Simon Terry

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Manage Portfolios of Capability – #BigLearning

In strategy, we often think of organisations as portfolios of capability. Capability creates options. The set of capabilities in an organisation enable you to do some things and not others. Managing that portfolio to allow for performance, adaptation and growth is critical to success in changing environments.

The same principles apply to learning for individuals in organisations. We can help our people see learning as a way to manage their portfolios of capability. This approach creates options and adaptability for the individual and the organisation. Individuals who manage their own portfolios of capability will have richer and more purposeful careers.

Traditional Learning

Traditional learning approaches borrow from the industrial management mindset. What matters is the role, which is an input in a production process. The role has to have certain fixed capabilities. Therefore we recruit and train our people to have those capabilities.

When something changes, we have a problem. We focused on a fixed role, not the people. We treated people as cogs in a process and hoped we could find or stuff them with the capabilities required for a role. This learning largely happens independent of the individuals purposes, hopes or dreams. Their desire to have a role requires them to learn fixed capabilities.

Managing a Portfolio is Adaptive

Nobody is in perfect identity with the capabilities listed on their role description. We all have diverse portfolios of capability. We have different education, experience and networks. We are hired because we bring more to the role than others.

How often have you seen someone with skills required elsewhere but who doesn’t get to apply them? An IT manager once challenged me to demonstrate that new employee profiles couldn’t help him with his need for a programmers in a particular language. “I know all the programmers here”, he said. The first name that came from a search of employee’s profiles highlighted a financial analyst in the same organisation who had a masters in computer science and had declared their experience in programming in that language. The analyst was unknown to the IT manager. What secret talents are hidden in your employee population?

Let’s manage people, not roles so that we can leverage our individual and collective portfolios of capability. People adapt by drawing on additional skills and capabilities. People can look ahead and learn for the next role or the next challenge. Importantly that allows our employees to manage their own portfolios of capability beyond this role and into their whole life.  

A Capability Portfolio Approach for Organisations and Employees

  • Start with your employee’s needs: Use Design thinking to understand your employee journey before, during and after their time with you. What does a new perspective do to help you change the way you enable them to learn?
  • Manage a portfolio strategy: You have business needs for certain skills. These become the priority areas for your portfolio of capabilities in the organisation. However, they will not be the only areas you have skills in the team. Re-weight the priorities of the portfolio constantly as the business needs change.
  • Encourage employees share their full set of capabilities with you. Enable them to disclose the skills and experiences that they have that can help you with your business challenges. Look for options that can be created with these additional capabilities for employees and the organisation. Make capabilities searchable, encourage collaboration and create clearing houses to enable projects to call on those skills as needed.
  • Let employees develop to their purposes and their needs: If you are clear on your business needs, employees know what skills need to be developed. If they don’t want those skills, it is better they don’t want to stay. Finding the alignment between employee purposes and your portfolio needs will strengthen the organisation
  • Hire and Encourage Diversity: Diverse people bring diverse capabilities into the organisation. Everyone of these is a future option. That’s an option that comes for free when you hire someone whose capable of doing the job.
  • Employees are accountable for their portfolios of capabilities: This has always been the case but we lost focus on development in some of the paternalistic HR models. Organisations should support and enable development, but they can’t do it to an employee. Leveraging PKM, working out loud and 70:20:10 models enables employees to take greater control of their learning.
  • Use employee’s capabilities and watch them grow: The best way for a capability to stay current and grow is to be used. How do you let employees step outside their role and use skills on a project, a secondment, helping out a peer in a collaboration, on a hobby project or volunteering externally.

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