A competency comprises a set of specific, related characteristics and behaviours that are relevant to successful job performance. Characteristics that include underlying attributes of individuals, for example their personality, abilities, motivations, values and skills.
Competency and competence are often mistakenly used interchangeably. Competence refers to the ‘what’, that is, the standards of performance and outputs required to demonstrate competence in the workplace. Saying that individuals are competent at something therefore implies they meet pre-defined performance standards. Competency, on the other hand, refers to the ‘how’, that is, the behaviours needed to bring about success. What is it the person does that results in effective performance?
What is the difference between competency, behaviour and skill?
Behaviour describes the way a person acts, irrespective of whether it is linked to effective performance at work. Competency on the other hand refers to behaviours that are linked to successful job performance. Both behaviour and competency are influenced by an individual’s underlying characteristics (e.g. their personality, talents, abilities, motivations, values and skills).
While competency refers to sets of behaviours that are related to effective performance at work, skill refers to the ability to perform a task or action well. They may underpin competent behaviour, but unlike competencies, they exist regardless of whether or not they lead to effective work performance.
What are examples of competencies?
Organisations will have their own behaviour competency frameworks or models as well as their own approach for how competencies are defined. Some examples of competencies frequently used by organisations include:
Proactively shares useful information with others and cooperates effectively in the pursuit of common goals.
Actively seeks to understand customer needs, appreciates the customer perspective and strives to provide a positive customer experience.
Communicates information in a clear and concise manner, tailors the message and approach to the purpose, context and audience, and checks understanding.
Coaching & developing
Shares experience, provides constructive feedback and encourages reflection to maximise performance and realise potential.
Prioritising & planning
Identifies priorities, creates plans and organises processes and resources to accomplish goals in a logical and efficient way.
Drive for results
Demonstrates determination, persistence and focus on producing exceptional results.
How are competencies used?
Competencies are generally used as the foundation for talent management programmes and are generally defined/organised in terms of a framework or model… The competency model or framework defines what success looks like for a job, level, role or organisation. Competency models can be used as a basis for the recruitment of job candidates, selection of top-quality employees, development of existing employees and ongoing performance management. They also provide a useful guide for employees themselves in terms of their understanding of their role and what is required of them.
Why are competencies used?
Competencies clarify what success looks like across the roles and functions in an organisation. They provide a common language that can be used across the talent management cycle including the recruitment and selection of new employees, development of existing employees and performance management. Using competencies throughout the talent management cycle helps ensure the consistency and fairness of all talent management initiatives. It also helps to ensure effective performance by selecting for and/or developing the competencies important for success.
How are competencies measured?
Common methods of measuring competencies include assessments (e.g. personality inventories, 360 degree surveys), competency-based questionnaires or interviews, and/or assessment centres (including exercises like role plays, group discussions, presentations and case studies). All the above methods can be used as part of a recruitment, selection or development process with the best method dependent upon the competency to be measured and the purpose of the assessment (e.g. selection versus development).
What are the competencies of the future?
New technologies, a focus on diversity and inclusion, and the rise in home or hybrid working have changed the world of work. With this comes a shift in what are considered the key competencies for success. Research suggests that the top competencies for the next decade will be:
Gathers and appraises information from a range of sources, identifies relevant from irrelevant information and actively and objectively questions ideas, conclusions and assumptions.
Critically evaluates experiences, learns quickly from outcomes and feedback and applies this learning in new situations to determine better approaches.
Rapidly adopts new technologies, either through adeptly grasping their usage (where needed) or through understanding their impact and empowering others to use them as needed.
Connects easily with others, gains trust quickly and builds and maintains effective relationships.
Respects and appreciates individual differences, cultures, lifestyles and traditions; actively includes diverse individuals and perspectives and treats people fairly, regardless of background.
Bounces back from setbacks, disappointments and criticism.
Maintains a positive attitude toward change and appreciates the opportunities that change presents.
How many competencies should an organisation use?
Competency libraries can contain upwards of 50 different competencies. However, when operationalised in an organisation’s competency behaviour framework, a useful number to aspire to is 6-10 competencies per job, role, level or company. This allows the competency behaviour framework to be comprehensive enough to cover the breadth of performance and/or all jobs within an organisation, while keeping the number of competencies within a reasonable range for employees and managers to understand.