Competencies: Management Funda; V4 Issue 4


Your HR department has published a competency manual comprising of competencies for various roles for your company. You have seen it. It looks nice and sounds ‘very important’. But you just cannot imagine how you are going to use it. Before you dismiss ‘Competencies’ as HR mumbo jumbo with no conceivable value to you do read this article. In this article an attempt has been made to familiarize you with some basic concepts related to ‘Competencies’.

What are Competencies?

A competency is an underlying characteristic of an individual ie., it is a fairly deep and enduring part of a person’s personality. It can predict behavior in a wide variety of situations and job tasks. What is important for you to understand is that a competency is related to effective/superior performance in a job.  This means if you know the competencies required for a role, you can select, develop and manage people based on an understanding of these competencies. Following are the 5 types of competency-characteristics:

  1. Motives: they “drive, direct and select” behavior toward certain actions or goals and away from others. E.g. Achievement-oriented people consistently set challenging goals for themselves.
  2. Traits: are physical characteristics and consistent responses to situations or information.  E.g. Good eyesight is a physical trait competency of combat pilots.
  3. Self-concept: a person’s attitudes, values, or self-image E.g. Self-confidence, a person’s belief that he/she can be effective in almost any situation is part of that person’s concept of self.
  4. Knowledge: information that a person has in specific content areas.  However, knowledge at best predicts what someone “can” do not what he/she “will” do E.g. A surgeon’s knowledge of nerves in the human body.
  5. Skill: the ability to perform a certain physical or mental task.  Mental or cognitive skill-competencies include analytical thinking (processing knowledge and data, determining cause and effect, organizing data and plans) and conceptual thinking (recognizing patterns in complex data).

As the figure above illustrates knowledge and skill competencies tend to be visible and relatively surface characteristics of people whereas self-concept, trait and motive competencies are more hidden, “deeper” and central in the personality. 

Competencies are contextual. They are related to the organization, the function, the role, the level and the timing. Hence competencies developed in one context cannot be generalized to another. A competency with the same name can mean different things in two different companies. 

Example of a Competency
Each Competency has a narrative definition with a few behavioural indicators ie., ways of demonstrating the competency in the job. Behavioural indicators indicate the existence of a competency in a person.

A competency manual contains the definitions of several competencies applicable to different roles in the organization. These competencies could be of different types. The combination of these types of competencies is called a competency framework. For instance in one of the companies in the auto sector there are 7 common competencies called leadership competencies applicable to all employee for e.g., Customer Focus, 1 competency applicable to auto sector viz., Auto Passion and 3 to 4 functional competencies applicable to each unique role for e.g., Business Planning. Thus a person has 11 to 12 competencies to focus on.

Utilizing Competencies

For starters you need to have a thorough understanding of the Competency framework in your company. Then understand the competencies relevant for your role and if relevant, for the roles that report into you. Based on this understanding you can be more effective in the following:-

  • Self Development: You can follow these steps for developing yourself using competencies.
    a. Recognize competency exists and is important to do job well
    b. Understand what the competency is and how to use it/ do it
    c. Get feedback on own level of competence vis-à-vis superior performer
    d. Practice in realistic simulations and get coaching feedback
    e. Set goals and develop action plans for how you are going to use new competency behaviors in real jobs.
    f. Get follow up support from mentors, managers, trainers.

  • Career Growth: Competencies can help you chart your career growth. Look at the competencies for the next level of role or roles that you are interested in taking up. Plan to demonstrate those competencies. Also work on developing those competencies.

  • Selection: When hiring, assess the competencies of the candidates vis-à-vis the competencies required by the role. Surface knowledge and skill competencies are relatively easy to develop. Hence it is more cost-effective to train employees in these and recruit people with the required core motive and trait competencies.

  • Performance Management: Competencies differentiate a superior performer from an average one especially in complex jobs and in higher level technical, managerial, professional jobs. So when trying to determine midyear course corrections during a performance cycle, consider assessing whether the lack of competencies is hampering performance.

  • Training/Development: You can facilitate the development of your subordinates by helping them follow the steps given for “Self Development”.


Competencies are not very easy to understand. But once we do understand them, it gives clarity on a lot of people issues and provides some very effective solutions to the challenges encountered in selecting, developing, and managing people. All the best for building competencies for yourself and your team members!


  • Spencer, L M and Spencer, S M , 1993, ‘Competency at Work, Models for Superior Performance’, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  • Rao, T.V, ‘Certificate Program in Competency Mapping’, T V Rao Learning Systems Pvt. Ltd.
  • ‘Workitect’s Competency Dictionary’

FISH! : Book Review; V3 Issue 2

Title: FISH!

