Behavioural Competencies and Competency Models

October 18, 2021

Competencies, sometimes known as capabilities or behavioural competencies, are a cluster of behaviours that describe the fundamental actions that enable someone to be effective in their job. 

It’s not actually about being competent, but rather, it’s about how you do something. 

Competencies can further be broken down into multiple aspects and these can be likened to a car and how you drive the car:

  • Behaviour – your driving style - how do you get from A to B?
  • Ability – the car’s engine - how much intellectual ‘horsepower’ do you have (in verbal or numerical reasoning, for example)?
  • Motivation – fuel - what motivates you to invest more or less energy in a job?
  • Personality – a type of car – are you solid and dependable or flashy but unreliable at times?
  • Knowledge – the satnav – what do you need to know in order to do the job?

Why do you need a competency model?

It’s not enough to just understand what competencies are, you need to be able to apply them to your recruitment process and realise the value that they have when finding the right people.

For this reason, a competency model is crucial when recruiting as they outline what’s required to do the job well and provide a framework so you can effectively assess people.

They also bring other benefits into the organisation and can help you to:

  • Assess the capability and potential of individuals against pre-defined criteria
  • Accurately evaluate the requirements of different roles and levels
  • Identify training and development needs and interventions for your existing employees
  • Compare the requirements of different roles using a common language
  • Provide a clear rationale for promotion decisions

Why choose a behavioural competency model versus other assessment frameworks?

Competency models work. They’ve stood the test of time and have been developed in such a way that they help recruit the best people for the job, but it’s still good to understand what other methods exist and how they compare. 

Person Specification

Essentially, this is a list of bullet points that describe the ideal person for a role - they can be useful, and allow you to consider the qualities and attitude you’re looking for but they don’t go into the same depth that a competency model does. 

A competency model breaks down what people do and don’t do that makes them a good or bad fit for the role and they allow you to actually assign scores to each competency, showing more clearly who might be a good or bad fit. 

Strengths-based Assessments

A strengths-based assessment often focuses on how much someone enjoys the different aspects of a job, rather than how well someone does them. In some cases, it might be possible to flex a job role towards the aspects someone likes, but this can become complicated and can mean the chosen hire has weaknesses that require support from others in key parts of the job.

Some strengths-based assessments include what someone’s good at as well as what they enjoy, but at this point, they become hard to distinguish from an assessment of motivation and competency-fit.

Get the guide: How to design your own behavioural assessment What are you going to assess?

Ben Williams

Assessment knowledge guru and industry thought-leader.