Meaning & Definition


Competency is a set of demonstrable characteristics and skills that enable, and improve the efficiency of, performance of a job. Competencies are not skills, although they are similar. Skills are learned, while competencies are inherent qualities an individual possesses – collaboration skills, knowledge and ability. During job interviews and assessments, competencies are used as benchmarks against which assessors can evaluate candidates.

One of the biggest challenges a company might face in recruitment is identifying employee competencies in the first place; it can often be difficult to put into words what employees need to possess to make them successful. Competencies usually fall into three categories:

  1. Behavioural Competencies – an expression of the softer skills involved in an employee’s performance.
  2. Technical Competencies – usually concerned with the effective use of IT systems and computers, or any hard skills necessary for a job.
  3. Leadership Competencies – an expression of the qualities that make a good leader, turned into measurable behaviours.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

  1. What is a competency model?

    A competency model is a properly framed guideline which is developed mostly by the HR functional team that concretises specific skills, knowledge and behavioural requirements which would enable employees to successfully perform their work..

  2. Why are competencies useful to employees?

    Competencies have been understandably very important in terms of how it shapes an individuals thought process. These have been used as a detailed framework to help the employees’ in focusing their behaviour on tasks that are critical to an organisation and therefore, helps drive success. They can provide a common way to select and develop talent. The benefits are clear for employees, that is, it offers a description of the standards of excellence for current roles and potential future roles - in other words, they describe what “great” performance looks like.

  3. Why are competencies useful to supervisors?

    Competencies have been understandably very important in terms of how it shapes an individuals thought process. These have been used as a detailed framework to help the employees’ in focussing their behaviour on tasks that are critical to an organisation and therefore, helps drive success. The benefits are clear for employees and managers, and ultimately, the organisation.

    For employees, competencies offer a description of the standards of excellence for current roles and potential future roles – in other words, they describe what “great” performance looks like.

    • For Managers - they provide resources to help them select and develop employees and provide language to guide performance feedback.
    • For Organisations - they provide an action-oriented translation of what it looks like to demonstrate the values that are key to success.


  4. How do you measure competencies?

    Competencies can be measured by a number of ways, these are as follows -

    1) 360 Degree Feedback or Multi-Stakeholder Feedback

    When it comes to providing feedback for competencies, it becomes important to take feedback from multiple stakeholders who are involved in the process. Multi-stakeholder Feedback gives this exact flexibility to have a rating network in order to run the process i.e. deciding who will give feedback, be it L1 manager, L2 manager, Peers, subordinates or anybody who falls in the direct purview.

    2) KPI/KRA's (OKR Framework)

    It’s crucial to identify key targets for the employee to work towards. Employers can then demonstrate successes and failings with practical examples. These examples might be scans per hour for a checkout operator in a supermarket, or to keep absence levels below 3% per period for an HR employee.

    3) One on One Meetings with Line Manager

    These meetings should serve as a supportive tool to identify and discuss positive points and any areas for improvement. These meetings should be documented and will give you the opportunity to highlight any issues if you feel the employee has work to do to improve. The most effective measurements of competence will encompass a number of these approaches, and ideally feature each of the above.

  5. How do I determine which competencies are important to a job?

    Competency is the aggregate of skills, knowledge and attitudes, manifested in the employee's behaviour. It is the "means" to achieve the "ends."

    For managers, competencies play a vital role if they want better performance in their employees. It should always be borne in mind that the competencies required of each job position differ from one another. In the job analysis and writing of job descriptions. The following factors should be considered in determining the appropriate competencies:

    • Level of Decision-Making, Responsibilities and Authorities
    • Level of Internal Personnel Inter-Action
    • Level of Customer Contact and Inter-Action
    • Level of Physical and Aptitudinal Skills and Knowledge


    For the rank and file employees, the level of physical and aptitudinal competencies form the larger part in consideration. This is due to the lack or absence of decision making tasks that involve significant physical and manpower resources of the company.As one goes up the higher ladders of organisational positions, responsibilities widen in scope, authorities increase, and people management becomes more exacting. As a consequence, competencies will have to change or the mix of it will have to be altered in order to adjust to the requirements of the job.

