Lifecycle: (1) Recruitment; (2) Onboarding; (3) Performance; and (4) Offboarding; plus (1) Performance Management; (2) Development; (3) Health & Wellbeing; and (4) Retention.

Recruitment

Everyone knows that change management is hard. Culture eats strategy for breakfast; an organisation’s culture doesn’t change over night; something about herding cats; the change curve; etc. etc.

We’ve heard it all before, and yes it’s probably true.

But there’s a big elephant in the room: the power of recruitment to accelerate cultural change. That is to say, bring in from the outside the people whose capabilities you desperately need on the inside.

Which begs the question… what capabilities? Well, organisations that focus like an eagle know precisely the capabilities to assess each candidate against, because they are the ones that align to their strategic imperatives.

If your organisation needs to become more collaborative, recruit collaborative people. If it needs to become more innovative, recruit innovative people. And if it needs to become more digitally literate, recruit digitally literate people.

This approach may seem too obvious to mention, yet I dare you to examine your organisation’s current recruitment practices.

Onboarding

Onboarding is one of those pies that everyone wants to stick their fingers into, but nobody wants to own. Yet it is crucial for setting up the new recruit for success.

From an organisational capability perspective, a gold-plated opportunity arises during this phase in the employee’s lifecycle to draw their attention to the capability framework and the riches therein. The new recruit is motivated, keen to prove themselves, and hungry to learn.

Highlight the resources that are available to them to develop their capabilities now. This is important because the first few weeks of their experience in the organisation colours their remaining tenure.

Ensure they start their journey the way you’d like them to continue it: productively.

Performance

Capability powers performance, so the capability framework is a tool you can use to improve all four subparts of Performance in the 4+4 Part Employee Lifecycle.

Performance Management

Effective performance management complements development planning to provide the employee with guidance on improving said performance.

When seen through the lens of the capability framework, an employee’s performance appraisal can identify meaningful development opportunities. Performance weak spots may be (at least partly) attributable to gaps in specific capabilities; while a strengths-based approach might also be adopted, whereby an already strong capability is enhanced to drive higher performance.

To inform these decisions with data, I’d be keen to correlate capability assessments against individual performances and observe the relationship between the variables over time.

Development

It’s all very well to have a poetic capability framework, but if learning opportunities aren’t mapped to it, then its value is inherently limited.

If the framework’s capabilities align to leadership stages, I suggest the following question be put to the user: Do you want to excel in your current role or prepare for your next role?

Not only does this question focus the user’s development goal, it also identifies the relevant leadership stage so the capabilities can be presented in the right context.

A follow-up question may then be posed: Would you like to browse all the capabilities – useful for those who want to explore, or already know which capability to develop – focus on our strategic imperatives – useful for those who are time poor – or assess your capabilities – useful for those who seek a personal diagnosis.

The answers to these questions lead to a selection of capabilities which, beyond the provision of clear descriptions, outline the opportunities for development.

Resist the urge to dump masses of resources into their respective buckets. Instead, curate them. I suggest the following approaches:

KASAB is an esoteric extension of the KSA heuristic in teaching circles, and I like it because it includes “B” for “Behaviour”.

For example, help your colleagues move beyond the consumption of teamwork videos, design thinking workshops, and moocs on digital business; by encouraging them to contribute to communities of practice, submit ideas to the enterprise idea management system, and participate in the company’s social media campaign.

Health & Wellbeing

I see organisational capabilities applying to health & wellbeing in two ways.

The first way concerns the impact of employee development on mental health. Given the satisfaction and pride of building mastery drives engagement, the capability framework presents opportunities to improve mental health across the enterprise.

The second way concerns the composition of the capability framework. Given a healthy employee is a productive employee, why isn’t Wellness itself an organisational capability?

Retention

I’ve seen with my own eyes the impact of employee development (or lack thereof) on retention.

Given the sense of support and growth that the investment in people’s learning brings, the capability framework presents opportunities to retain talent across the enterprise.

Offboarding

Capabilities that align to leadership stages are useful for succession planning. Not only do they identify the capabilities that someone needs to succeed in their current role, but also the capabilities they need to succeed in their next role. Assessment of the latter informs the readiness of the employee for promotion.

Conversely, when the employee leaves the team (or exits the organisation) the capability framework can be used to assess the skills gap that remains.

Girl with home-made wings

In 7 tips for custodians of capability frameworks I declared a capability framework that remains unused is merely a bunch of words. But it’s worse than that. It is unrealised value across the employee lifecycle.

So use your capability framework to improve the organisation’s recruitment, onboarding, performance, and offboarding.

Actions speak louder than words.