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The Competency Fallacy Part I

Updated: May 24, 2023

Developing your staff based on made-up behavioural competencies is bonkers. Why? Because you will find no scientific proof in any refereed journal that confirms the necessity of having specific competencies or evidence that acquiring the ones you "lack" will increase your performance.

You join a company, and during week one, they present you with a list of things that apparently will increase your performance. Things like:

  • Communication

  • Problem-Solving & Decision Making

  • Strategic Thinking

  • Analytical Thinking

  • Emotional Intelligence

  • Self-Development

  • Visioning & Alignment

  • Organisational Awareness

  • Business Acumen

The list goes on, and you have no idea how you will acquire the "missing" skills, let alone how they will measure them. But what bothers you even more, is that you know that you were very successful in your previous similar role despite having to demonstrate all of the required competencies.

You also know that the last time you were sent to a Strategic Leadership course, you felt like a square peg in a round hole. You tried hard, but it was painful, and you reverted to your unique leadership style that worked for you and your team.

The problem with these competencies is that there is no proof that they are a must for any job. Don't you believe me? Ask your HR to give you the competency study they have conducted within the organisation and provide evidence that they increase performance in general. But I will go further ask them to show and evidence that those competencies yield performance in that specific role, within that specific team, and with that specific person.

This is where behavioural competencies fail. There is no proof of success. Why? Because success is idiosyncratic. Look at two successful people in the same role, and you will see.

As a hotelier, I have been trained to smile because that is welcoming and is part of the customer experience. I will never argue this. However, I know excellent hotel staff who don't smile but are kind, attentive, knowledgeable, and calm, and they would go above and beyond their duty to ensure your stay is excellent. Guests love them!

But what do we do instead of acknowledging their excellence? During their annual appraisal, we tell them, "You are very good BUT, you could be better if you smiled".


Your behavioural competencies are made up by a bunch of people within the organisation who took a list of competencies and went like this: "I think we need this competency, this would also be great for that role, and this is because we all need problem-solving right?"

Instead, we should find out what people bring to the table and build teams based on that. How? I will tell you tomorrow.

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