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Prioritizing Your Core Competencies To Get The Most Out of Your Employees

By Sarah Beckett on November, 13 2019
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Sarah Beckett

We all know about core competencies but just how important are they?

In this blog post, we will show how investing in core competencies helped one Canadian organization during a time of crisis. Discover what core competencies are, their importance and six steps to selecting core competencies for your organization.  


Mini-Case Study for Core Competencies


A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure to hear from several great speakers at #InnovateWork, a wonderful HR event put together by WorkTango.

There was one talk that really grabbed my attention because it clearly demonstrated the importance of an organization investing in the soft skills, or competencies, of their employees.

If you are a regular reader of our blogs, you know that as an organization, HRSG has been working in the field of Competency-based Management for 30 years. We know the impacts that implementing competency-based approaches can have, but we don’t always hear the tangible outcomes of our clients’ projects, as they can sometimes come many years later.

This is why the story told by Julie Lavergne, Vice President Organizational Development at the Canadian Bank Note Company Limited (CBN) hit home so much.

Located in Ottawa, Canada’s National Capital Region, CBN is a Canadian institution that has historically kept a low profile in the city. Even though they employ over 1,500 people most of whom live the city, they haven’t promoted themselves much over the years because of the security surrounding their business.

This all changed in 2016 when a fire broke out at their manufacturing facility, bringing operations to a halt for many months.

What I found impressive in Julie’s story was not just that the company did not miss a single order during this potentially disastrous time, but that Julie attributes this outcome to the employees’ ability to think critically and perform under stress.

Prior to the fire, the leadership team at the CBN recognized Critical Thinking as one of the core principles of the organization, and engaged with Kepner Tregoe to develop their employees in this area. One would dread to think of what would have happened if CBN had not properly invested in this competency.

To be clear, HRSG wasn’t involved with CBN for this initiative, but we have worked with thousands of organizations to identify the critical competencies for their business.

These are often called Core Competencies and businesses use these to articulate critical skills that their employees need to have to ensure organizational success. You can then use a behavioral competency framework to define what that means (in your organization), and more easily articulate and communicate that understanding to your employees.


Core Competencies and Your Organization


So, what exactly are core competencies?

Core competencies are a stable platform from which to develop growth strategies and make competitive moves. Once an organization excels in its core competencies, this expertise can be used to grow beyond the current market.

Core competencies identify the key values and strengths shared by everyone in the organization, regardless of the job they perform. They help organizations define their vision and mission in measurable employee behaviors, improving everything from employee morale to profitability.

By defining & validating its core competencies, a company can focus its resources on these areas of unique value. These critical competencies can be an important basis especially when expanding your competency initiative to include more types of competencies and projects.

Once you start connecting employee behaviors to organizational objectives, core competencies can help the entire workforce align their performance in support of common organizational goals.

Not sure how to identify your core competencies? For starters, consider what your customers find exceptionally valuable, what you do better than your competitors, what you would never outsource, and what contributes to the value of your products/services.

An organization should not have a long list of core competencies. We recommend a maximum of 3 to 4 core organizational competencies.

The fewer the competencies, the easier it is to apply them throughout the organization. I find that organizations that have a more limited set of competencies can focus better on what is important to their organization.



6 Critical Steps to Selecting Core Competencies


Selecting the right core competencies can help your organization to build a strong foundation which is essential to any successful talent management initiative.

Instead of trying to identify a variety of technical, leadership, behavioral and job-specific competencies, focus on your core competencies and transform them into growth opportunities. With a clear strategic initiative, your organization will be placed on a path of profitable growth and success.

If you are ready to define core competencies or improve the ones you have, then this next section is for you.

Now, let’s look at the 6 steps to selecting core competencies:


1. Begin with your Mission and Vision Statements

If you need to dust off the plaque on your wall to know what these are, take the time to rewrite them first.

Strong core competencies come from a clear perspective of where you plan to go. If you have written value statements, you should also review those now. You might find that these statements are replaced by your new core competencies.

I would recommend this replacement since people sometimes confuse the two terms.


2. Understand Your Business

It seems like a no-brainer but think about it. Do you really understand what your organization does? Do you how it functions and who does what within your organization? 

There are several ways you can get this information including: 

  • Sending out a questionnaire to your staff asking for input on what they feel makes your organization special.
  • Completing a thorough job analysis of all the job roles in your organization to better understand what everyone does.
  • Conduct a full competitive analysis of all your services or products.


3. Draft Your Core Competencies

Brainstorming sessions, using surveys, drawings on whiteboards or town hall meetings. There are many ways for you to involve the right stakeholders in this important process.

The various stakeholders involved should include executives, key persons in your organization, valued customers and others that understand what it takes to deliver on what makes your organization stand out.

For example, you can call a town hall meeting to gather everyone’s feedback or a facilitated meeting with your senior executives to discuss which core competencies to select.

Sometimes it is difficult to see your core organizational competencies, except through other people’s eyes.

If necessary, consult your distributors and partners, talk to your clients, do web research and compare yourself against your competitors.

Remember, these competencies you select are meant to be unique to your organization.

Once you have identified your core organizational competencies then you can identify the core employee competencies that will drive your organization down the road to success.

Competency-based software can also help with this process. There are methods available to you and some of them might be more applicable to your organization than others.


4. Validate your Core Competencies

An easy way to fail is to only have 3 heads defining the core competencies for the whole organization.

Especially if you are in a people-driven business, you should receive feedback from every employee impacted by these core competencies.

As with the previous step, you might want to go outside your organization and hear from clients or end users.

Regardless, get feedback and incorporate it into your final version of core competencies.


5. Preach the Core Competencies

Is Critical Thinking one of your core competencies? Don’t keep it to yourself!

The next easiest way to fail is to leave your core competencies in a binder on a shelf to collect dust or hide them in a dark corner of your company website.

Take every opportunity to spread the word about your new core competencies and how they can be used in your organization.

You can get creative with this. Market your core competencies in a way that engages the entire organizational workforce and highlights its relevance to the organization. Publish them, use them in daily business life or even put posters up on the wall at your cafeteria.

For example, I once encountered an organization that had Safety as a core competency. Every meeting began with a safety tip, even those with contractors in the corporate office far from their production facilities.


6. Implement the Core Competencies 

To ensure that your competencies are ironclad and provide tremendous value to your organization, it is critical to spend quality time at this step.

Your core competencies must be integrated into your daily business operations to truly make an impact in your organization.

This might mean having clients more involved in a planning process, including your core competencies in everyone’s performance evaluations and reorganizing a production line.

Set measurable objectives for your core competency implementation and report back on your progress to everyone in your organization. The more employees that are accountable, the better chance that actual change can occur.


Next Steps 


A well-done, thorough core competency implementation can take months to fully come to fruition, especially if all the work is done in-house.

If needed, consider invest in some expert guidance (such as a HR consultant or competency expert) for your competency initiative. Oftentimes, they will be able to pick up on issues and ideas that are hard identify as an insider and see things from an objective perspective.

Are you ready to start building your core competencies? HRSG’s Professional Services team can help you in selecting the right organizational and employee core competencies


Post last updated: November 13, 2019.

Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash