Capability in the workplace

capability in the workplace

What enables capability and what gets in the way?

We all know that capability in the workplace is important. Right?

This is one of those obvious truths that we seldom stop to question, and yet I have found that it is often uncertain what somebody means when they make this statement.

The problem is in the variations of meaning people give to the word ‘capability’. Here is a definition that is useful, despite its simplicity: Can the employees do the job in front of them? Yes or no?

If ‘yes’, then we can say that the employee is capable of doing that job at that particular place and time.
If ‘no’, then we can say that the employee is not capable of doing that job at that particular place and time.

Note that we have to include the place and time in order to correctly consider capability. The reason for this is that the environment at the point of work has as much, if not more, impact on an employee’s capability to do the job than does that employee’s competence to do the job.

In order to investigate capability, and diagnose capability problems, we have to consider both the competence that the employee brings to the task at the point of work, and the environment that surrounds the employee at the point of work.

The competence that an employee brings to the job is made up of four things…
1. Knowledge (memorized facts and information)
2. Skills (practiced behaviours)
3. Attitude (mindset, motivation, beliefs and values)
4. Physiology (physical attributes such as strength, height, dexterity, eyesight etc.)

Each of these four things must be at a threshold level in order for the employee to be sufficiently competent to do the job in front of them. In addition to their own competence, in order for the employee to be capable in the moment at the point of work, the environment that surrounds them must also be ‘competent’. The environment must provide a whole range of things to the employee in order for them to express their competence effectively, and get the job done.

The ‘competence’ that an environment brings to the job is made up of things like…
1. Tools
2. Spare parts
3. IT provision
4. Knowledge and information banks
5. Management services
6. Colleagues
7. Organisational culture
8. Help on demand
9. Etc.

If an employee is asked to do a job, but the spare part is not available, they are rendered incapable at that point in time of doing the job. If a colleague is missing, even just to help them lift something, at that point in time they are incapable of doing the job.

Just stop and consider for a moment how many times in the last week you have been unable to do a job you set out to do through no fault of your own. You knew what to do and you wanted to do it, but something outside of you in your environment rendered you incapable at that point in time of completing the task. You are competent, but in the moment, you were incapable.

It is unfortunate that in most workplaces, when someone is incapable of doing a job, we automatically blame the individual and their supposed incompetence. We do not look closely enough at the ‘competence’ of the environment they are operating within.

So next time you are faced with someone who is incapable, be careful to separate this lack of capability into competence of the individual, and ‘competence’ of their environment at the point of work. You will typically find that the environment has a much bigger impact on capability then does individual employee competence.

Author: Paul Matthews