Paul Matthews

Paul Matthews

Paul is a recognised L&D specialist and consultant on performance improvement. He has two well-regarded books on the subject and is a public speaker much in demand.

What’s the difference between capability and competence and why does it matter?

The words capability and competence are used with a variety of meanings, and sometimes even interchangeably with the same meaning.
Competence is about knowledge and skill. However, having the aptitude or the proficiency to carry out an activity or task does not necessarily mean a person is capable of completing it. There are many things that can render someone incapable of doing a task in front of them. Maybe it is something in their environment that is missing, for example they do not have a special tool or the right spare part, or maybe something within them is missing, that is they do not have the enough knowledge or skill.
Capability is a much wider concept than competence. In order for someone to be capable, they must be competent to perform the task and the environment they are within must also have what they need to perform the task. So many people talk about capability when in fact they really mean competence, and this leads to all sorts of miscommunication, particularly between L&D and operations people.

How do you get the best performance from your people?

Performance depends on people being capable in the moment of doing what needs to be done. That is, they can respond adequately to the task they have been delegated to do. If they can get the task done successfully, they are deemed to perform. If they are not capable of doing the task for some reason, they are deemed to be not performing.
Therefore in order to deal with performance issues, it is necessary to look at the barriers to capability in the moment when people are at the point of work. The barriers arise when there is something lacking in terms of knowledge, skills, mind-set, physiology and environment. It is only by identifying and removing all such barriers that you can enable your people’s capability to perform. This is the basis of getting the best performance out of your people.