facebook Skip to main content



Building Capability

How to Use a Capability Discovery Tool for Organisational Capability Building


Capability assessment should be a continuous process to ensure your framework and capabilities are optimally used and understood. But how can you assess both organisational maturity and employee application of capabilities? A capability discovery tool.  

A capability discovery tool can be many things: A platform to glean institutional data, a tool for employees to self-assess capabilities, a pool of information to support digital learning strategies—the list (and business benefits) goes on.   

It’s also fairly simple to use, if you know how to get the most of out it. We’ll walk you through why you should be using a capability discovery tool and how to ensure workforce adoption of one in this guide.  


What is a capability discovery tool?  

Capability discovery is a process to ensure that capabilities are mapped to the right job roles, job families and business functions. 

A capability discovery tool assesses the capabilities an employee possesses against a defined capability framework. It helps: 

How does a capability discovery tool work? 

Through a website or platform, employees or managers answer questions about their own or team member’s individual performance.  

Users will typically select a certain number of capabilities to assess out of an entire suite of organisational capabilities. This is typically done to support a specific development track, such as assessing the digital capabilities of an emerging leader.  

At the end, a personal report is created. Depending on your organisation’s intent for the tool, these reports will provide an overview of the individual’s competency levels across a number of chosen capabilities. Many organisations offer free resources with suggested next steps for development, too.  

From there, capability discovery should serve as the basis for learning and development. Most legacy learning management systems will focus on skills, which is why we founded the performance learning management system (PLMS) on capabilities. You can complete capability discovery and assessments within Acorn PLMS, as well as map content to specific capabilities. It’s the only way you can guide learners step-by-step to master the capabilities of their role, for maximum organisational impact.

Why use a capability discovery tool?  

Capabilities, as we’ve said before, are rather static on their own. That’s because they remain the what of your organisation, not the how. The how comes from the ways in which you utilise them. 

A digital discovery tool is just one way to make capabilities more accessible and widely adopted in your organisation. 

It has two complementary functions. 

  1. It enables employees to self-assess their current capabilities and competency levels against your organisation’s standards. 
  2. It offers business leaders and decision makers insight into the accuracy, maturity and availability of organisational capabilities, optimising prioritisation

Without assessment, capabilities stagnate, which can have any of the following effects. 

How to implement a capability discovery tool  

Before you dive into a tool, you’ll need a capability framework. It’s helpful if you’ve already got some kind of digital learning technology that supports your framework, but at the very least, you’ll want to have your framework already set up and digitised. 

The first step in implementing a discovery tool is to understand why you’re using one.  

Tie to strategy 

As with any business processes, a capability discovery tool should be tied to organisational strategy (and L&D and workforce planning strategies by default). Essentially, you’re looking for a business impact to be felt from introducing the tool, like process improvement, better data or clearer visibility of capabilities for employees. 

Consider then: 

Also consider who is responsible for your capability discovery tool. They’ll have to provide relevant resources and design messaging for stakeholders. 

Design assessment 

All discovery tools utilise reflective questions and statements not unlike those you may use for performance or competency management. That gives you two options when designing the major assessment portion within your tool. 

  1. You can pull from existing performance indicators in your capability framework. 
  2. You can create scenario-based questions that exemplify capability application. 

If you choose the latter, remember that these statements or questions need to be easily understood. Don’t write paragraph-long examples of capabilities in action.  

Most tools will enable you to assess capabilities at different levels of competency. That is, say you’ve got the sub-capability of Manage self with five standards for performance like foundational, intermediate, adept, advanced and strategic. You can segment assessment of that capability by competency, so that an employee may choose to evaluate their grasp of Manage self at an intermediate level. 

From there, you pull out the performance indicators for each level of competency (see option 1 for assessment). These are the statements (or questions) you’re asking employees to assess.  

The metrics for that assessment depends on your needs, but you may use a scale such as needs development, meets expectations and exceeds expectations.  

Source: NSW Public Sector

Provide support 

When assessment is said and done, there should be clear courses of action for employees or managers.  

Ergo, the report they get at the end of assessment should also offer insight into development actions they can take to bridge gaps.  

The NSW Public Sector’s discovery tool provides suggestions for development under each performance indicator assessed. Let’s go back to that example with the capability manage self. Where a self-assessment shows that an employee only meets expectations for, the generated report offers the following advice. 

Source: NSW Public Sector

Some additional resources you can offer include guides on how to: 

Key takeaways  

Amongst your suite of strategic business tools, a capability discovery tool is one that:  

It shouldn’t be implemented without thought. Whether you’re using it support a specific initiative (like developing digital capability) or simply gain more clarity on capabilities across your workforce, ensure that assessment results will have an impact. Think process improvement for your HR, L&D and organisational development teams or autonomy and ownership of career progression for employees. 

Share this post!

Related Reads on This Topic

capability assessment

The How-To Guide to Effective Capability Assessment

Read more to discover how capability assessments measure the capabilities of both your business and individual employees…

blocks of capabilities vs skills

Capabilities vs Skills: What Exactly Makes Them Different?

Skills refer to the capacity to perform a task, whilst capabilities allow outcomes to be generated. Discover more about their differences…

time to proficiency

How to Measure (and Decrease) Time to Proficiency in the Workplace

Learn how to measure time to proficiency and what strategies will decrease employee ramp time in the workplace…