Competencies are complex behaviors required to deliver the desired outcomes at work. “Behavioral competencies” are skills, knowledge and abilities that we develop in relation to other people and our environment.
Some examples include leadership, teamwork, negotiation and conflict resolution, while others reflect our responses to the world around us, such as initiative, adaptability and problem-solving. Behavioral competencies, also known as ‘core competencies’, are different from technical or functional competencies, which refer to the cluster of skills and knowledge related to non-human subjects (such as tools or subject knowledge) that employees need to possess at work.
They are also different from personality traits because they are more closely linked to behavioral patterns and job performance.
What do you do with Behavioral Competencies? Competency Frameworks
To people professionals, behavioral competencies are useful when building competency frameworks that help set out the expectations for each employee depending on their role. Competency frameworks prescribe the personal attributes required from employees for effective performance in each role of the organization, thus connecting individual competency with organizational performance.
Organizations find competency frameworks effective for making conscientious decisions in recruitment, learning, and development, and performance management, as we are about to see a bit later.
Core behavioral competencies and definitions
Since the basis for behavioral competencies is human behavior, listing them in full would take much longer than the space allocated for this article. For an in-depth reading, we wholeheartedly recommend Bartram’s (2005) meta-analysis that reviewed 29 studies and aggregated 112 initial components into eight core competencies. Here are some of the most popular ones in business.
Communication skills commonly refer to the ability to convey information, ideas, or thoughts clearly and effectively – whether verbally, in writing, in visualizations, or by other means.
A common though often misunderstood skill, leadership translates into directing others towards achieving a common goal through coaching, mentorship, guidance – or simply facilitating the resources they need to do their jobs well.
We’re living in times when work environments, technology, and market trends are changing quickly. Adaptability translates into navigating such changes successfully by embracing change in ways that improve the quality and effectiveness of your work.
The complex problems that often hamper progress require deeply cultivated skills to analyze the problem from multiple angles, employ various tools and techniques to identify potential answers, and creativity to make new connections where the solution is not obvious.
Building on communication, teamwork is a further layer of connection where one forms a bond and trust with others (usually in a team) that encourages everyone to contribute and collaborate towards achieving a goal together.
Punctuality, prioritization, promptitude, and meeting deadlines are the keywords defining this skill. In order to achieve these, individuals must take steps in the early stages of a project to plan, estimate time appropriately, and establish buffers in case things don’t go to plan.
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Why are behavioral competencies important?
Behavioral competencies are essential in any type of work that involves collaboration, therefore most professional roles nowadays. They help establish a common foundation for building relationships within an organization and working together. They feed into organizational culture and work ethic across all departments and sometimes externally as well. Finally, having a clear understanding of your organization’s core competencies helps you set out and communicate expectations clearly as well as make objective decisions easier by having an additional source of reference to rely on.
How do you assess behavioral competencies?
You can assess behavioral competencies through various methods and may combine them depending on your objectives:
Behavioral interviews are a common, though not highly scientific way of evaluating individuals’ behavioral competencies in a low-stakes environment. However, they are a good way of empathizing with the interviewee and collecting qualitative information to support a later decision. To gather relevant information effectively, ask candidates to describe their behavioral attributes through examples of their past experiences.
Though also susceptible to subjectivity, when done well, observational assessments can provide a reliable means of comparing individuals against a standard. The standard should be informed by your competency framework, which is based on the competencies and skill levels of other employees of the organization and the organizational objectives. As the name suggests, observational assessments assume that the individual’s behavior is observed and marked by an examiner in situations where they are expected to exhibit the competencies in question. High-stakes environments may require the supervision and marking of more than one examiner.
Situational Judgment assessments are a great, cost-effective way of understanding individuals’ behavioral competencies by asking contextual questions. These typically involve simulating in writing a situation that challenges the competency targeted. For answer options, the test-taker is offered plausible answer options to rank based on their appropriateness.
“Psychometric tests” is an umbrella term for most of the assessments that cover psychological characteristics, abilities, or personality traits. According to Bartram (2005), you can break down each behavioral competency into psychological components (i.e. personality traits, motivation, and cognitive mental ability – link to Thinking skills article) and evaluate them to get a more robust picture of individuals’ psychological profile, worthy of a medium- to high-stakes assessment context.
Finally, while all the aforementioned methods are great for empathizing with the individual and therefore understanding how they see the world, 360-degree assessments offer you a picture of how the world perceives them. Instead of testing the individual themselves, this type of assessment asks the people around them questions about the individual. This type of assessment is believed to contribute to the objectivity of the evaluation by combining the views of people who interacted with the candidate in different functions.
How to assess behavioral competencies as part of the recruitment process
Examples: Competency Framework/Job Analysis, Job Posting, Screening, Interviews, Pre-hire assessments, Selection
Having a clear understanding of the behavioral competencies required for each role is a crucial step in defining your organization’s competency framework which will guide more effective decision-making at each phase of the recruitment process.
Identifying competencies goes hand in hand with job analysis, which may well be a source of validation and new insights about the competencies you should include in your framework. You may then use this information to define the job requirements for job descriptions and postings.
Take a close look at the assessment options listed above and evaluate the pros and cons of each of them for evaluating candidates depending on the type of job you are hiring for. Senior positions, for example, in which title holders have a strong influence over the success of the organization, may require more thorough evaluations. You may well opt for combining multiple methods at different stages of the process.
Interviews, which tend to be time-consuming on both ends, may be reserved for the latter stages, while brief psychometric or situational judgment assessments would provide the essential information needed for screening candidates earlier on. You may also opt for more than one assessment phase – where the candidates take a short test at the beginning of the process and a more comprehensive assessment at a later stage of selection when you need to differentiate among similarly strong candidates.
How to evaluate behavioral competencies as part of the Performance Management process
Examples: Goal Setting/Training Needs Analysis, Performance Appraisals, Performance Feedback, Training & Development, Succession Planning
Competency frameworks and, therefore, behavioral competencies have an equally instrumental role in post-hire. You cannot perform a training needs analysis without first having a complete understanding of the competencies your organization needs to thrive. Performance appraisals and feedback are most effective and actionable if they are closely linked to a set of competencies. Even more so if the employee understands the connection between their performance on these competencies and their impact on the organization as a whole. Once again, to collect the right type of information about employee performance, our suggestion is to combine assessment methods – for example, situational judgment tests and 360-degree assessments – according to your use case.
While training needs analyses and performance appraisals are focused on collecting information, behavioral competencies come in designing steps to close the skills gap or upskill your people as well. This time, you will want to take a look at the competency levels your organization requires, to identify the objectives of your employee development programs. These will help guide the content your learning materials will have to cover; at the end of the training, you may once again want to consider assessments to verify that the learners have indeed absorbed the information.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. While we are all born different and raised under different circumstances – and some of us might have been more blessed with certain competencies than others – behavioral competencies can be perfected over time. The only condition is genuine dedication and willingness to go a bit outside your comfort zone.
Interdependence. Behavioral competencies reflect on the individual, but each individual contributes to the whole, which is the organizational culture. Should you (the employer) lose sight of the unhealthy behavioral patterns that some of your employees are exhibiting, it won’t be long before those habits seep into the behaviors of your entire organization. We humans are social beings after all and we often take after each other subconsciously in order to fit in.
It is no coincidence that behavioral competencies are also called “core competencies”. As many employers may confirm, having the right attitude serves as an invaluable basis for developing technical capability if needed. So while both are important, behavioral competencies are probably more subtle and likewise critical for hiring or developing your dream team.