How Can Organizations Categorize Competencies?

Competencies refer to those observable characteristics of an employee that are the components of a job and are reflected in behavior. The key point here is competencies are "observable behaviors" in the workplace. It is because these competencies are observable that it can be measured. Incase some competencies are directly unobservable, it is measured through some behavioral indicators which are indicative of those competencies in the workplace.

There are a plethora of competencies that exist. Categorizing these competencies helps to simplify process of competency mapping. Different theorists and professionals have given different classifications of competencies. Here, let’s look at five most popular categories of competencies.

1. First, on the basis of being a performance predictor, competencies have been divided into two broad categories -

  • Threshold competenciesThe term "threshold" refers to the minimum level that must be exceeded for a certain reaction or behavior to occur. Therefore, threshold competency refers to the competency that everyone on the job needs to be minimally effective.
  • Differentiating competencies As the name suggests, these competencies differentiate between superior and average performers. Average performers may either lack the competency or possess it at a lower degree.

2. The second type of categorization was given by Guglieliemino (1979) who suggested that competencies should be categorized based on characteristics of behaviors. He conducted research on top-level management skills and summarized three managerial competency dimensions as follows:

  • Conceptual capacity which refers to competencies such as decision-making, creativity, and problem solving which requires skills of forming new ideas based on existing knowledge.
  • Capacity to interact with people, utilizing skills such as communication, negotiation, analytical, and the like.
  • Technical expertise such as time management and creation of business plans.

3. The third type of classification is based on unit of measure. The unit of measure according to Hamel and Prahalad (1994) can be either people or business.

  • Core Competencies - To drive the organization towards success, the organization should identify, develop and manage core competencies in the employees. Therefore, core competencies are more business-specific. These core competencies are also called generic competencies. Since no individual can possess all the characteristics to complete every massive project, identifying core competencies becomes essential.
  • Workplace Competencies - On the contrary, the other unit of measure is people. These are called workplace competencies or specific competencies that are more individual-specific and vary with respect to job-roles. Workplace competencies are typical to a job role and is essential to perform that role successfully. The same competency may not be required to perform another job role. For example, job role “A” may require the competency of being research-oriented but the same may not be needed in job role “B”. Therefore, research-oriented becomes workplace or specific competency.

4. Hamel and Prahalad gave another classification of competencies based on the level at which the competency is possessed. The three types of competencies are organizational, job role, and personal competencies.

  • Organizational competencies: These are those competencies that are comprised of unique factors which make an organization competitive. These are competencies that provide access to a variety of markets, make a significant contribution in meeting the needs of the customers, and are difficult for competitors to initiate. Examples include, user-friendly interfaces, effective distribution systems and the like.
  • Job role competencies: These include those competencies which when demonstrated results in effective job or task performance. For instance, sales job role competencies will be those that are built around the sales function such as meeting weekly targets, negotiating with respect to product rate, customizing products based on customer needs etc. The use of job role competencies is becoming vital in the business environment.
  • Personal competencies: Where job role competencies define the range of inputs needed for the job, personal competencies highlight the level of achievement or output from the job. Therefore, personal competencies refer to one's ability to perform the activities as per expected from the job role.

5. A more comprehensive classification was given by Siriwaiprapan (2000) who classified competencies into five domains as follows:

  • Organizational competence: It refers to the competence of being able to understand and internalize organization-specific knowledge. In other words, it to refers to organizational agility which involves having knowledge about the mission and vision of the organization, organizational structure, organizational culture, policies, procedures, goals and objectives and the like.
  • Social competence: It refers to the competence of being "social", that is, being able to interact effectively with others, having interpersonal skills and maintaining peer relationships.
  • Cognitive competence: It involves competencies like analytical thinking, planning, strategic agility, problem solving, organizational skills and the like, that derive the cognitive skills of the person.
  • Self-competence: It refers to the ability to adjust to change, readiness to learn, readiness to develop oneself, endurance, responsiveness, self-development, self-appraisal, self-esteem, persistence and individuality.
  • Job competence: This competence refers to possessing the knowledge of theory and methods and possessing skills to carry out work assignments successfully. In turn, these affect the employee's self-efficacy and self-confidence and job involvement.
Majorly, these are the five most common categorizations of competencies as seen today. There are other classifications of competency as well. While developing a competency framework, it is imperative to select any one classification and base the framework on it. This would make the framework less chaotic and more accurate to work with.