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What Is Often Described As A "Skill Gap" May Actually Be About Capacity

In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving workplaces and educational environments, it's not uncommon to hear concerns about "skill gaps"—those instances where there seems to be a chasm between what skills employees or students possess and what they need to effectively perform their roles. However, what's often labelled as a skill gap might not be about skill at all; instead, it could be a matter of capacity. Understanding this distinction is not just academic; it has real-world implications for how we manage people and develop their abilities.

Understanding the Concepts

When we talk about a skill gap, we're referring to a specific deficiency in the skills that are necessary for a job or educational requirement. For example, a new software update might leave employees struggling because they lack the necessary technical know-how. Similarly, in a classroom setting, if a curriculum advances and students haven't mastered the previous material, that can be seen as a skill gap. It's a clear-cut issue: the necessary skills are identified, and they are either present or they are not.

On the other hand, capacity encompasses more than just skills. It includes elements like time, resources, and emotional or physical energy necessary for someone to perform a task effectively. Capacity can be affected by a variety of factors, such as workload, personal issues, or even organisational support structures. For instance, an employee might have the skills to complete a project but lacks the time due to an overwhelming workload. Similarly, a student might understand the material but could be too stressed by other subjects to put in their best effort. In these cases, addressing what looks like a skill gap might actually require solutions that enhance overall capacity rather than just skill enhancement.

Skill vs Will

Moving deeper into the nuances of performance issues, the skill vs will analysis emerges as a powerful tool. This approach helps us to understand whether an individual's performance issue stems from a lack of ability (skill) or a lack of motivation (will). Understanding this distinction is crucial because the strategies to mitigate each are quite different.

For example, an employee may understand how to complete a task (they have the skill) but might not do it because they don't see the point or lack the motivation (the will). This is where management often gets it wrong by assuming that further training is the answer when, in reality, enhancing engagement or aligning tasks more closely with an employee's interests could be the solution.

hand pointing at the 'skills' icon in the skills matrix

The skill vs will matrix offers a structured way to evaluate and address performance based on two dimensions: skill and will. By plotting employees or students on this matrix, leaders and educators can more accurately diagnose problems and tailor their interventions.

- High Skill/High Will:

These are your ideal performers who have both the capability and the motivation to excel. The focus here is on keeping them engaged and providing opportunities for further growth.

- High Skill/Low Will: 

Individuals in this quadrant have the ability but lack motivation. Here, the solution might involve motivational interviewing to understand their lack of enthusiasm and addressing those specific concerns.

- Low Skill/High Will: 

These individuals are motivated but lack the necessary skills. Traditional training and development interventions are most effective here.

- Low Skill/Low Will:

This is the most challenging quadrant, where both skill and motivation are lacking. A combination of motivational techniques and skill development, or possibly rethinking their role within the organisation or classroom, may be required.

Using this matrix, leaders and educators can move beyond the simplistic notion of a "skill gap" and begin to consider the whole spectrum of factors that influence performance. This approach encourages a more holistic view of development and performance enhancement, considering both the tangible and intangible elements that contribute to success.

Someone pholding a pencil and pointig at a paper with 2 laptops on each side of his hannd

Delving into the dichotomy of will versus skill brings us to an essential perspective shift: sometimes, the will to perform a task is as crucial as the skill to perform it. This concept reiterates that motivation and attitude can heavily influence outcomes, sometimes even more so than technical ability. When someone has high willpower, they are typically eager to learn, embrace challenges, and find solutions, which can compensate for a lack of skill because they are motivated to improve and succeed.

Consider the scenario of an employee who is highly motivated but initially lacks certain technical skills. Their drive to succeed can lead them to seek out training, ask for help, and put in extra effort, eventually closing the skill gap on their own. On the flip side, a highly skilled employee who lacks motivation might neglect their duties, resist change, or fail to apply themselves fully, thereby negating the advantages of their skills.

