Article • July 3, 2024

The Systematic Approach to Developing Core Capabilities, Part 1: The Importance of Structure

By Marcy Lantzy and Glen Newton

While many industries have felt some effects from the economic, policy, and social transformations of the last several years, change has always been a constant for the biopharma industry. For pharma and biotech companies, technological and scientific discoveries, regulatory structures, health policy and politics, payor relationships, and the global health landscape are consistently in a state of transformation. All pharmaceutical and biotech companies need to be agile and adapt to these changes as a reality of doing business—and the ones that do so most effectively stand the greatest chance of success.

But as much as constant change presents an opportunity for biopharma companies, it can also put pressures on them that can strain their operational performance and strategic effectiveness. The potential effect on employees is significant. Working in an organization in the midst of transformation can create an environment of uncertainty that can lead to a drop in employee satisfaction, higher staff turnover, and a decrease in employee effectiveness.

This article is the first in a series about how learning and development (L&D) teams can use a systematic approach to developing core capabilities, not only to improve team member effectiveness, but also to enhance the overall employee experience. In Part 1, we describe the need for this systematic approach, its benefits, and its key components. The articles that follow will go into further detail about each of those components: identifying needs and developing capability models, and building personalized learning plans.

The Need for a Systematic Approach

Given the changes that biopharma companies face and the risks those changes bring, L&D teams play an instrumental role in supporting employees and having a positive effect on overall employee satisfaction. This support can help reduce uncertainty, turnover, and other challenges caused by rapid change, while simultaneously helping increase employees’ professional and career development.

To do this, L&D teams must take a systematic approach to developing core capabilities,  the specific knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are essential to an organization’s success. A systematic approach requires planning that is structured, methodical, and standardized across the organization, with ongoing evaluation and measurement, socialization with leadership and cross-functional stakeholders, and a mindset of continuous skills enhancement. L&D teams that bring this approach to their work have the greatest likelihood of success in supporting employee professional development, retention, and advancement of corporate objectives.

Benefits of Systematic Approach

A systematic approach by L&D teams to developing and implementing core capabilities offers benefits for both organizations and staff members.


Capabilities that support company objectives can help increase employee satisfaction and, in turn, staff retention. There are multiple reasons for this. First of all, defining core capabilities shows investment by the organization in professional development. It also demonstrates clarity and consistency in the organization’s expectations for individuals’ skills. Finally, having defined capabilities like this lays the groundwork for career advancement, because people know what they need to do to be promoted into the next role or roles.

Staff Members

In addition to the organizational benefits of a systematic approach to capability development, there are also advantages for individuals at all levels of a biopharma organization: leaders, managers, and individual contributors.


For leaders, a systematic approach helps lay the groundwork for a learning strategy that reflects their priorities, which can help them become more effective leaders. Such an approach also has several benefits for hiring. For one, it enables more strategic recruiting because it helps leaders and the HR team more effectively identify which attributes to look for in new hires. In addition, by allowing for a skills-based hiring process, it offers tangible ways to evaluate candidates based on their practical capacity for doing the job rather than simply using subjective insights about how well they talk about their experience and qualifications. Finally, it supports strong succession planning, because it helps identify the skills needed to backfill roles and enables more proactive recruiting.


Managers benefit from a systematic approach because it offers them a set of tools for guiding their teams. For example, it gives them more inputs beyond performance reviews alone that they can use to recognize high performance by members of their team. These can include dynamics such as customer feedback, completion of training programs, and attainment of KPIs. And in cases where team members are not meeting expectations, it helps identify areas of development. Importantly, a systematic approach also creates opportunities for development conversations to be both more productive and more frequent, as opposed to being held only during performance reviews. And finally, it helps make performance reviews more effective because it offers objective measurement criteria and data-driven assessments.

Individual Contributors

A systematic approach helps individual contributors by showing them the skills and behaviors they need to perform successfully in their roles. It also creates the opportunity for team members to have more productive professional development conversations with their managers. Finally, it can make performance reviews more productive for individual contributors because it consistently aligns individuals’ work with corporate objectives, for example when an organization that prioritizes developing cross-functional collaboration tracks and quantifies interaction between departments.

Key Components of a Systematic Approach to Capability Development

There are two primary components to a systematic approach to developing core capabilities:

  • Identifying needs and defining capabilities
  • Building personalized learning plans

Needs Analyses and Core Capabilities

A needs analysis is the process of identifying and evaluating individuals’ needs and areas for development. It does so by finding the gap between their current skills and abilities and the capabilities needed to perform the duties of a role. One of the benefits of a needs analysis is that it provides a 360-degree understanding of the support individuals need from leaders, managers, and the individuals themselves. Components of a needs analysis include the following:

  • Defining the current state
  • Defining the desired future state
  • Identifying the knowledge, skills, and capabilities needed to bridge the gap between the current state and the desired future state

Together, these elements become key components of aligning on core capabilities for the organization and informing the learning pathways that are used to support the next one to five years of individuals’ career progression.

Capabilities include the knowledge and skills that the roles need to adapt and flex to meet future needs. By focusing on capabilities, organizations can focus development on the knowledge and skills that allow individuals to thrive in fast-paced, cross-functional, and constantly changing environments.

Core capabilities are used to develop capability models, which are structured frameworks that outline and articulate the specific skills and capabilities required for success in a specific role. Capability models can include the following:

  • Knowledge and skills for each capability
  • Details about contextual examples that describe what the capability looks like in practice when a person is deploying their knowledge and skill
  • Definitions of proficiency levels that share expectations for how each role should be performing related to each capability

Aligning to a core set of capabilities has several benefits, including making it more likely that individuals’ professional development supports corporate goals, offering direction on career paths, and providing consistent and clear expectations. By developing robust capabilities and aligning roles to them, organizations can help ensure that they have the necessary resources and future-focused skills to meet customer, market, and organizational needs and expectations.

Personalized Learning Plans

Personalized learning plans (PLPs) are the other key component of this systematic approach. PLPs are professional development roadmaps that are customized for individual employees. They provide curriculum options to develop and enhance individual and team capabilities, and they can be included in capability planners or leaders can refer to them during discussions with their direct reports about ways to improve in specific capabilities. Among the benefits of PLPs are skill development targeted to the individual, greater employee satisfaction and retention, and alignment with corporate objectives. Employees generally appreciate PLPs because they are personalized to them, as opposed to the “one size fits all” approach that many biopharma companies have historically taken.


In part 2, we will take a deeper look at needs analyses and identifying core capabilities and skills. The article will demonstrate how taking the time to conduct a needs analysis and identify the capabilities to meet those needs helps organizations ensure that they have the necessary resources and future-focused skills to meet customer, market, and organizational expectations. It will also detail the key steps and best practices for conducting needs analyses and developing capability models and aligning them using a systematic approach, with specific guidance for building the models in the most impactful way possible.