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FAQ About Competencies: Part 2

This week, we answer more of your frequently asked questions on all things related to how to structure and create a competency.

Q: What’s the difference between a technical competency and a transferable one?

A: Technical competencies focus on those behaviours related to the application of technical or functional knowledge related to a specific job or jobs (e.g., incident analysis and response, asset management, prospecting, etc.), while transferable competencies or what are sometimes called “soft skills” focus on those behaviours that apply to a variety of jobs across a variety of industries (e.g., teamwork, adaptability, communication, planning, etc.). Both types of competencies are extremely important. Often, there seems to be a focus on the more technical competencies, but the transferable competencies are just as needed. For example, I am sure you can think of an instance where someone was the go-to person for help on something more technical, like risk management, but they weren’t very adaptable in their approach. You can see how this might become a problem.

Q: How many levels should competencies have? One? Two…Ten?

A: Competencies seem to come in all shapes and sizes and can have a number of different levels. We have seen one-level competencies and even ten-level competencies! We recommend using competencies with four-levels. Using four-level competencies will allow you to describe what successful performance looks like across different levels of experience and learning, from someone still learning the skill or ability to someone with vast expertise in the skill or ability. By using multi-level competencies, you can use the same competency to describe many different jobs across your organization. This allows an employee and their manager to understand what they may need to work on if they wish to not only be successful in their current role but also any other role that they may wish to move into. Also, in our experience having three or fewer levels makes it difficult to capture the range of jobs and having five or more levels makes it difficult to differentiate successful performance across the many levels.

Q: How many behavioural examples should I include per level of proficiency?

A: 3 to 4 is ideal. Definitely no more than five. These behavioural examples should focus on the most critical examples of the competency at that level (e.g., developing versus advanced). This way you can reinforce the most important examples of what the competency looks like and reinforce these behaviours but not make the competencies difficult to use (e.g., imagine trying to assess yourself against a list of 10 behavioural examples).

Q: How do I write behavioural examples? Any tips on how to do it?

A: Good behavioural examples should:

  1. Begin with one, and only one verb. This way you are only measuring one behaviour as opposed to two.
  2. Be observable – that is, you should be able to see someone doing it. 
    • Correct: Tries new ways of doing things. 
    • Incorrect: Demonstrates an open mindset.
  3. Do not include unnecessary adverbs (e.g., effectively, successfully) because the behavioural example already describe what appropriate or effective behaviour looks like.

To learn more about how to structure your competencies, checkout out our white paper on Understanding Competencies: The Key to Defining Success.