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Paul Matthews

People Alchemy Ltd


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Capability at Work – what does it really mean?


Bill took advantage of the free Kindle book offer valid to 4th April 2015.

Bill sent me this...


“Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your book. It resonated with the views I have on L&D in the workplace.

I really liked your use of stories quotes and analogies but (there's always a but) I'm not wedded on your definition of capability. I see capability as more 'future looking'; eg I am a competent and skilled L&D practitioner but with insights and self development my capability (what I'm capable of doing) will increase albeit at some point I will reach my 'level of competence'.”


Thanks Bill :-)

So my question to you is... “What is your definition of Capability?”

I have asked hundreds of people this question, and I have had a huge variety of answers. I have concluded there is no ‘common’ way that people use the word. There always seems to be a nuance that is different.

The lesson in this is that when you use the word, either when you communicate, or when you are reflecting, be aware that others are using it differently.

In order to write the book on Capability at Work, I had to present a definition that I could then use within the context of the book. I chose one that resonates most closely with the definitions I had been given by business and operations people rather than L&D or HR people. After all, L&D is in the service of the business, and we should be using ‘business language’ to communicate with the business, whether we agree with their common definition of Capability or not. It behoves us to be aware of it, and to use it when communicating with them.

I have seen at first hand many times the confusion, and even acrimony that can arise when L&D says these people are ‘capable’ and the operations manager says that they are not, because the job still isn’t being done right. There is a huge elephant in the room that is mostly invisible, but has an elephant sized impact on any conversations about capability and performance. My book hopefully explains this and gives you a practical way to deal with it.

I would love to hear what you think we should use for a standard definition of ‘Capability’, and if you are feeling adventurous, what is the definition of ‘Competence’ and how is that different, if it is, to Capability.

I'm delighted to be able to offer you free Kindle copies of my latest book 'Capability at Work: How To Solve The Performance Puzzle' which will explain fully how to tackle this challenge for those of us in workplace L&D. I'm also giving away free Kindle versions of my first book, 'Informal Learning at Work: How To Boost Performance In Tough Times'. You don't even need a Kindle to read them – just download the Kindle app and you're good to go! ( valid to 4th April, 2015. If you are too late for the Kindle offer, there is other great free stuff on the website :-)

Paul Matthews is the founder and managing director of People Alchemy. To discuss capability, learning or anything training related contact him via [email protected] or @peoplealchemy.

One Response



    I was really excited in reading this book it is refreshing in that it sums up the pitfalls that organisations fall down when trying to get to grips with 'Training'. And even more importantly what to do avoid them.

    So give it a read.



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