Focusing on will before skill isn't about ignoring the technical requirements of a job or educational program. Instead, it's about recognizing that fostering a positive attitude and a strong work ethic can lay the groundwork for successful skill development. After all, teaching someone new skills is possible when they are motivated, but sparking motivation in someone who is disinterested can be much more challenging. Strategies might include aligning tasks with their interests or values, offering incentives, and creating a supportive and engaging environment that nurtures their intrinsic motivation.

Identifying Capacity Issues Disguised as Skill Gaps

One of the most critical skills for any leader or educator is the ability to discern whether performance issues are truly due to a lack of skill or if they stem from insufficient capacity. This distinction is vital because the interventions needed to address each are different. For instance, no amount of skill training will help an employee who is failing to perform because they are overloaded with tasks or facing personal challenges that drain their energy and focus.

Identifying these capacity issues requires a keen observation and the ability to ask the right questions. Leaders and educators should look for signs such as consistent overtime, signs of stress or burnout, and a sudden drop in performance quality. It's also beneficial to maintain open lines of communication and to encourage honest feedback. Often, employees and students will not openly discuss capacity issues unless they feel safe and supported.

To effectively measure both skill and capacity, various tools and techniques can be employed:

- Surveys and Feedback Forms: 

Regularly collecting feedback can provide insights into both the morale and the workload of employees or students.

- One-on-One Meetings: 

Personal discussions can reveal hidden issues affecting capacity, such as personal stressors or unclear job expectations.

- Performance Reviews:

These should assess not just what tasks were completed but also consider the conditions under which the work was performed.

Once capacity issues are identified, they can be addressed by adjusting workloads, providing better resource allocation, or offering support for personal development and well-being. For example, an employee who is skilled but overwhelmed might benefit from better time management training, a revised workload, or additional support from team members. Similarly, a student struggling with capacity might need adjustments in their schedule, additional support through tutoring, or access to mental health resources.

Strategies to Address Capacity and Skill Gaps

When it comes to tackling both capacity and skill gaps, understanding the root cause is only the first step. Implementing effective strategies that cater to both issues can significantly enhance overall performance and satisfaction.

Enhancing Capacity

Increasing capacity isn't just about giving more resources; it's about optimising how resources are used and ensuring that the workload is manageable. Here are some ways to boost capacity in a work or educational environment:

- Time Management Training: 

Help individuals learn to manage their time more effectively, allowing them to accomplish more without feeling overwhelmed.

- Resource Allocation: 

Ensure that all team members or students have the necessary tools and support to complete their tasks efficiently. This could mean access to new software, additional team support, or more tailored educational resources.

- Workload Management: 

Review and adjust workloads to ensure they are realistic. This might involve redistributing tasks, hiring additional help, or setting more reasonable deadlines.

These strategies not only alleviate stress and prevent burnout but also create an environment where employees and students can focus on applying and expanding their skills rather than just struggling to keep up.

Developing Skills

On the flip side, addressing skill gaps directly through targeted training and development is equally important. Here’s how to approach skill development effectively:

- Tailored Training Programs: 

Develop training sessions that are specifically designed to address the identified skill gaps. Make these sessions engaging and directly relevant to the daily tasks or subjects the individuals face.

- Mentoring and Coaching: 

Pair individuals with mentors or coaches who can provide one-on-one guidance and feedback, helping them to develop their skills in a supportive setting.

- Continuous Learning Opportunities: 

Encourage a culture of continuous improvement through workshops, seminars, and courses that keep everyone updated and learning.

By focusing on both skill development and capacity building, organisations and educational institutions can create a dynamic where individuals are both capable and motivated to excel.


Understanding the intricate dance between skill, will, and capacity is crucial for any leader or educator aiming to foster a high-performing environment. By distinguishing between these elements and addressing them with thoughtful strategies, you can help your team or students not only bridge gaps in their abilities but also enhance their overall capacity to perform and succeed. Remember, a proactive approach in addressing these issues can transform the way individuals contribute to their roles and lead to sustained improvements.

So, take a moment to consider how you can implement these insights into your environment. Whether it’s by adjusting resources, providing new learning opportunities, or simply encouraging open dialogues about capacity and skill, every step counts towards building a more robust and capable team or classroom. Ready to make a change? Let’s get to it and see just how much everyone can grow!


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