From Competencies to Strengths: A Personal Journey
Posted by: Jamie Betts, Principal Consultant, Capp
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about strengths-based assessment is that no-one thought of it sooner. But ten years ago when I was starting my career, competencies where ‘the big thing’, while strengths-based assessment was a mere glint in the eye of a few ‘crazy’ academics.
A lot can happen in a decade. Looking back on our unshakeable faith in the effectiveness of competencies now, it looks like a hazy and confused dream. Competencies became an article of faith, upon which no criticism would be brooked. Line managers huffed and puffed, feeling restricted and frustrated by competency-based interviewing and its endless probes.
OK, line managers said, so someone has done something in the past – that doesn’t mean they enjoyed doing it, won’t that impact performance? But we didn’t listen. We didn’t care – we’d seen some old research that competency-based assessment worked, and we’d be damned if we were going to be told otherwise.
Well, that was then. And much has changed. The saturation of competency-based questioning, and the tendency of organisations to all measure the same half dozen core competencies, led to the ridiculous situation where candidates reeled off fully rehearsed answers before you’d even finished the question.
Any candidate who understood the format, or had been coached in any way by a careers service, was going to simply reel off the examples – collaboration, working well under pressure, dealing with change…
And so, what started as a well-intended assessment approach (to measure people based on their past behaviour) descended into farce. Interviewing became a bizarre ritualistic act. Candidates felt frustrated at being cornered by specific past-behavioural questioning and a barrage of probes.
They lied, they acted, they rehearsed – passing a competency-based interview became a measure of how convincingly you could reel off the same half dozen stories without sounding too bored. It didn’t really matter if the stories were true or not, since you had plenty of time to rehearse them in your head and cover your bases when the inevitable probes came your way.
Thank God, then, for strengths. Just at the moment when the thought of another competency-based interview had some of us reaching for the valium, along came a methodology that just… made sense. Line managers got it. Candidates loved it. And assessment experts breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Strengths are the future of assessment. They synergy of ‘can do’ and ‘love to do’ leads to peak performance. And as competencies start to fade into the twilight, please allow a few of us to break open the champagne – after thousands of competency-based interviews, we deserve it.