I was asked, recently, about skills versus competencies. The context was an individual who saw orgs having competency frameworks, but only focusing on skill development. The question was where the focus should be. And I admit I had to look up the difference first! But then I could see where the emphasis should be on skills, competencies, and moving forward.
Now, the reason I joined with IBSTPI (the International Board for Standards in Training, Performance, and Instruction) was to learn more about competencies. So I didn’t feel inadequate looking it up (and probably should’ve asked my colleagues), but my search revealed a consistent viewpoint that kept me from having to bother them. The story was that there are individual skills, but that it takes more to do a job.
Competencies are suites of skills, knowledge, and attitudes* that create the ability to apply them in context to accomplish goals. So you may be able to address customer objections, but there’s more to closing a sale than that. Competencies are aggregates of skills; they’re not just focused on what, but how. They’re a richer picture, based upon performance.
Should you care? It seems to me that you should. The clear implication is that if you only focus on skills, you may be missing other elements. You could develop skills and still not develop the ability to succeed. Thus, organizations are increasingly needing to focus on contextualized abilities to perform.
I’ll go further. In the days of optimizing performance, skills could potentially be sufficient. You knew what you had to do, and you had to do it. However, increasingly optimal execution is only the cost of entry, and continual innovation is the only sustainable differentiator. And that, I suggest, comes from competencies beyond skills.
Increasingly, you see orgs moving to competency-based hiring as well as development. Performance management likewise benefits from focusing on competencies.
Overall, my take is that when you’re looking at skills, competencies, and moving forward, competencies offer more power.
*”attitude” added based upon sound critique from Paul Kirschner.