7 reasons competencies are great

I’ll swap you my 80s hair for your google maps

Sure in the 80s we had awesome hair dos, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, menacing shoulder pads, Prince and his Purple Rain.  But we didn’t have Google Maps, smart phones, online banking and instant messaging.

What has this got to do with competencies?  Read on to find out the 7 reasons why competencies are great and you should be using them.

The 80s was great, but there were no Google Maps.

Welcome to your new job, good luck, see you in a couple of months time.


The 80s were progressive, sometimes bohemian, often excessive. This shone through in the fashions of the time. Think of Prince dressed like a modern day frilly shirted pirate in Purple Rain.  As progressive as the times  were though, many organisations had practices that belonged in the dark ages.  It wasn’t uncommon for someone to start a job and have no clear expectations.

Clear expectations is the first of the seven reasons why competencies are great. Competencies help define how a person should perform their role. If all competencies achieved was to do this, they would be useful in and of themselves.  Consider this small subset of leadership behaviours:

  • Defines clear standards and measures for individual and team performance.
  • Plans are developed in accordance with the organisation’s objectives.
  • Provides regular and specific performance feedback.

These communicate to the leader that they are expected to do these things.  This is an incredibly important foundation because without this information a person is unaware of everything that leadership entails.  If not communicated, it can only be by the luck of natural instinct that a person could be a good leader.

Honey, I told you to take THE LAST TURN!!!


As fun as the 80s was, Google Maps didn’t exist.  This meant it wasn’t anywhere near as easy to find your way around.  When you navigate nowadays, you have a friendly voice telling you when and where to turn next.  In the 80s, the voice might not have been so friendly.  One person navigated from a map while the other drove. Before you started, you had to find where you currently were on the map.  You can’t navigate somewhere without this vital piece of information.  In what seems comic now, arguments would often ensue, particularly between couples.

This is a great analogy to explain the second benefit of competencies – they can be evaluated.  This is important because it identifies where you currently are.  It shows you where you are on the map in a sense. Continuing our previous leadership example, imagine you are in a new leadership role and wanting to develop your skills.  It would be vital to know that your planning and organising skills were super effective, but you weren’t doing a good job of providing feedback.  If you didn’t know this, you would be flying blind.

A Jedi you will learn to be


While Luke was learning how to be a Jedi in the 80s, the “work Yoda” was almost non-existent. The closest thing that came to coaching was the once a year appraisal meeting that everyone dreaded. Thankfully things have come a long way since then and one of the reasons why is competencies.

For many people at work, their manager is their primary coach. Think about how much more effective it is for a manager to coach someone if they have a set of competencies that define how something should be done.  It makes it possible to pinpoint highly specific behaviours that need development effort.

By having a set of competencies that managers can use for coaching, the organisation promotes consistency.  People are coached to the organisation’s standards rather than each manager coaching to their own approach. In the same way that there is only one way of the Jedi, competencies provide one consistent approach across the organisation.

Rock Star


Planning to be a rock star was easy in the 80s. First you had to work on your hair, then the guitar stance, then the stage name. If you didn’t want to be a rock star, it was still easier.  Start somewhere, work your way up, repeat until you finish your working life, all in the one organisation.

People ended up in leadership roles, not because they were suited to it, but because they were good at what they currently did.  This introduces the fourth reason competencies are great.  Not only can you evaluate how well you meet the expectations of your current role, you can also do this for desired roles.  Want to be a senior investment analyst or a propulsion components engineer? Not a problem, grab the competencies and see what you need to work on.  And if you’re game, get some feedback from others.

For example, imagine you are working as a Public Relations Assistant.  Your career plan might include Public Relations Manager as a next step.  But how do you get there?  What capabilities will you need and what will you need to develop?  The answer is competencies.  One of the competencies needed in Public Relations would be “Press Pitching”.  This might be needed in both the Assistant and Manager roles, but the level of ability might be different.  For example:

Press Pitching Behaviours Needed By Public Relations Assistant

  • Able to craft a pitch for the intended audience
  • Can pitch across multiple channels including broadcast, print and online

Press Pitching Behaviours Needed By Public Relations Manager

  • Crafts compelling and novel pitches for the intended audience
  • Bases channel recommendations on measurable ROI
  • Has relationships with key journalists and celebrities
  • Keeps up to date with PR technology and innovations

Looking at these higher level behaviours you can understand which you are already capable of and which you need to develop. Your career plan can include specific develop activities to get you ready for the next role.

Before moving onto the next section, we’d like to apologise to the 80s rock stars out there. We love you and don’t really think it was easy to get to the top.

Black Monday or Blue Monday


Funnily enough in the 80s we had Blue Monday and Black Monday. Blue Monday was more fun.

Most people used to work in the one organisation for life. So it’s understandable that succession planning wasn’t such a priority.  Things are a little different now.  It’s crucial that you have succession plans in place, unless you want to be running around like a panicked stock broker on Black Monday (1987).  Would you rather be in control when you have a key position to be filled, or out of control.


Where do competencies come in?  In the same way they can be used for career planning, they can be used for succession planning. Being able to review career plans and understand competency gaps is vital for succession planning.  Using the Press Pitching example from item 4 above, if a person has developed all of the behaviours needed for the Public Relations Manager role, they are ready for it now.  If they are yet to develop the behaviour “Bases channel recommendations on measurable ROI”, then they might be ready for the role in 6 months time.

Blue Monday was more fun than Black Monday

Bon Jovi are out Bjork is in


As we said goodbye to the 80s and hello to the 90s, bands like Bon Jovi were out and artists like Bjork were in.  That’s no small change.  Indeed if there’s one universal constant, it is change. The smart folk know this and like to be in control.  This is what capability development and workforce planning are all about.  It’s knowing where you are now, and where you want to go.  Then understanding the capabilities an organisation has now compared to the skills that will be needed.

Think you could top David Lee Roth?


In 1985 one of the great rock groups, Van Halen, needed to find a new lead singer.  The band and David Lee Roth parted ways. This must have been incredibly daunting. There’s a reason they were successful.  The group was great and that included the lead singer.  His level of skill and ability is rare. Let’s look at some of the competencies that would have been on the bands recruiting checklist:

  • Displays extraordinary showmanship
  • Employs great vocal range
  • Has energetic stage presence
  • Writes clever, blunt and raunchy lyrics
  • Uses gymnastic moves and adds visual excitement to performances

Louis Prima performing Just a Gigolo made famous in the 80s by David Lee Roth

The benefit of using competencies for recruiting is that you have detailed and specific criteria for the person you are seeing. It’s makes it much more likely that you’ll find the right match. You’re evaluating all candidates against the same criteria.  It’s less subjective and more objective.

The wash up

What’s the moral of this story?  Well if you’re not using competencies, you’re stuck in the 80s. And unless you’re fun fashion, awesome music or great movies, you’re not stuck in the good parts of the 80s, you’re just falling behind.


Competency thumbnail

What is a competency?

There are two broad types of competencies:

  • Behavioural
  • Functional

A combination of both is almost always required to be effective.

Competency based assessment

Building capabilities

Every job requires a specific set of knowledge and skills. And this varies depending on the type and complexity of the job. Competency assessment is all about providing a way of building the skills and knowledge people need to perform their current job.

Competency assessment

Competency Assessment Software

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