Competency and behaviour

What are competencies?

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?

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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.

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).

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.

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