Maybe it’s the mind-boggling speed of technological advancement in today’s commercial world. Maybe it’s more to do with post-recession shift in mindset. Perhaps a combination of the two?

Whatever the reason, businesses have to more flexible and faster on their feet in 2015 that arguably at any other time in history. They need to be able to respond ever more quickly to market moves, competitor threats and disruptive technologies.

This new order is, arguably, turning the traditional transformation model on its head.

Instead of bringing in consultants to develop and implement a change solution, businesses are increasingly looking to hard-wire transformation capability into their own operating model.

But how do these organisations know what in-house skills they might need and assess where their biggest executive capability gaps lie?

“Unless you’re an organisation that undertakes a lot of change projects it can be really hard,” explains Paul Siegenthaler, a transformation specialist who has plied his trade on both sides of the Atlantic.

“People don’t change their attributes and their way of understanding the world just because you have a change project on the horizon.”

He advocates the benchmarking of internal capabilities with the help of specialised consultants, but is quick to point out that if you’re not sure at the outset what your critical success factors are, even this approach can end in failure.

“It can be extremely difficult to assess any gaps,” agrees experienced HR interim Ruth Moreland, who has overseen change projects in organisations as divers as Anglo American, TalkTalk and the London Stock Exchange.

“And it applies especially if the business has not been through a transformational journey themselves before and therefore don’t appreciate what is involved and what will be needed.”

Jim Gunn, BIE Associate, recommends a structured approach with his clients in order to understand the capability required for the task in hand and any gaps that might be exposed along the journey.

“We normally ask a number of key open questions at the qualification stage of any client engagement to help create greater awareness and understanding,” says Gunn.

“We aim to establish not only the current strategic themes and business drivers impacting business performance, but also how coherent this picture and mapping is within the different levels of the organisation.

“We look carefully at how business and IT governance is managed – policies, standards and decision making around process, people, IT and data – then we factor in the track record in the group of companies in successful delivery of change projects.”

It’s an assessment which, says Gunn, helps to get a clear early picture of the cross-functional support, such as planning, finance and HR, that will be required to realise and embed a transformation.

Talking to the experts, it certainly seems that although not straightforward, there are tried and tested mechanisms for identifying the scale and shape of a capability gap, provided you source the expertise and experience to ask the right questions in the first place.

But if that’s the case, why are so many businesses still grappling with it?

For the answer, it’s probably worth heeding the advice of Giles Campbell, whose 12 years experience as a global turnaround CEO, has taught him it’s not just the questions you ask, but when you ask them.

“To my mind assessing a capability gap is the easy bit,” he explains. “The real issue is whether an organisation will ask itself the question in the first place.”

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