Talent [R]evolution

Closing the business capability gap in the context of COVID-19

The status of building business capabilities 

When it comes to building long-term business resiliency, understanding and defining business capabilities is a core component of the conversation. Business capabilities refer to developing skills, knowledge, and processes necessary to enact change to perform and maximize an organization’s core functionalities. 

Some examples of common focus areas for business capabilities include research and development, product development, supply chain management, business operations, product distribution, and more. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, it helps to serve as a reminder of how business capabilities play an essential role throughout all aspects of business operations.

As organizations scale up their business, developing business capabilities becomes crucial to long-term success. Beyond improving processes across different functions, business capabilities help create greater interconnectedness and transparency between sectors to help achieve mutual business objectives. Organizations that have inefficient business capabilities are often slow to adapt, which long-term can lead to reduced profits, smaller market shares, and more aggressive tactics by your competitors.

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Barriers preventing robust business capabilities

Creating strategies that cohesively close the capability gap in individual functions and entire organizations is not a simple endeavor. It requires clear intentions, commitment to strategy, and a willingness to invest in your workforce’s personal and professional development. Developing business capabilities can be a difficult practice for organizations because it often fails to communicate why a strategy should be executed and how. 

Change management can be hard to navigate, particularly in large, slow-moving corporations. Although large organizations can be eager to train employees to develop new skills, employees often revert to old practices after training completion. According to Harvard Business Review, only one in four senior managers report that training played a critical role in achieving business outcomes. Frequently, executives look to training to improve outcomes without analyzing the existing problems within structures that prevent adoption.

Here, HBR cites six key factors that can be barriers to change in business capabilities:

Unclear direction or strategy

Trying to implement change without a clear strategy can lead to conflicting priorities within or between departments.

Lack of collaboration between senior executives 

Senior leadership needs to develop cross-functional strategies that include acknowledging current behaviors that need to change and creating action plans to resolve them. 

Laissez-fair approach to management 

Organizations with top-down management often miss out on conversations that can deliver insight into existing problems.

Poor organizational design

Businesses that already struggle with organizational design often struggle with coordinating change across business functions.

Lack of attention by leadership regarding talent management 

Workers are more inclined to adopt new training practices when there are perceived opportunities for professional development.

Unfriendly work culture

Employees are less likely to provide feedback or criticism of existing processes if they don’t feel supported to share ideas.

COVID-19 has only exacerbated many of the issues that make developing business capabilities difficult. Fewer in-person training sessions, fewer face-to-face interactions, and an increase in “unseen” labor make it difficult for employees and decision-makers to contextualize their work within the organization’s framework. However, that’s not a reason for organizations to delay or eliminate change management. 

This article will discuss how businesses can create business resiliency and close the capability gap from an at-home working environment.

How to develop digital skills in the context of COVID-19

More than a year into the global pandemic and the vision of the workplace has changed. Work-from-home policies intended to be temporary are becoming permanent. Many organizations across sectors and industries have proven that teams can be effective in remote working environments, making work from home the new normal. Because of this, organizations should consider harnessing work-from-home productivity to develop their business capabilities strategies during COVID-19 and beyond.

Develop new skills through digital delivery

The future may be uncertain regarding return-to-office timelines, but one thing is inherently true: digital transformation is here to stay. For employers, this means digitizing processes and giving workers the tools to develop their digital capabilities.

For years, digital processes have heavily relied on word processors, excel sheets, and intensive file management practices. As digital tools such as project management platforms garner higher adoption rates across organizations, training workers to use new software tools effectively becomes a more pressing priority. Often, organizations fall into the trap of using too many competing digital management platforms. Rather than create a centralized, integrated system for managing projects and initiatives, business capabilities get bogged down by complicated, effort-intensive processes that burden workers unnecessarily.

Instead, organizations should create digital working environments that are compatible with different role responsibilities and workstyles. By developing lateral structures that reduce silos within departments, organizations can improve transparency, optimize processes, and increase collaboration opportunities. To do this, leadership should have frank discussions about current workplace strategies, including what works, what doesn’t, and areas that can be improved. Only when an administration has a thorough understanding of how divisions and departments work independently should a cross-functional architecture be considered.

It’s also important to note that developing digital capabilities can refer to entirely new skills or refine existing practices. Although there are some technical skills or industries that require in-person training to achieve development outcomes, virtual training can prove to be a great, cost-effective alternative. Digital coursework, virtual skillshares, and one-on-one video mentorships are helpful methods for developing abilities in a work-from-home environment.

Engage and motivate employees to change behavior

One of the most challenging aspects of developing business capabilities is navigating change to be mindful of your workforce’s thoughts and feelings. Initiating behavioral change starts with ensuring that the current work environment engages its employees. According to Gallup, managers account for 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores. Without management that properly engages its employees, workers may pursue business capabilities initiatives with less than ideal enthusiasm. 

Because COVID-19 has made it challenging to bridge engagement gaps typically encountered through in-person communication, leadership management should create digital feedback loops that enable workers to share their opinions freely. Whether that’s anonymous surveys, digital town hall meetings, or Q&A sessions with leadership, actively listening to employees, and in turn, acting on employee feedback can help to engage and energize workers.

Beyond purely feedback-based engagement initiatives, organizations should also encourage workers to define their purpose. Defining purpose means ensuring that a worker understands how their performance contributes to long-term business objectives. Particularly during pandemic uncertainty, aligning employees with high-level, purpose-driven activities can help workers stay motivated while navigating uncertain times. 

According to a 2020 McKinsey study, workers that are “living their purpose” were more likely to experience improved work effectiveness, increased engagement, and report higher levels of well-being. Conversely, only a third of employees said their organizations link action and purpose, suggesting a failure to educate employees about the reasoning and objective of particular business goals. To manage this, employers should actively communicate the organization’s “why” and its relationship to “how” businesses view their capabilities objectives.

To be clear, prioritizing feedback and engagement doesn’t suggest making business decisions democratically. However, it does mean that organizations should get the buy-in from workers, not just executive leadership. By defining the strategy and creating educational resources that support the reasoning behind change management of business capabilities, leadership can help employees understand the logic of business decisions, helping to garner support organization-wide.

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Employ reinforcement techniques that are simple and robust 

Once strategies are communicated and deployed, the next step is to ensure that workers regularly receive development training and feedback. It’s necessary to develop a reinforcement process that takes employee psychology into account. Training without reinforcement can lead to employees abandoning new skills if they are not immediately applicable to an individual’s role.

Here are a few simple ways that organizations can reinforce skill development and ensure that training costs are well-invested:

Schedule time to invest in fundamental behaviors

To get employees to retain new business capability skills over time, leadership should schedule regular sessions with workers to receive feedback, ask questions, and gain a more thorough understanding of how training aligns with business aims. In a virtual training environment, video conferencing clients like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and others can guide users through new software to help provide contextual examples that suit both visual and auditory learning styles. Regularly scheduled training sessions or follow-up calls can help employees understand where their role and skills fit into the larger framework of change management. Expanding previous lessons and discovering new applications of recently developed skills can help create more streamlined collaborative business capabilities.

Position digital as the primary method of capability development

COVID-19 has nearly eliminated all opportunities for in-person training for most industries – but that’s not necessarily a negative consequence. Digital transformation is inevitable, and moving business capabilities training to an online environment sooner rather than later can help develop the micro skillset associated with digital-driven processes.

Partnering with educational services companies or developing in-house e-courses can provide access to educational content that’s always available. In the context of the post-COVID-19 era, companies with multiple locations or offices can continue to eliminate travel costs associated with large-scale training events by developing e-course content.

Establish priorities from top to bottom

Once a digital learning method is established, organizations should communicate priorities that all employees, top to bottom, complete training. Integrating new skill sets into business capabilities requires that all employees, regardless of their leadership positions, be both aware and informed about how new business capabilities processes will work. By including everyone in digital reinforcement training, not just the individuals who will be using the new skills, the organization can provide context to how new skill development will impact business capabilities.

Reinforce behavior change and not the completion of assessments or programs

Ultimately, the purpose of business capabilities training is to enact change. Knowing that different employees have different learning styles and unique relationships to educational assessments, it’s essential to consider that what works for one employee may not work for all. Instead of requiring a written examination or completing hours and hours of course material, organizations should prioritize changed behavior. 

An employee that is quick to adopt new training methods and tools should be encouraged to use them immediately, regardless of whether they are “checking-off” every training module. Requirements for requirement’s sake rarely add value; encourage your employees to take the information they need and implement it into regular practice.

Establish a culture of change

Creating a culture of change starts with a willingness to communicate long-term and commit to follow-through on business promises. Developing timelines to complete training and sunset old methods or digital tools can help to drive change management. However, change does not happen overnight, so it’s vital to give divisions and individual employees a runway to convert old data and processes into new business capabilities.

Companies and industries that are successfully implementing change 

COVID-19 has impacted the world in ways that no one could have predicted. As vaccination rates rise, the long-term implications of COVID-19’s effects on the economy, infrastructure, and even peer-to-peer interactions have yet to be realized. That said, some companies are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to accelerate change within their organization. 

For example, a telecom operator prioritized change management after COVID-19 made in-person capability development impossible. With that off the table, leadership management quickly shifted its strategy to conduct a series of virtual workshops designed to mimic an in-person format. To reinforce the content with works, the leadership team organized employee-led “lunch and learn” video conferencing sessions to associate desired behaviors with overall organizational performance objectives.

Each 45-minute session focused on a specific theme that emerged from the formal workshop and was based solely on interpersonal discussions and directly linked to events or initiatives occurring that week. To promote an accessible environment, the team used minimal slides, and no senior leaders were present. The discussion helped to engage employees to openly share feedback to close the loop between classroom content, employee behavior, and business results in real-time. Two months following the lunch-and-learn sessions, 94 percent of employees surveyed agreed that they were receiving the support to develop skills to lead or be a part of a remote team.                                                                         

OUTVISE can strengthen your business capabilities 

When it comes to closing the digital capability gap, OUTVISE’s pool of professional experts can help to transform your organization from intensive, labor-driven processes to intuitive capabilities that easily integrate into your business. Whether you’re looking for a project-based specialist or a long-term freelancer, remote workers from outside of your organization can bring fresh ideas, new insights and optimize efficiencies. 

With candidates operating in project management, management consulting, business technology, and more, our pool of talented professionals can help your organization more quickly develop its business capabilities.

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