Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Capabilities Academies: Training Federal Agencies for Digital Transformation

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
October 10, 2022

In June 2020, I wrote a PA Times article about using dynamic capabilities to transform government agencies. We were nearly three months into what turned out to be an almost two-year quarantine. Most government workers were sent home to work remotely from their bedrooms or kitchens. Face-to-face meetings gave way to Zoom, WebEx, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams or similar online conferencing technology. Fears about lowered productivity were dispelled as productivity increased as workers adjusted to the new remote work reality. We all were entering a new era of work.

Two years later, government agencies have learned much from the grand experiment. Yet, as agency leaders experiment with return-to-work policies, the hybrid workplace and the new collaboration and communication technologies, the question I asked in June 2020 still resonates today. “What can be done to help government agencies prepare for unexpected change and planned change?”

What Are Dynamic Capabilities?

In answering the question above, I recommended that agencies use dynamic capabilities to prepare for change. According to Helfat, Finkelstein, et al., who wrote Dynamic Capabilities: Understanding Strategic Change in Organizations (2007), there are two types of capabilities. A capability is the “ability to perform a particular task or activity.” Operational capabilities are what organizations use to run their business processes. Dynamic capabilities are used to “Identify the need or opportunity for change, formulate a response to such a need or opportunity and implement a course of action.” Dynamic capabilities are how organizations can change themselves to create new capabilities.

There has been a recent emphasis on capabilities in talent development. According to noted human resources thought leader Josh Bersin, capabilities have been defined as a “combination of skills, knowledge and experiences employees need to succeed. And these capabilities are often unique, exclusive and proprietary to your company.” Other talent development scholars have noted the value of dynamic capabilities in talent development. “Dynamic capabilities enable organizations to do the right thing, at the right time, with the right products and processes.” Hence the rise of capabilities academies in recent years.

What is a Capabilities Academy? (200)

I know everyone is interested in skills taxonomies and intelligent AI-based skills systems. And even if they worked perfectly, all they’d do is recommend the “perfect training” for every employee at a given time. But would they build capabilities? It’s not like. It’s the experience, exposure, coaching and feedback that help people grow. The Academy gives you the structure to do this well. (Josh Bersin, 2021)

Bersin argues that talent development must evolve beyond courses offered by the human resources department. It is not enough to train employees in skills. Employees need mentoring, coaching and developmental assignments to build their capabilities to use the skills effectively. Capabilities academies are not housed in the training department (even though the training department may provide administrative support). Instead, capabilities academies are a strategic resource that uses subject matter experts and senior managers to determine the unique topics and capabilities of the organization.

I welcome this intersection of dynamic capabilities from the organizational and talent development perspectives. In the early literature on dynamic capabilities, the emphasis was on technological innovation or managerial innovation. There were mentions of new leadership or managerial skills but not a dedicated focus on upskilling or reskilling the organization’s workforce.

The Link Between Digital Transformation and Capabilities Academies

Building and using dynamic capabilities are crucial to government agencies’ digital transformation. Many government agencies are accomplished in the effective use of their operational capabilities because of years of refining these processes. However, as the 2020 Quarantine demonstrated, when agencies had to rapidly shift to new ways of operating, they didn’t have enough dynamic capabilities to transform themselves—primarily digitally.

I remember when my wife was laid off during the 2020 Quarantine. It took the Maryland State Government nearly six months to start her unemployment payments. We spent weeks calling the unemployment department and had to enlist our state representatives to help cut through the bureaucracy. The issue was finally resolved on a phone call to a technician who spent less than a minute correcting the wrong birthdate on her file in the COBOL mainframe. According to the state representative’s office, many constituents had similar problems with Maryland’s unemployment processes.

Now, imagine if the Maryland State Government had implemented a capabilities academy to increase the capabilities of the state’s government workforce. There would be employees with the capabilities to reconfigure bureaucratic processes and invent new ones to take advantage of new digital technologies. As often stated in the literature, the key to digital transformation is not so much the technology as the people that use it. Improve government workers’ capabilities and improve the services that governments provide.

Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Navy’s Inspector General Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *