Defining Core Competencies

Tips for Defining Core Competencies

Too often, organizations have vision and value statements that sound nice but have no real meaning. For example, “We value team spirit” or “We put the client first” or “Integrity above all else.” What do these statements mean exactly? How do I know if I am acting with integrity or promoting team spirit? What does that look like?

Fortunately, core competencies can be a way to bring your organizational values to life, give them meaning, and make them observable and measurable. Core competencies refer to those competencies that apply to every job within the organization and are often linked to the vision and/or values of the organization. For example, if being innovative and creative is a critical value of the organization, Innovation may be a core competency that is essential for every role and would be found in each competency profile across the organization.

These core competencies would include specific and measurable example behaviours that highlight what successful performance looks like from more entry-level positions up to higher-level positions. Click here to see an example of our 4-level competencies.

So, now you know that you want to use core competencies to define what your company’s values mean, you need to know where to start. Let’s explore some options you can take to define your core competencies.

How to select core competencies that map onto your organizational values

Option 1: If you have values in place already, you can map those values to pre-existing competencies (like the ones we have here).
Option 2: If you do not have values in place already, you can consult with senior management to identify what the 2-3 most critical competencies are for all employees within the organization to possess.

Once you have a shortlist in place you will need some help to define your core competencies. Here are 5 tips for how to translate your company values into core competencies…

Tip 1: Involve the Right People

You can survey the entire company to see which core competencies employees feel fit with their understanding of the company’s values. This helps to build engagement and buy-in. Ultimately, someone will have to make the final decision. Senior leaders are in the best position to do just that. They know the company well. They understand where the company is going, and the behaviours needed to get you there.

Tip 2: Pick a Method, Any Method

You can:

  • Send out a survey asking senior leaders to select the most critical core competencies.​
  • Hold a focus group with senior leaders, which is great for building consensus.​
  • Hold one-on-one discussion with senior leaders.​
  • Use any combination of the above!

Tip 3: Ask Good Questions

To help senior leaders make their decisions, it can be helpful to ask them a few key questions. You can ask them:

  • What core competencies will help us achieve our mission and goals?
  • What future challenges might we face, and what competencies will help us to overcome them?
  • What core competencies will set us apart from our competition?​
  • What core competencies fit with our unique culture and where we want to go?

Tip 4: Don’t Pick Too Many Core Competencies

Core competencies are only part of the performance equation. If you want to make them easy to use and reinforce, go with 2-4 core competencies.

Tip 5: Make Them Your Own

Change the language in the core competencies so that it really speaks to your company’s unique culture. If you don’t then they won’t resonate, and people will still wonder what they mean. Just don’t get stuck wordsmithing things too much. Make sure that the behaviours are still measurable.

By following these 5 simple tips you are well on your way towards defining the core competencies that describe your company’s values!