The Website and Blog of HR Author and Speaker Lori Kleiman

Employee Competency: The “What” AND the “How”

employee competency

Rebecca and Kate attended similar schools, took similar courses, achieved similar grades, landed similar jobs in similar companies… Yet Kate has been much more successful in her career, having been promoted several times whereas Rebecca is still in her original position. How could this be?

The answer is because Kate brings a unique set of behaviors to her role, so that she not only completes the assigned tasks of her job but consistently goes above and beyond due to her understanding of the “behaviors” or “competencies” that are most valued by her company.

HR professionals can support Kate and help Rebecca by facilitating a process of identifying the shared competencies that most influence individual, group, and organizational success. The process often begins with identifying specific employees that consistently perform beyond expectations on the “WHAT” of their job. In HR Hacks, we offer a template for evaluating your top talent. These are the employees that consistently exceed revenue targets, quickly resolve customer challenges, produce highly effective marketing campaigns, build collaborative production teams, etc. When you look at what these people have in common, you can begin to identify the underlying competencies that are influencing organizational success. The six we focus on in HR Hacks are:

  • Talent
  • Ambition
  • Behaviors
  • Performance
  • Engagement
  • Potential

The HR professional can help to codify your competencies into defined competencies. For example, it may be that a shared characteristic among the high performers at a company is the ability to work within a group setting. HR leaders know that these characteristics can be defined as “teamwork” and provide a mutually understandable definition of “teamwork”, such as “the ability and willingness to align one’s own behavior with the needs, priorities, and mission of the organization.”

The next step (and one that is sometimes left out) is to define the competency at several different levels so that teamwork can be translated to fit the range of roles within the organization. For example, an entry level or lower paid employee may demonstrate teamwork by actively participating in team meetings supporting team decisions, assisting in team meetings; whereas a more senior level employee may demonstrate teamwork by providing information and ideas to support collaborative decisions, solving mutual challenges, and resolving conflicts within and across departments.

Ultimately, a “Competency Model” emerges that is defined to meet a reasonable number of levels within an organization (i.e., three to five levels). To get an example of a final teamwork competency click here.

Competencies can be incorporated into a variety of HR systems, including performance management where employees are rated on the level of where they consistently demonstrate behaviors.  Many companies use their competency models for purposes of promoting and developing employees, reinforcing their commitment to the fact that “how” a person behaves is as important as “what” a person achieves.

Kate figured this out on her own, but Rebecca hasn’t. Perhaps HR can help not only Rebecca but others like her who want to be successful but just don’t know “how”.

Lori Kleiman is an HR expert who presents to business people and groups. Click here to see a video of Lori in action. If you’d like to have Lori keynote one of her HR presentations at your upcoming event, click here, or email Lori directly at!
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