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Building Capability

The How-to Guide to Defining & Assessing Communications Capability


Communication is essential for organisations to address and convey ideas and information to their own staff as well as stakeholders such as customers, clients, and investors. Businesses also need to develop communications capability within their own workforce to stay on top of new communication strategies and skills that can ensure greater business success and performance.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at how you can define, assess, and build communication capability within your organisation to address your pain points.

What does communications capability mean? 

Communication capability is the combination of knowledge, skills, tools, processes and behaviours that communications professionals use to deliver an organisational objective. Capabilities can include content creation, social media management, and internal communications.

3 steps to define communications capabilities

When it comes to developing and defining communication capability in your organisation, there are generally three steps you need to follow.

Step 1: Define the landscape

Before you can build or develop capabilities, you need to define the business need for them. Consider:

  1. What is your organisation’s greater mission, purpose, and values?
  2. What role do communications play in that mission?
  3. What value does your communications function generate for the business, now and into the future?

Step 2: Define the purpose

Each communications capability should have a unique role to play in the business. To define the purpose of a capability, there are five factors to consider.

  1. Company strategy: How does this capability feed into business outcomes?
  2. Market demand: What demand is there for the capability in the market?
  3. Company resources: Does the company have sufficient budget, people, or equipment to sustain the capability?
  4. Existing capabilities: Does the capability complement or compete with current capabilities?
  5. Risks: What are the potential risks that could arise (such as to finances or reputation) from building the capability?

Step 3: Define the outcome

Finally, you need to name your capability. Naming them is simple—it’s just a matter of being descriptive. Capability names should indicate how they function within the organisation. So, as examples:

If you’re drawing a blank on capabilities, never fear. We have a comprehensive list of communications capabilities available here for you to use and edit as you see fit. We also have communications-adjacent capabilities available, too: Check out our marketing and digital capabilities.

All come complete with detailed descriptions and levels of competency, so you can incorporate them into professional development straight away. We do recommend that you change up the wording to fit with your brand voice and mission, though.

Strategies for building communications capability 

When it comes to building and developing communications capability, you can follow a typically six-step process of:

  1. Engaging leadership buy-in
  2. Creating co-ownership between HR and communications
  3. Evaluating capability gaps
  4. Assessing capability maturity
  5. Building capability with training
  6. Regularly tracking progress.

Engaging leadership 

Employee engagement with L&D and change processes depends entirely on leaders, with 70% of change programs failing if leadership doesn’t get involved. So, you’ll want to get leadership on board with capability development, but then you’re faced with how to secure the buy-in of leaders.

It’s not about spruiking the benefits of capabilities, but rather highlighting how developing capabilities for your communications function improves organisational health. In other words, leadership buy-in is just understanding how capability development solves leadership’s pain points.

So, find out what your C-suite actually care about. It’s true that at a high level, your leadership is more worried about metrics like performance, revenue, and retention. But there are other capabilities needed for the communication function, too.

Consider that your leaders are also concerned about:

So, if these are leadership’s pain points and desired KPIs, demonstrate how developing communication capability in your business improves processes, employee engagement revenue growth and performance, creating a replicable road to success. Highlight how development leads to positive change, compared to inaction on capability development, which does the opposite.

Co-ownership between HR and communications

When it comes to developing and designing L&D for building capability, no single business unit has all the information needed to be accountable for a successful program. This is why you need to establish accountability for the process to develop internal partnerships between HR and your communications department.

The thought behind co-ownership is to create a well-rounded and relevant L&D process. If HR and communications work separately, or one department is solely accountable, development programs become ineffectual.

For example, say HR is left to work on communications capability development all on their own. They’ll likely lack the information and knowledge needed to create a program that is relevant and useful to the specific needs of the communications department.

On the other hand, all capability development needs to be aligned with business strategy and desired organisational outcomes, which individual business units lack a big-picture view on. For this reason, the communications department can’t be solely responsible for building communications capability, either.

Understanding communications capability gaps

Over time, changes in the market from new technology, industry standards and processes will eventually render your current capabilities useless. This is how capability gaps (the divide between current and future skills, behaviours, and market knowledge) form.

One way to assess communication capability gaps is to use a capability assessment. Competencies are a levelled scale that you can use to measure employee proficiency. These levels can be labelled with whatever terms you think fit your organisation best, but they’re usually some variation of:

The idea is that as employees improve in competency and begin to close the gaps between current and future capabilities, they’ll slide up the scale from needs development to meets expectations (or whatever your equivalent is). You can use a combination of three types of competency assessments to evaluate where competencies are at.

  1. Start with self-assessments, where employees evaluate their own competency.
  2. Compare it to manager assessments, as managers can be more objective.
  3. For specialist capability sets, compare one or both of the previous assessments with an assessment by subject matter experts.

Assessing communications capability maturity

If competency assessments are for capabilities at the individual level, capability maturity is for assessing the capabilities of the business. The idea is that it gives you a snapshot of capability maturity company-wide, so you can evaluate risks to business and prioritise areas for improvement.

Like competency, capability maturity is generally measured on a linear scale, this time across five different levels:

  1. Initial, where capability performance is unpredictable and reactive. 
  2. Managed, in which performance is managed project to project. 
  3. Defined, where capabilities are proactively managed through business-wide guidelines. 
  4. Qualitative, where KPIs are aligned with business processes and objectives. 
  5. Optimised, in which agility is achieved through continuous improvement of capability and talent stability.

Again, just like competency, your end goal is to shift from the initial level up to optimised as your business improves its overall capability.

Perhaps your strategic communications are at the managed level, when really they should, at the very least, be defined. Perhaps you lack effective external communication with customers, investors, and other stakeholders, which negatively impacts business performance.

You can organise your critical capabilities in a business capability heat map. It’s a visual representation of the strategic communications capabilities you deem most important to develop for organisational success.

Methods to build communications capability

This is the part where you develop and design your L&D activities to build capability. When it comes to planning L&D for communication capability, there are a few methods you can try.

You’ll notice these are tried-and-true L&D activities. That’s because you don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. The driving force behind that wheel (i.e. capabilities) is what’s changed, and so you just need to embed learning opportunities where those capabilities are being used.

Tracking progress

Continuous improvement is what you need to ensure organisational transformation in the long-term. Creating lasting changes in employee behaviour is key, here. But how to do you know if your L&D process was successful in that aspect?

Tracking and monitoring the effectiveness of learning is essential. For one thing, it helps determine how effective your L&D activities were, such as whether knowledge was retained or whether the ROI of training was positive. But consistent monitoring is also good for identifying areas of improvement where your methods or processes might not have been as effective as hoped.

There are a few methods you can use to measure progress in communications capability development.

Key takeaways

Being able to communicate effectively is crucial to all organisations, both for spreading critical information internally as well as to stay connected with customers and stakeholders. In short: Communications capability touches all elements and corners of your organisation. When building communications capability, remember to:

  1. Get buy-in from leaders 
  2. Establish accountability through co-ownership 
  3. Identify individual communications capability gaps 
  4. Prioritise gaps by business risk 
  5. Link L&D to everyday work 
  6. Keep track and continuously improve the whole process.

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