What a competencies-based approach can miss and why this is important

By William Seidman  We’re working with a training team that’s done an extensive analysis of a job function using a competencies-based approach. The team identified hundreds of competencies, developed an assessment of the competencies of its members, and developed more than 40 training classes in support of the competencies. All of this work and list-making, and they basically missed the essence of what makes someone great in this role. The idea behind the competencies-based approach is that you can focus on a particular skill or knowledge area, assess skill levels, and aim remedial education precisely in that area. The assumption is that all of the competencies somehow add up to what makes someone great. This might work sometimes and in some sectors but, often, it doesn’t. Here are two examples of where it breaks down: In one sales role we looked at, a sense of passion and commitment is critical to sales success. The person assessing the competencies looked at the best practices, which focused intensely on passion, and stated that attitude in general and passion in particular wasn’t a “competency” and therefore was not in the list. Yet everyone, this person included, recognized that the list of skills was essentially irrelevant without the holism and energy of the passion.  In a second example working with school teachers, two teachers were videotaped and evaluated using a competencies-based approach. One teacher scored very well on the assessments while the other scored rather poorly. But looking at the teaching, it was obvious that the one who scored highly was a mediocre teacher and the one who scored poorly was a great teacher.  The competencies approach missed the sense of connection the teacher had with the kids, which was the most important factor in her effectiveness. It isn’t that people don’t need specific skills to be successful. The way to assess the necessary “competencies” is to start with the big picture and holism of the positive deviants and drive from this to asking “What skills do people need to achieve this big picture?” Surprisingly, the list is always smaller, easier to develop learning activities for, and perceived as more realistic and valuable.]]>

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