What people are asking about core competencies

July 31, 2015 Sarah Beckett

On July 16th 2015, we hosted a very successful webinar, Getting to the core of core competencies. Our panelists received so many questions that we wanted to share some of those key questions and answers with you.

Want to learn more? You can watch the entire archived session here: www.hrsg.ca/resources/webinar-archive-getting-to-the-core-of-core-competencies/

1. What is the best way to identify if a candidate has my organization’s core competencies during the selection interview process?

The competency-based interview process is based on the premise that past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. So the behavioral event type interview question enables you to focus on those behaviors you are looking for, and can begin assessing at the interview. The behavioral indicators of your competencies become the criteria for assessment to ensure that the person you are interviewing possesses the competencies that will make them a good fit for the given job, and your organization.

2. How many core competencies should a company have?

Typically, organizations will fall in the range of 3-4 core competencies that apply to everyone. Clients will include other layers of competencies, like leadership, functional and job specific, but for the core competencies, you want to bring a focus to those competencies that are required for the kind of transformation, change or results you are looking for as an organization. The beauty of focusing on these key competencies is that it allows you want to concentrate on those competencies in your learning, training or coaching programs, or any other tools that you want to put in place to make sure people develop those competencies. It can take a while for an individual to develop competencies – you don’t become competent overnight – so you want to bring focus on a limited number of core competencies that are critical to where you want to get based on the type of change your organization is facing.

3. How do you define what level of proficiency an individual should be hired or promoted at?

Determining the proficiency level of a core competency for a particular job requires a job analysis. Using a client example, in working with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), we engaged with subject matter experts that understood all the roles being profiled. Based on that expertise and understanding of the job, we looked at the kinds of activities and responsibilities job incumbents had, as well as the qualitative aspects of the outcomes of the jobs, and that helped us to determine the specific proficiency levels or behaviors that would be required for someone to be fully functional in a given job. At OPSEU, where defensibility was really important, the profiles went through subsequent review, and were validated by other subject matter experts who understood what was required for someone to be functional in that job.

4. Sounds like core competencies and organizational values could overlap and become confused (e.g. integrity) – how is this avoided?

Values are what is important to the organization and competencies define how you achieve that. So let’s say that people are important – that’s a critical value – when you are looking at core competencies that could mean that developing your staff is critical, so a continuous learning type of environment is critical for the organization, and your core competencies would need to reflect that. If client satisfaction is critical, you would look at core competencies that would support that, such as Client Focus. The difference between the value statement and the core competencies is that the competencies define, in behavioral terms, how an employee demonstrates that in their day to day work, and how they behave with respect to supporting those values and achieving the results. So it’s a marriage of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

5. Do you split your competencies into various levels to differentiate by position? For example communications level 1 needed for a cleaner and communications level 5 for a CEO.

It’s not necessarily a direct match to a specific level. It is based on what is required for successful performance in a given job. So let’s say for a communications competency, you have 5 levels of proficiency. You will look at the kinds of output expected in a given job and what would be required to deliver that. So in some cases, even though an individual may be in a more senior role, it is not necessarily a direct match to a higher level of proficiency. You really have to look at the specific behaviors in that proficiency level to see if that is what is required with respect to getting the quality output and results that you are looking for.

6. Most organizations, in my experience, seem to have the same – or very similar – core competencies (e.g. everyone wants innovation), so how are they strategic differentiators?

Yes, that’s right; we do often see a lot of those general types of core competencies. But we also work with clients who will focus on technical competencies or things that are more specific to their industry as well. For example, we have worked with some central banks, and other financial institutions where there is strong competition within those sectors, and we will focus more on the technical side in terms of the kinds of the products they deliver. This requires that some of the core competencies be related to those technical skills so they become differentiators for the organization to stand out from their competitors. Often, these competencies are not available through a common dictionary, so we help the client develop those technical competencies that reflect the specific positioning and differentiation within the market.

Hear all the Q&A from the session in the archived webinar!

photo credit: Scott McLeod via Flikr

About the Author

Sarah Beckett

Sarah is an experienced marketer with over 10 years experience. She drives HRSG brand marketing strategy and the implementation of all related programs.

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