Capability: Is There a Generic Core?
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
A legitimate question with respect to capability is: does it vary from organisation to organisation?
Or is there a generic set of features that apply to all organisations, regardless of their industry, size and product range? This question is important because if there isn’t a generic set of features then we are condemned to treat capability on a case by case basis. On the other hand, if generic features exist we should endeavour to identify them, and then develop and leverage them to the benefit of each organisation.
First, let’s go back to our definition of capability. In a previous blog (see Capability or Performance – What’s the Difference?) we looked at different definitions of capability and settled on the following practical one: ‘Capability is what organisations must have, must be and must be able to do to achieve their objectives’.
Organisations must ensure that they have ‘good capability genes’ and they must also have the capability to use these genes effectively based on their circumstances.
A SMALL CASE STUDY – LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNICATION While we have not listed the different components of capability, we should certainly agree that leadership and communication (to take only these two as examples) should be part of it. We can then consider whether they belong to a generic set or whether they vary from organisation to organisation. To make our case study more concrete, let’s agree that the task at hand relates to strategy.
A BIOLOGY METAPHOR: GENETICS AND EPIGENETICS Before we discuss the case of strategy, let’s take a short detour towards genetics. In biology there was a lively debate as to what extent ‘genes are us’. If there are genes for delinquency, or music ability, or baldness for example, then are they always expressed or is their impact determined by other factors? To cut the story short, scientists have discovered that genes for traits are not always turned on. In fact, whether they are turned on and how they are turned on depends on a host of external and environmental factors. They say that external and environmental factors determine how genes are expressed.
In this example, the generic aspects of capability correspond to genes – all good companies must have ‘good genes’. If capability varies from organisation to organisation, then the environment determines how the genes are expressed.
STRATEGY LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY COMMUNICATION Coming back to the case of strategy within organisations, leadership relates to being able to define an effective strategy. This comprises knowing and judging competition, evaluating trends in markets, regulation and technology. It also includes knowing about the organisation’s environment, strengths, weaknesses, resources, opportunities and threats. In a nutshell, leadership means being good at strategy formulation and then being good at applying this skill to the current challenges. So leadership corresponds to having ‘good strategy genes’ and being able to express them effectively in the relevant environment.
For communication, the situation is similar. Good communication implies being able to relate to people practically and emotionally, with respect and understanding, whether they are employees, colleagues, managers or stakeholders. Good communication also implies knowing what to communicate, when, how often, with what medium and in what circumstances. Again, it means having ‘good communication genes’ and knowing how to ‘express them’ effectively based on the circumstances.
In both the leadership and communication cases we see that there are two skills involved: one generic skill – having or developing good genes – and one specific skill – expressing the generic skills judiciously.
YES, THERE IS A GENERIC CAPABILITY CORE In summary:
ORGANISATIONS MUST ENSURE THAT THEY HAVE ‘GOOD CAPABILITY GENES’.
However, this is not the whole story, ORGANISATIONS MUST ALSO HAVE THE CAPABILITY TO EXPRESS – OR USE – THE GOOD GENES EFFECTIVELY BASED ON THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.