Changing Competence

competency_solutions_2008001How many times have you been asked if a candidate or employee is competent?  Every time we hire, promote, or assign projects, we have to ask others and ourselves if we think the person possesses what it takes to be successful in the new role.  In the simplest sense, competence or possessing competency relates to the ability of an employee to do his or her job at the desired level of efficiency and effectiveness.  Although there is not a single, comprehensive definition, most human resource professionals consider the attainment of competence as being a desired combination of knowledge, skills, and behaviors that positively influence performance.

What are the real underpinnings of this idea?

Competence assumes it takes time to reach the desired level of performance. 

Most work on competency, categorizes development as a long period, such as 30 years.  It is assumed that an individual passes through general stages before become a master at their profession: novice, beginner, competent, proficient and expert.  At each stage, an employee should be able to perform a specific set of tasks.  In each successive stage, the employee should be able to perform the same tasks in a more effective manner as well as add new tasks.  By design, the idea of incremental development draws heavily on a manufacturing-based environment.  In a post-industrial economy, most of us would agree an employee should reach full competence more quickly than in the past.  However, no single convention governs expectations.  Some argue that five years is sufficient, while others place the time closer to seven or ten years.  One core trend is that the time to competence continues to be shorter with improvements in education and technology.

Competence is necessary, but not sufficient.

Although competence contributes a necessary component to success, motivation provides one of the other critical ingredients.  Most of us have encountered a talented employee who decides not to perform at expected levels due to low morale, poor leadership, or personality issues.  This disconnect between ability and results creates a dilemma in almost every workplace.  Keep in mind that competence ensures that an employee possesses the necessary capabilities, while motivation ensures that it is utilized.

Competences are multidimensional.

Most would agree that competencies pertain to various capabilities in an employee.  The most basic competencies relate to human interaction: listening, communication, decision-making, reliability, empathy, exhibiting ethical behavior, self-esteem, and other interpersonal skills.  These competencies are necessary to be successful in any group of people.  Next, a slight different set of competencies are necessary to be successful in a complex organization: teamwork, learning, good organization skills, commitment to customer service, planning, accountability, conflict resolution, and acceptance of change.  Most modern work places require behavior competencies as well that relate to analysis, customer orientation, flexibility, problem solving, and urgency.  The last level is job specific.  In order to utilize competencies successfully for talent management or planning, each level must be employed.

Competency-based systems provide a robust and expansive tool for human resource professionals to balance capability with performance.  If you thinking about using a competency approach make sure you can answer the following to the affirmative:

  • ·         Does performance potential grow with time?
  • ·         Will a competency system help with motivation?
  • ·         Do we have the resources to collect, maintain, and utilize competencies?


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