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How Many Issues are There in Capability?

How many issues do we need to describe capability with sufficient detail so that it is practically useful? And where do these issues come from?

In a previous blog entitled The Six Core Elements of Capability, we introduced the six-dimensions capability model. Each of the dimensions contains sub-elements (or sub-dimensions), which, in turn contain the issues of importance in the description of capability. For example, the issue ‘Our manager has clear and credible plans for how we are going to meet our objectives’ is in the ‘Management’ sub-dimension of the ‘Leadership and Management’ dimension.

WHAT ARE THESE FEATURES OF CAPABILITY THAT TRULY MATTER? The model was inspired by the way organisations succeed in competitive markets. It follows that the issues the model addresses are the issues that play a key role in the success or otherwise of firms operating in competitive markets. Or, to put it another way:

Our capability model comprises the features that play a critical role in the success of organisations, as determined by experience and management theory. HOW MANY FEATURES DO WE NEED TO DESCRIBE CAPABILITY? Capability is a broad and generic concept. We could expect that we need a large number of issues in our model for it to be effective. On the other hand, we have seen (see Capability: Is There a Generic Core?) that the features in capability are a bit like genes – we used a biological metaphor in the blog. Genes can be activated or expressed in different ways depending on the environment, which means that their usefulness is magnified. Applying this thinking to capability would suggest that the number of issues we want capability to cover does not need to be very high, because they can be expressed in different ways in different organisations and environments.

However, there are other considerations that need to be taken into account.

CAPABILITY AS A SET OF PRIORITIES We want capability to be a practical tool that can play an effective and beneficial role in management. We can think of capability as describing a set of priorities for management and employees. Having too many priorities is like having no priorities at all; the large number simply overwhelms managers and employees having to deal with them. This is an argument for few (or fewer) features in the model.

BALANCE BETWEEN TWO EXTREMES A further consideration is that any model needs to keep the balance between simplicity/ compactness on the one hand and complexity/comprehensiveness on the other. Too much simplicity is not desirable but the latter can lead to ‘paralysis by analysis’ and should be avoided. This suggests that the number we are after should not be too high.

SO WHAT IS THIS NUMBER? Our standard model for capability covers 36 issues. Distributing them evenly (see The Six Core Elements of Capability) results in six issues per dimension. This means that the model, while providing good discrimination with 36 issues, is nevertheless a very compact one. This is one of its important strengths. We have now used the model profitably for quite some time in a variety of different situations and with different organisations.

OUR CAPABILITY MODEL: GENERIC, VERSATILE, ADAPTABLE AND ROBUST Our model for capability is practical, generic and versatile. It provides very useful and targeted management insights into teams and organisations (and also employees if desired). In addition, we can add issues when deemed necessary, issues that can be readily categorised into one of the standard dimensions and sub-dimensions. Our capability model is also adaptable and robust.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN IN PRACTICE? How are we going to take advantage of the model? How are we going to manage these six dimensions and associated issues? There are at least 3 ways – or modes – to use the model practically and effectively. This is the subject of another blog; I hope you’ll tune in.


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