A bit more on Capabilities from Thomas Stewart, New Balance, White & Case and KFC


   I had a chat with Thomas Stewart after his keynote at the HRD Business Summit on Tuesday.

We first discussed how his organisational capabilities relate to David Ulrich’s.

I explained that, to me, his capabilities seem quite like Gary Hamel’s and CK Prahalad’s core competencies.  For him, the two ideas are different because his have more focus (‘they talk about 20 to 30 core competencies’ – and ‘they don’t think in terms of systems’).

However, Stewart did agree that his capabilities are different to Ulrich’s, and this is because his own definition includes people and other things – although he also thinks Ulrich’s work on Leadership Brand comes closer to his own approach.

Mmm.  Maybe.  But I still think the analysis I provided in my last post is correct.


Secondly, we talked about examples of organisations’ capabilities which focus specifically around relationships between their people, ie social capital, and I’ve posted on this part of the discussion on my Social Advantage blog.


The other thing I wanted to do here is mention briefly some of the capabilities that some of the speakers seemed to be developing in their organisations (not that they were necessarily thinking or talking about it in these terms):



New Balance

Paul Kennedy from New Balance described the capabilities of this UK based manufacturing firm as its external relationships with customers (as well as sports people, the military and so on) which allow it to directly replenish stocks and customise orders etc.  To develop these deep relationships externally the company needs good internal relationships with its people too.

So it has invested in learning and teaming, for example:

  • Introducing online learning resource centres linked to NVQs to open up peoples’ minds to learning
  • Providing skills to work across jobs in the factory
  • Closing the factory and taking all staff on two offsites to discuss their issues and ask for their ideas (they suggested reducing teams from 6 to 4 people) – empowering them to create their own future history and giving them confidence to take action
  • Building cross-functional groups.



White & Case

Kate Griffiths-Lambeth White & Case described the capability of White & Case as specialism in international legal issues supported by experience in multijurisdictional issues in numerous legal systems.

This specialism makes recruitment more difficult, as does the company’s fast growth taking it to 600 lawyers in London.  So this has meant more focus in this area – looking for more people with the specialist skillsets required.  And also specific actions in other areas too, for example one of their award winning benefits is health screening – given the risk of skin cancer for those people who have been working in places that get a bit more sun than here!




Misty Reich from KFC described Stewart as a ‘kindred mind’ and her own company’s strategy as well aligned with his thinking on capabilities.  Her point in particular is that HR strategy needs to match the stage of growth your company is in.

KFC UK has 22,000 mostly hourly employees (it is part of Yum Brands with over 1m employees) and has 782 restaraunts which is growing by 30 to 40 restaraunts per year.  This means its main capability is being great at recruitment (or, since this is an activity, not an outcome, something about having the people available enabling it to grow).

Expectations are changing –“Gen X / Gen Y doesn’t know who to interact expect through technology”.  And it will get to a point that it will be awkward to turn off technology when wanting to explore employment.

But companies don’t currently make good use of this.  We’ve been recruiting online for 15 years and 78% of Uk employers now use corporate websites and 29% use commercial job boards for candidate attraction (but mainly just for perusal not online application ie there’s no power behind this).  And only 7% use social media for candidate attracting and networking – people don’t know what to do about social media.

So this has provided KFC with an opportunity to gain a competitive edge.  They have brought recruitment back in-house and made people experts in recruitment, supported by technology.





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I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).


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