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Capability or performance?


I nearly titled this blog ‘why capability is sexy!’, but then thought better of it. My purpose, however, has not changed; it is to highlight the importance of capability. So, let’s start with performance.

Everybody is familiar with the concept of performance, whether at the corporate of personal level. Broadly, performance refers to the success one has at reaching one’s objectives. So, in the corporate world, performance management is that function aimed at ensuring that the objectives are met.

Now, capability is not as familiar as performance; we all understand that it relates to performance in some way, but how exactly? Let’s look at a few common definitions. Capability has several of them, all interesting.

  1. Capability … measure of the ability of an entity (department, organization, person, system) to achieve its objectives, especially in relation to its overall mission.

  2. Capability relates to ‘Fitness for purpose’.

  3. Capability describes the quality of the work environment, including structure, infrastructure, processes and resources, and the skills and attitudes of people and teams.

  4. Capability is what organisations must have, must be and must be able to do to achieve their objectives.

Definitions 2, 3 and 4 are definitions that we use in discussing the concept of capability with clients.

Definition 2 introduces the idea of fitness. If performance refers to success, then fitness refers to something needed for success.

Definition 3 attempts to fix things more precisely, with reference to some organisational factors (work environment, structure, infrastructure, processes and resources), some team and individual factors (their skills and attitudes). Fitness for purpose is being specified somewhat with this definition. That’s useful. Also note that definition 3 introduces a link to culture (for example the reference to attitudes). This is a link that we’ll pursue at a later stage.

Definition 4 is quite interesting. It’s a kind of summary of the idea of fitness, a kind of shortcut for the elements mentioned in definitions 1 to 3.

The significance of this definition is that it introduces three key verbs: have, be and do; in ‘must have’, ‘must be’ and ‘must be able to do’. So this implies that management, to create fitness for purpose, will need to specify clearly what it is that their organisation must have, must be and must be capable of doing to achieve their objectives; that is, to perform well. And then go about making sure that each happens.

Well, here is the answer to the question in the title of this blog. Capability is the enabler of performance, through what it has, is and can do.

If you have any thoughts about this topic, we’d love to hear from you.

Paul Founder, Capability Institute

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