Authors: Stephen C. Lundin Ph.D., Harry Paul, John Christensen

Publication details: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006

Number of pages: 112 pages

One of your team members regrets not having become an actor. Another team member is bored with the tedious work and given a choice would love to become a cricket coach. As their manager is it possible for you to help them find passion, fun, and sense of pride, everyday in their work and feel “Thank God it’s Monday rather than Friday?” Yes! as per Fish!, a modern parable engineered to make you and your team enjoy your way to better productivity at the work place! The book teaches you that living your true potential is a choice that one can make every day.  Its unique formula addressing today's work issues including employee engagement and burnout will help you energise and enthuse your teams.


The book’s central character Mary Jane Ramirez was given the responsibility to turnaround the operations team that lacked energy, creativity, passion and good work ethics. For instance the team treated their customers as if the customers were interrupting them. During a chance visit by her to Seattle’s world famous Pike Place Fish Market, she observed that despite the mundane work, the fishmongers were cheerful, playful and enjoyed their work. The book tells the story of how Mary unravels the secret of their happiness and how her team adopts their four principles of choosing the attitude, playing at work, treating customers to make their day and being emotionally present for people to transform the operations department from a “toxic energy waste dump” to a place where people would vie to work in. Inspired by Mary’s teamher company had this inscribed at the entrance which also summarises the principles of this book... “As you enter this place of work please choose to make today a great day...Find ways to play. We can be serious about our work without being serious about ourselves. Stay focused in order to be present when your customers and team members most need you. And should you feel your energy lapsing, try this sure fire remedy: find someone who needs a helping hand, a word of support, or a good ear -- and make their day.”

The book demonstrates how the four principles can be implemented. For instance Mary’s team implemented ‘Choose Your Attitude’ by putting up an ‘attitude menu’ comprising items like ‘energetic’, ‘creative’, ‘supportive’ and ‘caring’ to serve as a constant reminder of ‘making the right choice’. Instead of playing like the fishmongers by having flying, smiling and talking fish the operation team implemented initiatives like joke of the month contest, turning small lights on when it is time to lighten up, posting signs saying “This is a playground. Watch out for adult children.” etc. There are also illustrations of consequences faced by people who were not working based on these principles. One of the characters describes how not being present for her colleague resulted in her colleague losing her job and the company losing a client and a lot of money.

Apart from the main principles Fish also illustrates other important success factors at work like not losing faith in oneself, learning and growing continuously, taking personal risks, not giving up on your team for you own career advancement and being persistent. These are again demonstrated through the numerous challenges faced by the central characters in the book. Throughout the book Mary exemplifies qualities of an ideal manager like implementing what she preaches, giving her team the adequate flexibility and authority to take decisions, being transparent about the problems, encouraging the team members to identify solutions rather than prescribing them herself etc.

If you loved “Who Moved My Cheese?” then undoubtedly you are going to love this book. It uses a deceptively simple and engaging story to convey its message. Take for instance the way the characters in the book describe the benefits of ‘Play’... “Happy people treat others well. Fun leads to creativity. The time passes quickly. Having a good time is healthy. Work becomes a reward and not just a way to rewards.” This book can serve as an excellent guide for creating energetic, enthusiastic, creative and effective teams with the key learnings highlighted in quick read boxes, supported by inspiring quotations like “Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle...Meaning is something you build into your life.”  And you don’t have to be a manager to benefit from reading this book; you can apply the lessons in the book in any aspect of your life in order to keep yourself excited about what you do.

Ask the Expert : V2 Issue 3

1. Our company is facing revenue, market, and cost pressures. Our stock price is down. There is a freeze on hiring and on raises. Motivation has never been a problem with my team members. But off late because of these developments, most of my team members are demotivated. How do I motivate my team in tough times like these?


It is natural for employees to feel low in the given circumstances. But over a period of time with the following steps you can improve and maintain the morale of your team.

  • Be transparent with company news: Be honest. Don’t hold back or play down information even if it is about the negative impact of the events on the company. Let them know what is happening and also what measures are being taken to counter each challenge.

  • Discuss and address fears and concerns: Your team members may be worried about job security, their compensation, and their ability to deliver in tough conditions. People typically need to talk more in such times. Be empathetic. Try and help them. For instance give extra support to the employees that are struggling to meet their job commitments or reassure them that their jobs are secure.

