Capabilities: A Critical Building Block in ‘Good to Great’ Companies

Why has CAPABILITY become the latest HR buzz word?
Here at AbilityMap we have identified the “open secret”. When you ask the question, “if you knew at time of hire what you now know of the staff member, would you rehire them?”, the answer is that around one third would not be rehired. And that group were hired using the same recruitment processes you used to hire the top performers. Why is that?

The answer lies in defining the capabilities that are present in the high performers and ensuring that new hires exhibit many of the same qualities. These qualities are called capabilities.

I started researching capability modelling in the early nineties with the establishment of a generic managerial capabilities model. This model was developed experientially, following hundreds of professional interactions where managers were asked to identify the qualities that led to high performance in a particular role. The data was collated and used to create a generic managerial capabilities model. One of the key ingredients in the creation of this model was that for new roles, subject matter experts would complete a paired comparison analysis of the primary dimensions to determine the criticality of each capability, such that a recruiting strategy could be built – taking account of the capability set.

Capabilities – What are they?

A capability is an attribute, knowledge, skill, ability or other characteristic that contributes to successful job performance. Behavioural capabilities are observable and measurable behaviours, knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that contribute to an individual’s success in the organization (e.g., teamwork, cooperation or communication). Behavioural capabilities can apply to all (or most) jobs in an organization or be specific to a job family, position, or career level.

Behavioural capabilities can be grouped to describe which characteristics are required to be successful in an organization outside of a specific job. As such, behavioural capabilities are specific to a person rather than to a job. Behavioural capabilities describe how we undertake activities, such as manage our jobs, our homes or our lives generally, and the behaviours we use, for example in decision making, information gathering and strategic thinking.

Behavioural capabilities clearly set out for staff and managers the behaviours that are required in each area of the organization in order to be successful. This helps managers understand what is expected of them and gives them greater clarity about their team, and the individual roles within. Understanding the behaviour that other areas of the organization see as essential to effective performance also helps us to improve how we work together. The AbilityMap Capability Framework is designed to be used by multiple Human Resource functions including Performance Management, Workforce Planning, Succession Planning, Training and Development, and Recruitment.

The capabilities and their behavioural indicators define what each employee needs to do to be successful and to contribute to the organization’s vision, mission, goals, objectives and strategies.

The descriptor behavioural capability is widely used in business and personnel psychology and refers to the group of behaviours necessary to achieve the objective of an organization. Behavioural capability is also capable of measurement and lists of capabilities form a common language for describing how people perform in different situations.

Every job or position can be described in terms of key behavioural capabilities. This means that they can be used for all forms of assessment and evaluation, including performance appraisal, training needs analysis, recruitment and career planning and development.

Around the world there are a number of similar capability frameworks and many large organisations incorporate specific capability sets within their recruiting processes. However, there has been a search to find a capability set that has universality – such that it can be applied across a wide range of jobs.

In addition, the capability set needs input from a range of organizations to ensure that capabilities identified do not reflect “lip service” to various organizational values. For instance, most organizations today will say that customer service is a critical value, but when one examines organizational processes you may find little evidence that the capability leads to high performance. This approach is akin to organizations stating and re-stating in Annual Reports, that “people are our greatest asset”, whilst at the same time running high levels of labour turnover and poor management practices. What they mean is “people should be our greatest asset but we don’t know how to recruit them better or how to motivate them more effectively”.

So, the essential building block in the development of a best practice recruitment process is an industry wide capability set, founded in reality and related to real human qualities. Industry needed a breakthrough. It came with the development of the AbilityMap Job Matching process.

I hit on the idea of developing capabilities for jobs across all industries and levels, and a strategy for assessing an individual across all the capabilities in the set. Now we could assess jobs and candidates on the same dimensions.

Since 2013 the system has been used to assess candidates for many different roles , developing job specific capability sets by asking line managers and recruiters for each job “what are the drivers of high performance in the role .“ But there were issues.

When I matched the capability sets developed by these “subject matter experts” imagine the “AHA” moment when I realised their capability sets didn’t match those developed by assessing a group of high performers. This realisation suddenly made clear why, after so many years of development of new recruitment techniques – improved psychometrics, behavioural event interviewing, assessment centres, access for all to online testing etc., results from hiring decisions are well below expectation.

Real Life Case Studies Using the AbilityMap Concepts

Chandler Macleod Group

When my partners and I started the company that is now the Chandler Macleod Group Ltd, we made a decision that we would identify the capabilities required for all roles and assess candidates accordingly.

And our labour turnover figures reflected our success as we had virtually zero loss of managers in our formative years. The result of our hiring success was that from a standing start in July 1995 the company had a turnover around $1 billion in 2010. We operated in a highly competitive market with serious price pressures and yet we were successful in building a $1billion company in a little over 10 years.

How did we do it? A key was getting our recruitment right and adjusting other HR policies to suit the type of staff we hired.


Building high performance sales teams
The process:

  • Experienced sales managers complete the job profiler to identify their expectations of critical, essential and desirable capabilities for high performing internal and external sales staff.
  • High performing sales staff were assessed and the critical capabilities they displayed, compared with those developed by the “experts”
  • Outcome: Only 3 of the 8 critical capabilities of the high performers were chosen by the “subject matter experts.” What does this tell us – Managers don’t identify high performance capabilities accurately.
  • System was then used worldwide to improve hiring outcomes.

Lessons One: You can’t make good long term hiring decisions if you start assessing with the wrong selection factors.

Lesson Two: Line Managers who rarely know the critical capabilities required for high performance need a new process if hiring outcomes are to improve.

Recruiting High Performance Branch Managers

  • Three experienced recruitment heads of a long established Australia wide recruitment company complete a Subject Matter Expert capabilities evaluation to identify their expectations of critical, essential and desirable capabilities for high performing Branch Managers
  • High performing Branch Managers were assessed and the critical capabilities they displayed, compared with those developed by the “experts”

Outcome: Only one of the 8 critical capabilities of the high performers was chosen by the 3 experts

Lesson: Experts in the business are not necessarily experts in identifying what is required for staff to be high performers.

AbilityMap was created specifically to help internal and external recruiters to improve the effectiveness of their candidate selection, get the right people in the right roles, and improve corporate productivity.

As Co-Founder of AbilityMap, I am regularly called in to help businesses with staffing issues. Over and over I have seen traditional recruitment practices resulting in high turnover of staff and high costs to the business, simply because the people are not in the right jobs. Hiring Managers are not researching what drives high performance and modifying their hiring strategies to change the game.

AbilityMap combines the use of powerful psychological instruments for use with next-generation internet technologies to deliver a powerful tool that empower employers and employees alike. AbilityMap software can now be used to predict high performance in recruitment and to develop talent retention strategies.

AbilityMap can take the guesswork out of recruitment and save the costly mistakes of high employee turnover and low productivity.

Contact us and let us put you on the GOOD to GREAT bus.

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