Capability – Part 1

Why teaching new skills isn’t enough by itself to make people more capable or to generate new behaviours at work

This is part one of a two-part article looking at the topic of Capability at work.

This first part explores what kind of approaches you can take if you want to help individuals to change their behaviours or to be more capable. In part two, I’ll look at why you should really sit-up and pay attention if you’re hearing a lot of “I don’t know hows” in your business and what’s needed if you want everyone to feel more capable.


When I was about ten or eleven years old I discovered the fantastic “Teach Yourself…” book series in our local library. This series has been going since the 1930s and was originally published in distinctive yellow or blue and yellow dust jackets. They covered a really wide range of subjects, from practical stuff like brick-laying through to economics, calculus and even Esperanto, which I once spent a whole summer playing around with.

Take a look at this collector’s website for some great information about the series and its various imprints.

When I discovered those books, it felt like something clicked inside me.
If you come from the kind of background I did, your horizons can sometimes seem a little limited, the options constrained, some choices perhaps already made for you. But I thought that here in these books was one of the main gateways to the world – knowledge and the capability that it imparts – made plain and accessible to anyone who wanted it.


It’s maybe no surprise then that one of my favourite aspects of my coaching work is around the level of Capability.

In the kind of coaching I do, I lay out those ‘levels’ like this:

1EnvironmentRefers to the Where and the When of whatever you’re doing and reveals what external constraints you might be operating under.
2BehavioursRefers to the What it is that you’re doing and reveals itself in your actions. 
3CapabilitiesRefers to How you go about doing things and reveals what approaches you might take now or in the future.
4Beliefs and ValuesRefers to the Why behind what you’re doing and reveals your motivations and self-imposed limits. 
5IdentityAnswers questions about and establishes Who you are. It’s both revealed by and satisfied by the missions you might undertake.
6ConnectionAnswers questions about your Vision or Higher Purpose – that is, in the larger system of which you’re part, it addresses for who and towards what cause your actions are directed.

For now, it’s important to realise that there’s a hierarchy to the levels as I’ve set them out above. For example, I’m often asked to coach people around operating more effective Behaviours at work, either as a team member or a leader, or often both. You can see from the table, that Behaviours are at level two. However, in order to operate new Behaviours, people usually need new approaches, new ways of going about things – and those new approaches require new Capabilities, a level three aspect!

It’s quite usual to have to explore two, three or even more levels deeper whenever any significant kind of change is required. New Behaviours (level two) usually need new Capabilities (level three), and acquiring new Capabilities often needs a shift in self-imposed limits and a rediscovery of motivations – a level four Beliefs and Values shift. And a really significant shift in those self-imposed limits, or a re-alignment or rediscovery of motivations, often requires a long hard look at just who we really are – right down at level five, Identity.


This is why, as we’ll explore more in the subsequent article, you’ve got to address cultural aspects around values and ways of doing things, as well as individual motivations and limiting beliefs in order to have more capable people in your business. Just trying to teach them new skills or sending them on a management training course may not always work!


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

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