Want to navigate new terrains? Let’s think differently about capabilities…

Want to navigate new terrains? Let’s think differently about capabilities…

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By Kirsty Chadwick and Saar Ben-Attar

The world we face in 2020 has challenged us deeply – not only in our actions, but our perspectives and long-held beliefs. Some of the capabilities we were most proud of, simply seem out of date, others incapable of supporting us, as we navigate new and unfamiliar terrains. We all recognise that the business landscape has changed, but the crisis has triggered something more profound – a transformation in management itself, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in how we develop new and unique capabilities.

Capabilities are often seen within organisations as necessary rather than the source of competitive advantage. In an environment of predictable growth,  they were often linked to functions within the business e.g. ‘our commercial team can…’ or ‘our IT department can…’, harnessing individual knowledge, experience and know-how into organisational performance, along predictable lines. That has served us well in a world of stability. In the midst of the crisis however, we see organisations take a more strategic, almost surgical view. They look for a clearer, more distinct set of a few differentiating capabilities, that cut across the business, to help the organisation transform. Such differentiating capabilities are often unique to the organisation and work as a mutually-reinforcing system, as we step into new terrains and learn to navigate more effectively around potential challenges and threats.

We have seen in our work such organisations use differentiating capabilities to their advantage. They are building new core businesses, redefining their position within established industries facing disruption, even reinvigorate themselves into becoming innovation strongholds. While most have said they have a longer transition in mind, they achieved this within 5-7 years. The results from our benchmark include successful entry into new opportunity spaces, a significant jump in the profitability of the current, core business (in some cases over 100%), and being recognised by investors (where we have noticed up to 200% increase in valuations), within this time period.

If differentiating capabilities are so vital for organisations to thrive in the midst of transition, why is it then that less than 25% of organisations report they can build and sustain them? A series of studies by McKinsey, going all the way back to 2012, point to organisations and their L&D functions unable to meaningfully change this record. At the heart of this, we believe, lied a necessary change, in how we manage the development of capabilities. This is where we are doing something different.

Ascent & TTRO have joined forces, working with our clients, not only to pinpoint the set of differentiating capabilities that is unique to them (an important task in itself), but to provide immersive learning experiences, for realising such differentiating capabilities. Examples include the ability to adopt specific leadership mindsets required for the transition, the ability to practice organisational self-disruption and developing partner ecosystems, to name some. In an immersive learning environment, the business and learning challenge are brought together, feedback is provided in a data-environment and multiple technologies used, to simulate work space environments and their challenges, alongside leveraging other forms of digital and blended learning assets.

We are in the midst of a profound transition and developing differentiating capabilities is key, not only for today but well into the future. We are encouraged by what we see – organisations that can respond in unique and differentiated ways. They develop new options and step into new opportunity spaces, positioning themselves for a future that is emerging. Most importantly, they practice a blended form of learning, to acquire new and unique capability sets, at greater speed and scale.


Saar Ben-Attar is a director of Ascent Growth Partners, a niche advisory and consulting firm, with offices in Singapore and Johannesburg, South Africa.

Kirsty Chadwick is the Group CEO of the Training Room Online (TTRO), providing digital, hybrid and immersive learning and development solutions to industry, with offices in Cape-Town, Dubai and Riyadh.

Original article published here.


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