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FAQ About Competencies

We are often asked a variety of questions about competencies, competency profiles, and competency frameworks. In this blog post, we answer four of the most common questions that we hear.

Q: What is the difference between a skill, a competency, and a capability?

A: It depends on who you ask. Many people use these three terms interchangeably. At Perennial Talent, we view skills as one specific component of both competencies and capabilities. And competencies and capabilities refer to a cluster of related Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, and Other characteristics (KSAO) defined in terms of the observable behaviours needed for successful performance. Some people differentiate between competencies and capabilities, with competencies being the KSAOs someone has right now and capabilities being the KSAOs someone has the capacity to achieve (i.e., I have the capability to become a successful leader, but have not developed the leadership competencies to do so…yet).

Q: What is a competency profile?

A: Competency profiles provide a structured method for grouping the most critical competencies for a role. Competency profiles are essentially the collection of competencies (including their associated behaviours) needed to be successful in a given role.

Q: How many competencies should a competency profile have?

A: 6-8 is ideal. Definitely no more than 10. It’s difficult to identify every single requirement for a job, so you should focus on the most critical behaviours needed for successful performance or those make or break behaviours. Again, it is about identifying the “must-haves” as opposed to the “nice to have.” We recommend using no more than 6-8 competencies to describe a job. This way, there are enough competencies to describe the job accurately, but not too many to make HR applications impractical (imagine hiring based on 15 key competencies or having your managers’ rate employees on 15 things!).

Q: What about a competency framework, what’s that?

A: Competency frameworks are the overarching set of rules that ensure competency profiles and the grouping of profiles are developed and applied consistently across the organization. Rules include what types of competencies (e.g., core, job-specific, leadership) will be included in profiles as well as the number of each type of competency. Rules also include how profiles will be grouped together into job families/groups/areas.

To learn more about integrating competencies into your talent management programs (e.g., hiring, learning and development, career pathing), check out our Using Competencies for HR Toolkit!