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Building Capability

How to Secure Support from Senior Leadership for Organisational Capability Building Programs


Leadership can be the key or the gatekeepers to a truly impactful capability building program, considering it’s their insights that provide a strategic advantage. Getting their support rests on showing them the ideal future state they could achieve and the one they stand to experience if they skip lending a hand.  

Why you need support from senior leadership for capability-building programs 

Buy-in from leaders creates champions amongst your workforce, a crucial step in effectively implementing capability building programs. Securing support from senior leadership hinges on securing buy-in for the problem capability building is solving. That means creating a sense of urgency for said problem, with capability building as the solution. 

Say you’ve got a capability maturity model that shows your technical leadership pipeline is running dry. The business case for getting the CTO’s buy-in would be the impact of an empty bench: Poor scoping, other units putting their fingers in the pie at bad times, tech debt and the resources that wastes, poor innovation and lack of strategic guidance amongst the teams. That’s before you consider the CTO’s KPIs and how they’ll be impacted. 

For that, frame capability building as the KPIs they care about: Process improvement, employee engagement, revenue growth, individual performance. Demonstrate how capabilities break down crucial tasks by skill, knowledge, process and behaviour, providing a replicable path to success. Showing positive changes will help sidestep the fear associated with changing the status quo, as an aside.  

Having the right tools to do this is the linchpin. We pioneered the performance learning management system (PLMS) to ensure all business leaders can access and prove the performance impacts of L&D. It does this by hinging development plans on the specific capabilities employees need to master in order to excel in their job. By codifying and operationalising capabilities, leaders can be sure that the sum of individual learning experiences total to improve organisational efficiency.

The challenge of securing senior leadership buy-in and how to overcome it 

Lack of support from leadership usually throws up some red flags. Few are on leadership—in fact, their hesitation is generally a sign that the argument for their involvement was weak to begin with. 

Senior leadership want ROI. They want strategic impact. They want opportunities gained and pain points resolved. Many L&D leaders struggle to provide a change rationale that addresses these points—which happens when L&D take a purely L&D angle for capability building.  

And that occurs without co-ownership of capability building, leaving L&D as an ancillary function rather than a business partner. Lacking on-the-ground insights from other business unit leaders won’t give L&D the information they need to prove causation, justify costs and demonstrate the urgency of capability building to begin with. That means you won’t be able to create truly tangible metrics or objectives for a program, either.  

Another facet of unsustainable business initiatives is lack of ongoing evaluation. The public sector does this routinely with their capability frameworks, to ensure capabilities are still relevant to their changing landscape and objectives. Some easily implemented measures for review include: 

What is the impact of not doing this as it relates to building organisational capability? 

At a high level, 70% of change projects fail because lack of buy-in ultimately means unclear scope and success criteria for a capability building program. On the ground, you’ve no champions to role model and enforce participation in the program, meaning it’s dead on arrival.  

Business leaders have a unique sense of their unit’s potential against the company’s needs. That is, they understand what capabilities are closest to the action. Lacking that information when creating a project of this scale may see L&D try to provide a one-size-fits-all program or place weight on the wrong capabilities, if they are even accurately defined to begin with. 

Plus, any hindrances or pain points continue to go unserved. Job vacancies, loss of existing vital talent, inability to scale or innovate, lack of internal alignment will all continue to fester. Add to that a legacy of failed L&D projects, and leadership’s desire to participate in any future initiatives will only dissipate.  

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