Capability building has remained a high strategic priority since we first surveyed executives on organizational capabilities in 2010. Four years later, many companies are using the same approaches to learning and skill development—namely, on-the-job teaching—that were most common in the earlier survey. Yet the responses to our latest survey on the topic1 suggest that organizations, to perform at their best, now focus on a different set of capabilities2 and different groups of employees to develop.
Amid their evolving needs and infrequent use of more novel skill-building approaches (digital or experiential learning methods, for example), executives report notable challenges in their capability-building programs. Among the most pressing are a lack of learning-related metrics and difficulty ensuring the continuous improvement of skills. In the results from organizations that are most effective at capability building,3 however, are some lessons for improvement. Respondents at these companies are much likelier than others to say sustaining capabilities over time and linking learning to company performance are integral parts of their capability-building programs. They typically use more methods than others to develop employee skills, more often say their human-resources functions and businesses co-own learning, more often use metrics to assess the impact of their programs on the business, and in turn report more success at meeting their programs’ targets.
The capabilities that companies need most have evolved, but methods of building those skills have not. A McKinsey survey finds that the most effective companies focus on sustaining skills and linking learning to business performance.