In many organizations, the approach to capabilities falls short for several reasons. First, as in the case of the CEO described above, some leaders fail to recognize the importance of the target capabilities and, therefore, do not think about systematically incorporating them into the transformation itself.
Second, building capabilities generally requires coordination across functions and business units. For example, developing a robust digital capability might require new talent (supported by HR), new tools (IT), new processes (operations), and new governance (leadership). In many companies, it can be difficult to bring these groups together in a coordinated effort and even harder to get them to see the big picture. As a result, many companies hand the capability-building process to HR alone or seek to address it through a few days of training.
Third, acquiring the new capabilities might represent a huge leap into the unknown. A company in a process-heavy industry such as mining might find it reasonably easy to develop lean capabilities to make its production processes more efficient. But it might struggle to implement a new digital capability that requires upgrades to employee skills, technology, and other aspects of the organization.
The biggest obstacle, however, is that new capabilities call for fundamental changes in behaviors—the ways that employees, managers, and executives work on a daily basis. And behavioral change is hard. Without a systematic and explicit approach, companies can, at best, change these behaviors only superficially and temporarily. Once the transformation process is over and attention shifts to the next priority, employees can easily revert to their old ways of working, and the improvements of the transformation disappear.