If you’re exploring competency-based talent management for your organization, you’ll have noticed that competencies are divided into two main types: “general” and “technical.” But what’s the difference between them, and how should each type be used within your HR strategy? If you're looking for a basic understanding, read on; if you want to go a bit deeper, check out our free ebook, Introduction to Technical Competencies (no contact info required.)
To begin with, general and technical competencies are not an “either/or” proposition. Every organization—and every employee—requires some combination of both technical and general competencies in order to thrive.
General competencies describe the combination of abilities, motivations, and traits required to perform effectively in a wide range of jobs within the organization. Also known as soft skills, or behavioral competencies, general competencies are an integral part of on-the-job success in virtually every context and every occupation. Examples of general competencies include “interactive communication,” “social responsibility,” and “achievement orientation.” As you can see from these examples, candidates who demonstrate these soft skills are more likely to deliver value to the organization and perform well whether they are being considered for a position as salesperson, a CTO, or a safety engineer.
But general competencies only tell half the story. While your organization may want a safety engineer who is an effective communicator with strong sense of social responsibility, you also need to know that he or she has the knowledge and experience to plan effectively for emergencies and crises, conduct environmental assessments, and perform other highly technical tasks. This is where technical competencies come into play.
Technical competencies describe the application of knowledge and skills needed to perform effectively in a specific job or group of jobs within the organization. These types of competencies are closely aligned with the knowledge and skills or “know-how” needed for successful performance.
Every job profile needs a combination of general and technical competencies in order to capture the complete picture of the ideal candidate. To determine the right combination, you need to understand how these two types of competencies fit into the organization’s competency architecture.
When building your architecture, you’ll find that general competencies lend themselves to the core layer of the architecture, which defines the key values and strengths that are shared by every employee across the organization. An organization’s core competencies will apply to the full spectrum of jobs—from entry level to leadership, and from more generally skilled to highly technically skilled employees in every department. This universal competency layer creates cohesion and a shared culture across the organization.
For the job-family layer of the architecture (which connects related jobs that have common functions and form a logical career path), both general and technical competencies may be required. However, because these competencies are shared by every employee within the job family, it’s more likely that these will be general competencies. Even within a highly technical job family, such as an IT division, different jobs will require different sets of technical competencies. A system administrator, for example, will need to demonstrate a technical competency for “quality management and assurance,” while a programmer in the same division will not.
It’s generally at the job-specific layer of the architecture that technical competencies are used most frequently. Specific jobs within the organization will be defined a unique set of technical skills, with even small upward or lateral career moves within the same job family requiring the employee to acquire and demonstrate new skills and proficiency levels.
Now that we’ve examined the three architectural layers, we can put them all together taking the example of our system administrator and see what a typical distribution of general (G) and technical (T) competencies might look like in a completed job profile: