What's the difference between knowledge, skills and capability?

capability change management skills Jun 02, 2024
Lata in a gold top smiling; text: knowledge vs skills vs capability

Training is one of the 3 core pillars of Organisational Change Management, but there’s a lot of terms that fly around in relation to training and it can be hard to know what they all mean and the difference between them. Three such terms are Knowledge, Skills and Capability. So let me share my own understanding of these 3 training terms and how I like to think of them (note: this could be different to other people’s definitions, so it’s up to you to decide what makes sense and resonates for you).


Knowledge is understanding what things are. I think of knowledge as an encyclopedia. Pre-internet, I grew up in a household where we had the entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica (including the children’s set) in our bookshelf and anything and everything that you wanted to learn you could go and look up. It was volumes upon volumes. You've got all the information there, but it's just a static book. So unless for historical purposes, you want to use the internet because the internet is constantly learning, constantly growing, and constantly being used. It's practical. I think of knowledge as being “you've learnt it once”, which is why I'm always recommending that my Leading Successful Change students at least listen to the videos or read through the transcripts of the course modules because then they have the “knowledge”. You might not have ever put anything into practice. You might not have built skills up in it. But at least you have the awareness there. The information's gone in once. That's “knowledge” to me. 


The next one is Skills, which is being able to take that knowledge and put it into practice. I see skills as being very discrete. I have communication skills, I have Change Management skills, I have facilitation skills, have this skill, I have this skill, I have this skill etc. If you think about your LinkedIn profile you can picture all of the endorsed skills. If you think about your CV/resume and the Skills section, you've got all of those skills listed out. I see skills as being able to do something with the knowledge that you have. While knowledge is static, skills are the process of an action. It’s you actually putting things into practice so that you have practical application of the knowledge.


And finally, Capability. I often use capability and training interchangeably, but I see training as being a specific activity at a point in time. You’re going to deliver training on the system, or training for the change that's coming up. It's a discrete thing. Whereas capability I see as being holistic. When you think about the concept of leadership capability, it might not just be one training, it might be an entire program or it might be multiple bites of the cherry around developing different types of leadership skills that holistically create a leadership capability. In each training session you might teach one skill, but then holistically the person builds a capability of leadership that serves them beyond that system or beyond that change, maybe even into their personal life. It's the holistic vision of it. 


Example: Digital transformation

A really good way of thinking about this is from the perspective of data. A lot of digital transformation and a huge focus for many organisations is focused on this idea of data and the power that's going to be in this data. We are going to be gathering up all of this data and we want everything to go in a single system so that we have one source of truth for data. 


  • Knowledge would be reading the data. You've read it, great. 
  • Skill would be you take that data and you turn it into say data visualisation - pretty charts and graphs. And that's my skill. That's what I could put on a CV - data visualisation. 
  • Capability then is insights generation, one of the most mature parts of a data skillset. And it's probably what gets missed the most in every organisation. 


I actually learned insights generation capability when I was still a graduate. Insights generation is taking the data, understanding the data, making decisions off the back of the data (and not just looking at single data points but looking at data holistically and trends and how they all interact holistically), taking action and measuring success. 


  • Data on its own adds no value - it’s just numbers on a page, words on a page.
  • An insight is understanding why the data is saying that.
  • Insights generation then is when you're making decisions, setting actions and then reviewing the actions against the data.


If anybody is ever doing digital transformation and to all my consulting clients, I always recommend to them, “Let’s build insights generation capability. You are about to get all of these incredible dashboards and reports and data points. But if your teams don't know how to do anything with it, what on earth is the point of going through all of the stress, strain and expense of digital transformation?” The insights generation is what's the interplay between the data and understanding the data and how we run our business. And it's a complete capability - it's so holistic, right? It's so much more than just: “I'm able to create reports” or “I do data visualisation”. It's holistic about how you use it, what it means, how that interplays with other things and the capability to be able to communicate that, make decisions off that, set actions off that, review and reflect on that and keep continuously improving. 


  • Insights generation is a capability. 
  • Data visualisation or creating reports would be skill sets. 
  • And then the data itself would be knowledge.

Lata xx


P.S. The next monthly coaching call for my Leading Successful Change program is tomorrow Wednesday 5 June. If you’d like to join my course, community, and coaching calls and have me as your change cheerleader, we’d love to have you. You can join from anywhere across the world and the personal transformation and confidence my students build in their own knowledge, skills and capability is one of the things I love most about LSC.


CLICK HERE to find out more about my Leading Successful Change program and join in time for tomorrow’s coaching call

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