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Hire For the Full Spectrum of Competencies

August 30, 2022 Talent Management
Dr. Steven Sherpard
By Steven Shepard LinkedIn

Competence and competencies mean different things in the workplace. We highlighted those differences in my last piece. As I explained then, while the terms sound similar, they are different, they both matter, and either fails without the other.

So today, let's continue this discussion and talk a bit more about the granular nature of competencies and how they can be nurtured.

The 3 Competency Categories

Competencies fall into three main categories: Core, Cross-functional and Functional. All are important, but there is a hierarchy.

Core Competencies

Core competencies lie at the top of the hierarchy and are considered mandatory. They align with and are central to an organization’s ability to achieve its strategic intent — that is, those functional areas that, in the company’s mind, create competitive advantage when executed properly.

They include such things as decision-making skills, team effectiveness, individual reliability, motivation and commitment to task, adaptability and flexibility, demonstration of the skills required to solve complex problems, individual integrity, superior written and verbal communication skills, initiative (sometimes called bias for action) and grit — that is, the demonstration of perseverance required to achieve a desired goal.

Generally speaking, all employees in the organization should demonstrate these competencies. In fact, many HR organizations rely on them as indicators of employee "fit" when selecting individuals for onboarding.

Related Article: Improving Digital Literacy Is 'Simple'

Cross-functional Competencies

Cross-functional competencies are useful across a broad matrix of organizations and organizational silos. They support the organization’s ability to reduce or eliminate silo thinking and silo management practices. Instead, they catalyze such valuable qualities within the organization as knowledge-sharing across organizational entities.

Cross-functional competencies include financial acumen, demonstrable computer application skills, market awareness and enhanced research skills, among many others.

Functional Competencies

Functional competencies, sometimes called technical competencies, define the specific skills that professionals in a given field or position require on a daily basis. They are job-specific and relatively easy to identify in terms of the elements of success they require. 

Examples include sales acumen, negotiation skills, risk assessment skills, platform skills for trainers/educators, the ability to code efficiently in a given programming language, the ability to perform and interpret the results of data analytics, financial analysis, knowledge of the tax code, engineering skills, language proficiency and so on. 

These are the competencies that drive results and performance.

Related Article: Talent Shortage? Tap Into Transferable Skills Within Your Organization

Why All This Is Important

In 1990, authors G. Hamel and C.K. Prahalad published their now well-known HBR article, "The Core Competence of the Organization." In it, they make the following observation:

“Competencies owned and nurtured by a company represent its critical resource and competitive advantage, and the company should create a portfolio of services that contribute to and extract value from those competencies.”

When hiring for a position within the organization, hiring managers should think beyond the functional competencies required for the individual to succeed at the job for which they are to be hired.

By taking into account the value of cross-functional and core competencies, new employees succeed at their career with the organization and are seen as human capital (an asset to be developed and nurtured) rather than a human resource (an asset to be consumed).

About the Author

Dr. Steven Shepard is the founder of the Shepard Communications Group in Williston, Vt.

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