How to build organisational capability

Knowing how to build organisational capability is crucial for senior managers to understand, especially when their companies reach the point where talent gaps appear or talent may be hard to attract.

Yet the sad reality (from our experience) is that so many companies are simply not able to build organisational capability and capacity consistently. If this ‘sounds like your company’, please read on…

How to build organisational capability

Those of you who follow our blog may recall that in 10,000 hours, we identified the amount of time that it takes for a person to become competent in any given skill or field. In HR Moneyball, we looked longitudinally at the employee lifecycle and how to measure that base-by-base in your analytics. And we also looked at – and defined as simply as possible – employee engagement which is the ‘oxygen’ that breathes life into capability building over longer time periods.

This article puts all these posts together. You may wish to refer back to them as you go along.

We’ve also created a graphic that (we hope!) makes capability-building super easy to understand. Have a look…

Download How to build organisational capability in pdf format

Don’t worry if you don’t ‘get’ the graphic entirely at first glance. Here’s a more in depth explanation:

Capability building is like tides in the sea…

The metaphor that we have used from nature is that of tides in the sea. Put simply, the deeper you go, the stronger the tides become. Capabilities are like that. The deepest currents are the strongest ones – and those that are most sustainable. Yet, so often, we stay on the ‘weak’ and warm surface tides, vainly hoping to achieve the ‘altitude’ of sustainable results and value (see the ‘U’ arrow on the right).

Capability-building doesn’t work like that.

Instead, capability-building is really like deep sea diving in order to achieve that altitude. True capabilities are built by descending to the colder, stronger tides, that also offer the greatest long-term impetus. Time now to take that ‘deep dive’…!

Short term (2 weeks +)

We start on the surface (see the graphic above). Imagine hiring a new employee. You’ve got him or her through the induction, and from 2 weeks on (it could be longer) you want your employee to start making a contribution.

On this level you are doing nothing much to support that contribution – you are mostly going on his or her existing talent, skill and knowledge sets. You simply want your direct report to ‘do’. (Have a look at our Head, Heart, Hand graphic to understand what exactly we mean by this).

Many employees in companies stay on this level for years and even decades of their careers, blithely doing the same thing over and over. But, as you probably know, that doesn’t necessarily get you great performance, or value. You find that your staff may actually get worse at their jobs over time. In economics, this is called ‘the law of diminishing returns’…

Mid range (6 months +)

So let’s say you decide to build your employees’ capabilities. You start, quite naturally, by looking at the skills your employees need most in their jobs. So if they are Key Account Managers (or in a customer-facing role), negotiating may feature. If an engineer, Six Sigma may be seen as important.

If HR is brought in, they may start talking in terms of ‘competency gaps’.

To borrow a phrase from Stephen Covey, this is called ‘sharpening the saw’. However, skills development by itself still doesn’t necessarily engage your employees in the process of capability building. It doesn’t start with them – or their talents. This is exactly the same process as happened at school when studying extra hard for a subject you may have hated.

Instead of just ‘sharpening the saw’ we need to look at the worker him (or her) self…

Long term (2 years +)

This is the time frame where capability building really happens. Let us explain why (and how!)

The two levels we have described above are transactional in nature. On this, deep level, we move to the transformational level of career-building. We add the ‘heart’ of why and purpose. We become partners in the employees’ future.

On this third level, you build capabilities from the employee up (not company down), building skills onto their talents and turning them into strengths.

‘Now’ (I can almost hear you say!) – ‘why would we want to do that? It’s like we’re training them and then they’ll leave and join our competitors – at our expense…’

Well, it doesn’t quite work that way, folks. That’s because if you ‘glue’ your capability-building to engagement (right arrow), in most cases you can find your employees will actually stay.

And, on this level, you will achieve ‘the flywheel effect’ described in Jim Collins’ Good to Great. In his words, you build capabilities ‘First Who, then What’ and in an organisational sense ‘build the clock’ instead of ‘telling the time.’

What the bean counters really need to know about capability building

Now I’m sure many of you will be thinking ‘nice words, a bit polyanna-ish, and definitely not something we can get past our accountants.’

Ladies and gentlemen – we can help you with that too!

Remember our post 10,000 hours? Well, the frightening statistic there is that it takes at least four and a half months of flat-out training for a person just to be competent in a job!

If your people don’t reach this level, those costs will show up elsewhere (like, for example, your customer experience). Not to mention the employee engagement destroyers of:

· low morale

· chronic staff turnover

· absenteeism

· performance issues

· stress

All these factors feed on each other, to create a negative cycle or ‘doom loop’ as Jim Collins described in his landmark work on what makes companies successful.

This is also why it’s important to measure employee engagement as part of your capability building programme.

Want to build capabilities in your company?

If you would like to build capabilities in your company, and like the approach we have described above, please contact us via our online form here, or by following the link below.

We will make sure the capability-building programme fits your needs and is simple, specific and strategic ensure high ROI.