Capp’s five-step approach to strengths-based recruitment

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October 2019
« Aug    


Strengths OR Competencies – or – Strengths AND Competencies?

Posted by: Gurpal Minhas


With more and more organisations adopting strengths-based recruitment, we’re often asked, “Does adopting a strengths-based approach to selection mean we have to lose our competency framework?”


The answer is no. Absolutely not. Or, at least, not unless you want it to. 


What’s the difference between a strength and a competency?


Strengths are the things that we do well and find energising. We may use our strengths to a greater or lesser extent – sometimes without even realising that we’re using them. In comparison, a competency typically looks to understand what somebody has done in the past, rather than what they do well and find energising. As a result, competencies risk getting ‘good enough’ rather than ‘high performing’.


Competencies are everyday practice


In many businesses, competency frameworks have been used to define the types of skills and attributes that employees are required to demonstrate. The intention of competency frameworks was that they would define high performance, consistently across the organisation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough in practice.


Where the problems start


Despite the intention of competencies in principle, the challenges of their application in practice include:


  • Competence not excellence - assessing and developing employees in line with a set of company-wide competencies often leads to average behaviour rather than high performance


  • Competence not motivation – it’s straightforward to assess competence, but harder to assess genuine energy and motivation


  • All talk, no action – in order to demonstrate core competencies at interview and at work, employees learn the competency catchphrases and recite them as needed


  • Lack of individuality - being assessed for the same competencies across all roles means that candidates look very similar and can’t be properly differentiated


  • The (sometimes) unnecessary blockage of past experience – people can be penalised if they don’t have the necessary experience, even if they have the ability. As a result, competencies can miss future potential.


Integrating strengths with your competency framework


At Capp, we often integrate the benefits of strengths-based assessment and development with the competency frameworks that our clients have worked hard to develop.


This works by using strengths as the more specific behavioural indicators that sit under the more generic competency framework of the organisation.


These are some of the benefits that integrating strengths with competency frameworks delivers in practice:


  • Future proof – because strengths assessments aren’t constrained by what people have done before, they are ideally suited for assessing people for the future in times of change


  • Candidate differentiation – managers and recruiters talk about how they have really got to know the person, rather than just hearing their scripted responses


  • Increased granularity – strengths assessments give a level of subtlety and specificity that competencies alone just can’t reach


  • Efficient and effective – strengths assessments tie in to the specific requirements of the role, providing realistic job previews and avoiding generic questions that don’t predict performance


  • Development of shared language – employees celebrate their strengths as their personal characteristics, sharing them with pride, as distinct from the impersonal organisational language of competencies


  • Increased diversity – building on people’s strengths allows organisations to make the most of ‘spiky profiles’, while still ensuring that people meet the minimum requirements that are needed in the job.



Where next for your organisation with competencies and strengths?


If you’re considering how to integrate strengths as a way of improving your existing competency framework, start by asking yourself these three questions:


1. What do employees need to be energised by, as well as perform well, to meet our future organisational requirements?


2. Does our existing competency framework help us to differentiate high and low performers on this basis?


3. If not, how will the granularity and specificity of the strengths approach most help us?



Share your organisational experiences of strengths and competencies on The Capp Blog, using the Comment section below.

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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.

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