The three dimensional talent war: competence, competency, capability

When your forces are dulled, your edge is blunted, your strength is exhausted, and your supplies are gone, then others will take advantage of your debility and rise up. Then even if you have wise advisors you cannot make things turn out well in the end. (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

 Capability, the ability to take existing knowledge, skills and experience, and apply them in novel ways is critical in today’s knowledge/talent economy. This shouldn’t be a shocking revelation. Organisations the world over are experiencing increasing complexity – increasing connectivity and interdependence producing hyper-flux and ambiguity.

For organisations to sync with such environments they need people, systems and processes that can sense or anticipate change at the boundaries of the organisation, and make decisions that enables the organisation to maintain its sync, its fitness, with the environment. The bottom line, organisations with an eye to the future want to be agile, flexible enough to adapt to change.

Some will immediately point to “big data” as the key to this adaptive capability. But the data is only the signal, sometimes a poor signal, signs that patterns in the environment are shifting. People make the decisions on what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it, why do it and who should do it. As I keep saying, it’s all about people, people. This means we need to be interested in talent.

Talent exists in three dimensions: competence, competency and capability:

  • Competence is often the basic requirement, the passport, to a job or profession (e.g. an accountancy qualification, such as Chartered Accountant or Certified Public Accountant), where “what” is known is validated via qualifications or experience. You would hope that all organisations could assess the competence of their people. But what does this tell you about your ability to adapt, to make decisions, to sense change? Not a lot.

  • Competency is more subtle and hard to see; think about “how” people do the things they do. Here people become interested in skills such as leadership, communication, decision-making, networking and critical thinking. What is interesting is that very few firms look at work force planning through this lens. People agree that the talent advantage is based on a hard to measure mix of knowledge, skills, experience and behaviours (emotional intelligence). So, when looking at the horizon, why do so few organisations consider the level of skills available to them and the opportunities/threats associated with such levels. HR tends to look at the total amount of resources available to the organisation, missing the scarcity of the limiting knowledge, skills, experience and/or behaviours available at a given point in time. Big mistake!

  • Capability is characterised by the ability of a person to make appropriate decisions, to solve problems, through the application and extension of their knowledge, skills and experience in non-standard, some might say “novel,” conditions. Basically, an ability to adapt. How many organisation could report/assess such a level of capability? How many organisations consider this in terms of workforce planning?

If organisations have an eye to the future then they have to be interested in their ability to adapt. This means in the vast majority of organisations that HR needs permissions and/or the ability to disrupt current policy and practice to battle across the three dimensions of talent.

To not do so will mean that organisations do not know themselves.Such organisations will be shocked when they reach a tipping point where talent is dulled, advantage blunted, and remaining talent overworked and scarce. The outcome of such a scenario seems pretty obvious, don’t you think? How well does your organisation know itself?

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