Capability building goes well beyond traditional training of employees, according to McKinsey & Company. It is about fundamentally changing how the work gets done.

It is also one of the best ways to energize people, from the C-suite to the factory floor, to support the transformation in the first place. This well-designed program promotes productive behavior and skills; therefore, it became an essential element of any successful transformation. In this blog, we discuss the most essential elements of a robust capability-building program.

Capability Building: the building blocks

Capability building changes the way people go about their jobs. It strips the workday down to its most basic components and rebuilds it, embedding new habits around timeworn tasks. These lessons can be basic, for example, shortening meetings, or how to write effective mails. The lessons could be technical or functional in nature too. Many of these core ideas sound like common sense, but McKinsey & Company found that they are rarely common practices consistently applied across an organization. Because this disconnect is ultimately behavioral, McKinsey & Company turned to behavioral science for solutions.

These three key elements are necessary for an effective capability-building program: leadership role modelling, widespread employee engagement, and virtual delivery.

Role modelling

One of the best ways to drive the adoption of new mindsets and behaviors is by ensuring that senior leaders model the desired change. Because people mimic -both consciously and unconsciously- the actions of the individuals and groups around them. When senior leaders role model the behavior changes they’re asking employees to make, transformations are 5.3 times more likely to be successful. This means it’s often best for senior leaders to be the first participants to complete a capability-building program.

Widespread employee engagement

Transformation-program participation must be sufficiently widespread, for capability building to occur. Even when propelled by top-level buy-in, capability building still needs to be scaled well beyond a few rounds with a chosen few because employees who aren’t included in a transformation feel disengaged, disconnected, and left behind. Anything less than broad engagement defeats the purpose. In fact, McKinsey & Company found that to create the foundation for truly widespread change, a capability-building program must directly engage at least 25% of the workforce. They add, to inspire behavioral change in all levels of an organization, a capability-building program ought to start by targeting the organization’s top influencers.

Virtual delivery

In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic means that capability building must be deployed primarily through virtual means. Fortunately, capability building easily lends itself to virtual learning. Thereby, McKinsey & Company suggest that there is evidence to suggest that virtual environments can deliver experiences that are equivalent to or better than those of traditional in-person programs and workshops. 87% of participants in newly adapted virtual experiences agreed that the programs were at least as effective as in-person events would have been.

Capability-building steps in supporting a successful transformation

There are four sequential capability-building steps in supporting a successful transformation, according to McKinsey & Company.
1) Individual employees learn new capabilities.
2) Teams apply them, and capabilities and behaviors change.
3) The organization begins to see improving effectiveness.
4) The company achieves its financial aims and other goals.

Knowing this, it would seem that adopting a capability-building program would be common sense. However, as noted, it’s not at all common practice. Unfortunately, the reasons that companies don’t prioritize capability building (the learning outcomes are too basic or too distracting or a key C-suite player just isn’t interested) amount to lost opportunities and leave the outcomes of transformation programs to chance. However, effective capability-building programs enable organizations to develop the mindsets, behaviors, and skills needed to power a transformation and achieve their full potential.

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