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Seeing Talent Clearly With Competencies

By Sarah Beckett on January, 17 2017
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Sarah Beckett

How did competencies come to dominate talent management in little more than three decades? What makes them so attractive to HR professionals and highly motivated organizations?

The appeal of competencies is their ability to make talent more visible. In simple terms, competencies identify the observable behaviors of top performers—not just WHAT employees do, but HOW they do it. By identifying the competencies required for a specific role, organizations can develop a blueprint for success that anyone can see and understand—HR professionals and employees alike.

By using observable behaviors to identify successful workplace performance, competencies provide greater objectivity and a common point of reference for HR professionals, managers, and employees alike.

Let’s compare a conventional description of workplace performance with a competency-based description.

“To succeed in this position, an employee needs to be client focused.”

Conventional description

A client focused employee will pay attention to clients’ needs and ensure those needs are met.

Competency-based description

A client focused employee will:

  • Clearly show clients that their perspectives are valued
  • Keep clients up to date on the progress of the service the are receiving and changes that affect them
  • Enhance client service delivery systems and processes

A conventional description is vague, lacks detail, and relies on criteria that need to be intuited or interpreted rather than simply observed. What does it look like when an employee “pays attention” to clients’ needs? How could a supervisor or HR professional confirm that attention was being paid?

The competency-based description, by comparison, provides concrete examples of what it looks like when employees demonstrate client focus on the job: showing clients their perspectives are valued, keeping clients up to date on progress, enhancing client-facing systems and processes, and so on.

With clear descriptions of competent on-the-job behavior, expectations are less ambiguous, discussions about performance are more objective, and any performance shortcomings can be clearly recognized by both the supervisor and the employee.