Is capability development the answer?

21 Aug
August 21, 2014

I recently viewed a video from Josh Bersin which really got me thinking.  Josh talks about capability replacing L&D and training.  Is he right or is this just another rebranding of what we’ve always been doing?

Josh Bersin is a long-time and well-respected commentator and researcher within the HR, Talent and L&D space.  I recently watched a number of Josh’s videos where he was making a number of predictions.

I know from experience that playing at crystal ball gazing can be a path strewn with problems but it’s something we all do from time to time.  Josh made the following prediction:

 Prediction 2:  Integrated Capability Development Will Replace Traditional Training

 Josh explained how capability was the key issue for companies, not training.  He explained that it doesn’t matter how many training courses you’ve been on, it’s what you can do that makes the difference to your organisation.  As a result, we need to replace training with capability development.

OK, I don’t disagree with Josh’s general approach – of course companies need to develop capability – but isn’t that what we’ve been trying to do over the years with training and L&D? I know I have!

And, just when we’re trying to get organisations comfortable with L&D, do we really need to change the sign over the door to “Capability Development” – or are we merely rebranding what we do because it’s a hell of a lot easier than delivering?  Come on, profession – let’s stick to one name rather than adding to the confusion.  We know that surveys are showing that only 18% of businesses feel they have L&D departments that were operationally aligned to their business.  Just changing the name doesn’t change the problem.


Yes, we need to develop capability – no argument there. But until we, as L&D professionals, really deliver on our promises it won’t matter what we call ourselves or what we do – we’ll still be the ‘pink and fluffy’ brigade talking our own language and being laughed at by others.

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6 replies
  1. Con Sotidis says:

    Another great blog Jonathan.

    From my perspective the name is what the business knows us as and can identify us as. For years the business has known us as training, then a number of years ago we told them that we do more than training we also develop and via learning so we moved to L&D and now we have a movement looking to change it to Capability Development.

    Truth be told, if I am at a BBQ and someone asks me what I do I say training. I know they won’t understand L&D and they have no hope of understanding Capability Development. The majority of the common people can relate to the word training, L&D is still confusing to some and Capability Development will put a nail in our profession forever.

    We need to stick to one name but let’s focus on what we are here for – to assist business to deliver their outcomes.

    Thanks for another great post.

    • Jonathan Kettleborough says:

      Hi Con,

      Thanks as always for your great contribution. As you are in Oz you clearly get many more BBQ opportunities than we do here 😉

      That said. it’s interesting how people understand training – even though capability may well be your long-term focus. For me it’s rather like being a blacksmith – the world over we all know who they are and what they do – even though the make considerably fewer horseshoes than they used to. But If you told someone you were a ‘equine transport enhancement specialist’ then I guess people would just stare.

      Sometimes calling a spade a spade is the best policy – but it’s what you do with it that counts – not what it is.

  2. Gina Chapman says:

    In an organisation I worked in we went from being called People Development to Learning & Development to Capability Development (CD) and back to Learning & Development, all in the space of 2 years! We changed back because the business didn’t relate capability to training and it was doing the reputation of the function no good at all! I agree that capability is the challenge within organisations and ensuring that the organisation is developing the right skills for the future. This same organisation, after a change of CEO, recognised there was confusion around the title and took action; it also recognised that we, as a function, were there to support Managers & Teams to meet the business objectives & to develop individuals. This involved a lot of getting out into the business and promoting the good ‘stuff’ we did. It was not easy dispelling the ‘light & fluffy’ myth and it was not just a conversation that happened once – we kept plugging away at it at every opportunity. It meant that people knew we existed, knew we were there to support with the business pain points and not just there to deliver an off-the-shelf ‘training course’ as a sticking plaster to a much bigger issue.

    • Jonathan Kettleborough says:

      Hi Gina,

      WOW! That’s some rate of name changing – and a great real-world story to boot.

      It’s great to learn how – with the right focus on communication and engagement – you managed to change minds and gain understanding within your business, Just goes to show that it can be done.

  3. DHL66 says:

    Always love reading your articles and this one has really nailed it on the head for me. What’s in a name – I think I posted a blogg years ago on that topic. We do this all day every day so why does a name change need to happen. What does need to happen is for us to make a bigger impact and shout from the roof tops and be proud of what we do, even if not everyne in business understands or supports.

    • Jonathan Kettleborough says:

      Hi Denise,

      I remember your blog well! I think it’s important that we have the right name for our profession but it’s what we do that’s so important.

      I agree with your sentiments regarding shouting out about all the good things we do – and that’s another topic – but changing what we call ourselves on a regular basis will – I believe – only add to the existing confusion.


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