  6. What are the different types of competency models?

    The number of competency models can be a good list of close to 10 or 15 points. According to a common study done, here are the 4 key competency models which are monumental to understand performance -

    1. Organisational Core Competency Model

    Most organisations have a baseline set of skills that they require all employees to have. With an organisational competency model, you can understand and keep track of these essential core competencies and strive toward a workforce that has each of those abilities.

    2. Functional Competency Model

    In addition to company-wide competency expectations, there are also functional competencies that are needed for an employee to perform positively within a function. These function-specific competencies are often technical. A few examples of functional competencies might be knowing certain programming languages, data analysis skills, record keeping skills, grant writing skills, and more. The skills within a functional competency model might be needed within a specific department of your company.

    3. Job Competency Model

    Unlike a functional competency model, the job competency model includes skill sets that are specifically needed within a job or role. This competency model zeros in on clearly defined needs within a role so that each employee can perform to the best of their ability. The skill sets chosen are usually based on the skills that someone performing well within that role is already demonstrating. The job competencies of one person within a department may differ greatly from another within that same department.

    4. Leadership Competency Model

    When hiring for leadership roles within your organisation, there are typically some key competencies which are absolutely essential. Skills such as self-management and development, coaching and mentoring or understanding and enforcing ethics are examples of skills anyone in a leadership position would need to be effective in their role.

  7. How can you ensure that competence is maintained in the workplace?

    Given the vast subjectivity of competencies, it is very difficult to maintain the same throughout the org. Having said that, here are some steps to work through that will help the cause:

    1. Proper Observation

    Observing those around you is a key step to improving what you do. If you have started a new job or a new task, or are entering a new market as a company, observing what others do and how they do it will help you.

    2. Assistance

    Asking for help is always a difficult but important element to gaining competence. Whether you are starting a new role, embarking on a new task in your current job or exploring new avenues as an organisation; gaining expertise from others who are experienced is a good way to gain valuable insight. So, once you have observed, do not hesitate to ask questions to further your knowledge and build on your own competence.

    3. Acquaintance

    Ensure you are familiar with what you are doing. If its a task you perform regularly, note down then memorise the steps – asking colleagues each time is not being competent. Be sure that you have understood exactly what you are trying to achieve to minimise the need to go back to others. Prepare your own notes and documentation and learn quickly.

    4. Improvement & Upskilling

    Once you are familiar with your work, you can go on to make improvements. This will make you better and more competent. Be honest with yourself – where are your weaknesses, how can you rectify them?

    Soft skills are also a vital part of competency. What can you do to improve your attitude, personality and character? How can you communicate better with colleagues, clients and customers?

    5. Flexibility

    Finally, make sure you are open minded and able to update your skills. Be optimistic about your role or task. Be flexible to take on new ideas, technology or tools that may improve your efficiency or standards. Be open to suggestions from others and keep an eye on new trends.

    Following these steps will open new doors to you and present improved opportunities. When these do arise and you move on, remember to go back to step 1 in your new environment.

  8. How long does it take to develop a competency framework / model?

    Devising a competency model which perfectly fits your organisation is not an easy job and might require weeks to even months to frame the same. Pinpointing the exact time frame is difficult but here are some benefits of having a framework. By having a defined set of competencies for each role in your business, it shows workers the kind of behaviors the organisation values, and which it requires to help achieve its objectives. Not only can your team members work more effectively and achieve their potential, but there are many business benefits to be had from linking personal performance with corporate goals and values.

    Defining which competencies are necessary for success in your organisation can help you do the following:

    • Ensure that your people demonstrate sufficient expertise.
    • Recruit and select new staff more effectively.
    • Evaluate performance more effectively.
    • Identify skill and competency gaps more efficiently.
    • Provide more customized training and professional development.
    • Plan sufficiently for succession.
    • Make change management processes work more efficiently.


  9. Is competency modeling really different from KSAOs?

    Competencies are typically defined as the combination of knowledge, skills, abilities and other individual characteristics (often called KSAOs; including but not limited to motives, personality traits, self-concepts, attitudes, beliefs, values, and interests) that can be reliably measured and that can be shown to differentiate performance.Having said that, KSAOs are subset to competencies

  10. What is the difference between skills and competencies?

    Skills are the specific learned abilities that you need to perform a given job well. For example, coding, handling accounts and writing tenders. While competencies are the knowledge and behaviours that lead you to be successful in a job. For example, problem solving, strategic planning and negotiation.

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