Tag: mindset

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”.

Our secret world of learning

One of my peers in Australia, Arun Pradhan, is developing an app to help us learn smarter, faster and deeper.

To gain insight on how we learn in the real world, he’s reaching out to L&D professionals, CEOs, entrepreneurs, actors and artists who have mastered complex skills, with the aim of uncovering our “learning secrets”.

Arun asks 4 specific questions and my answers are as follows…

Pop art illustration of a woman telling another woman a secret.

Q1. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from experience, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you used intentional practice, learned from failure, learned from ambitious projects and/or used reflection)

When I first got into e-learning, it was all very new for everyone. Of course computer-based training had been around for decades, but when the World Wide Web took off in the 1990’s, it transformed education.

When I assumed my first role in this space, I learned mostly through experience because there weren’t many alternatives available. I would learn what I needed to “on the go” or just in time, immediately putting it into practice and seeing how it went – whether that be the design of a web page by tinkering with HTML and JavaScript, or the production of a saleable product by getting onto the platform and just working it out.

Q2. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from people, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you learned from project teams, mentors, coaches and/or broader social networks)

Over time I’ve realised that learning from other people is not only important but crucial to my professional development. Conferences get a bit of a beat-up these days, but I always learn something useful from seeing what other people have done. I also like meetups, and social media has taken my peer-to-peer networking to a whole new level.

I think it’s important to maintain relationships with people who are not only knowledgeable and experienced, but also open and generous; these relationships are two-way streets as you learn from each other. I also know someone whom I respect immensely and whom I consider a mentor; I seek his insight on matters that I’m thinking about, and I’ll bounce ideas off him to get his perspective.

So my recommendation is to actively engage with other people, utilising all the various means of doing so.

Q3. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from courses, research or investigation, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you learned from reading on the web, reading books or attending conferences/courses)

It’s all very well to learn from experience and roll with the punches as you go along, but you have to beware not knowing what you don’t know.

When I decided to make e-learning my career, I went back to university to do a Masters in Learning Sciences & Technology. This course opened up my eyes to concepts that I would never have appreciated otherwise, such as learning theory, and raised my awareness of important empirical research.

Post-uni, I read lots of blogs and keep an eye on the academic journals. I also like to run my own “mini” research studies at work by trialling something new and seeing how it goes.

Q4. What’s your top advice for someone who wishes to develop faster and learn complex skills in modern workplaces?

You have to do it. Yes, read widely and talk to lots of people, but not at the expense of giving it a go. Only then can you gain the insights you really need and appreciate the nuances of real-life application.

The workplace is only ever going to get more VUCA, so by maintaining an experimental mindset you can be confident to take on whatever comes.

Blue dot   Blue dot   Blue dot

If you would like to respond to Arun’s questions, he invites you to do so here.