Reflections on Strengths and Competencies in Organisations
Working with competencies for all of my career to date, immersion into the world of strengths since joining Capp has been eye-opening. I can’t help but reflect on my experiences: What is the real difference between competencies and strengths? Can they work in harmony? What does a strengths-based approach add to that of a competency-based approach?
Having used competencies in recruitment and selection, training, performance management, reorganisation and culture change, I am familiar with their value. However, I have also encountered many of the problems my contemporaries and clients have faced: in recruitment and selection, candidates are familiar with competencies and can prepare for (and therefore unjustly score highly in) a competency-based assessment process.
In performance management, organisations rate KPIs and behaviour, drilling everybody towards a rounded average. In training, there isn’t enough detail from competencies around which to build high impact programmes, and people can often lack the motivation to develop their competencies anyway.
Since joining Capp, I have seen first hand the implementation of a strengths-based approach and can see clear benefits. In recruitment and selection, we create processes that truly test a candidate beyond the shield of preparation, and into the incisive assessment of their capability and potential.
In performance management, we use strengths as the vehicle for helping people to achieve their objectives, improving simplicity and performance. In training, we use the granular level of detail provided by a strengths matrix to define targeted training interventions, delivering training that people are motivated to undertake because it helps them to build on more of what they do better, thereby improving their engagement and performance as a result.
Do I see strengths as working only by replacing competencies though? No, not at all. I’ve seen competency frameworks that work really well, organisations with excellent people processes anchored on them, and stakeholders that are fully bought in. However, there is a wealth of value to be had by introducing and embedding strengths into the language and the culture of an organisation.
It’s about changing the mentality, and this is something that can begin by using a hybrid approach, layering a strengths philosophy into an established competency framework. In this way, the organisation doesn’t have to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’, but can still start to achieve some of the many benefits that have been shown to come through making the most of people’s strengths.