  • Highlight what is working: Has sales gone down, but company has bagged a couple of long term contracts? If so there is still cause to celebrate instead of just brooding. Veer discussions to the exciting possibilities that a downturn can bring in for your company and team, not just the gloom.

  • Give them something else to think about: Inspiring goals can energise and motivate people and help them get out of their depression. Help each of your team members set goals that they find inspiring. It could even be a personal goal like upgrading his/her skill set.

  • Help team remain focused on your team goals: It is easy to get distracted by what is happening and lose focus on the goals. Encourage and appreciate even the small achievements and short term goals met. And definitely reward those who meet their long term goals.

  • Thank them for their extra effort: In times like this every extra bit done to deliver results is helpful. Ensure you notice efforts like these and let each of your team members know how much you value their contribution.

In addition to the above, if you discharge your responsibilities of a leader calmly and confidently you are sure to regain the motivation of your team members.


2. I manage a small business unit. I am doing all I can to become lean and survive the economic slowdown. Unfortunately as one of cost cutting measures, I will have to layoff some of my staff. How can I do it as sensitively as possible?


Your objective during a layoff should be to treat the employees being laid off respectfully and minimize demoralization of your remaining staff.


Firstly be clear as to the business reasons for the need for a layoff. Then determine objective criteria like seniority, critical skills etc for selecting the people to be laid off. Having done this, prepare the relevant termination information like notification letter, salary continuation/termination date, benefits, outplacement, etc. It is also important to prepare yourself emotionally to handle the reactions of the employee. Now you are ready to have a meeting 


You should thank the employee for his or her contributions and explain how the layoff decision is economic rather than personal. Explain the criteria used for determining the people to be laid off. Allow the employee to respond. Listen patiently to what he he/she has to say but avoid getting into a debate or argument. Then explain the termination process. Some do's and don’ts….

  • Prepare a script for the key message so that you are clear as to what you are going to say.
  • Ensure there is consistency of message across all employees being laid off.
  • Keep the meeting as brief as possible.
  • Do not mix performance review with termination discussion.
  • Do not engage in small talk, use humor etc in an attempt to lighten up things.
  • Avoid discussing other employees

After meeting all the employees being laid off, immediately hold a meeting of all other employees to ward off rumors. In the meeting assure all of them that their jobs are secure and explain to them the rationale for the layoff and criteria used for the same. Let their managers once again reassure them about the security of their jobs in a one on one meeting.


3. I take care of HR for my company. I am very happy to see my leadership team trying to proactively do all it can to cope with the expected pressures of the economic slowdown. As the HR representative, I would like also to help. Typically what are the ways in which HR can contribute in such a scenario?


As always HR has to play an important role in ensuring business success by deploying appropriate people practices and processes.

Some steps which typically HR has taken, in companies that have come out of economic slowdowns as winners, are listed below.

  • Align with leadership team: Providing a proactive HR service in a downturn will become easy if you can work closely with the CEO and the leadership team. You will then be able to understand what is crucial to the business success. This in turn will help you align HR priorities to the organization priorities and develop robust plans.

  • Optimize Resources: These times can provide opportunities to hire some great talent otherwise not available to you easily. They may be available at a reasonable cost. Also transition or re-deploy non critical resources.

  • Communicate: Keep communication with employees flowing, about the true financial picture, about their jobs, about everything that can affect them through appropriate channels of communication.    You would be surprised at how often employees are willing to make changes even negative ones like a pay cut, when they understand the facts and are not worried based on rumours flying around the workplace.

  • Take care of your top talent: When you are busy fire fighting and stop paying attention to your top talent, they can become targets of poaching by other companies. It is critical you retain them not only for managing current business, but also for managing future business when things pick up. Keep them engaged by involving them in the initiatives taken to manage the impact of downturn.

  • Continue development efforts: Companies that continue their training efforts gain in the long term. It need not be expensive external training. It can be in the form of books, online training, mentoring, cross functional exposure etc.

  • Relook at your performance management: You may want to add some new dimensions to your performance parameters. In addition to the kind of results you would reward in a thriving economy reward the ones which help in tiding over challenges in a slow economy.

  • Preserve the core culture and values of the company: As the custodian of company culture and values, take steps to retain them. For instance don’t discourage ‘Research and Development’ efforts if company believes in leading the market through innovation.


These are challenging and hence also exciting times for HR professionals. If you truly want to add value to your company, I am sure you will rise to the occasion and find a way. All the best!