Behavioral Competencies

Most organizations have a set of core values. Some organizations go to lengths so that behaviors that express core values (and some that don’t) are clearly spelled out. This is useful and provides a common reference point for culture.


Jay has posted the behavioral competencies from the HR web-site  very visibly at his desk. He has encouraged his direct reports and others to do the same. While this can serve as a useful reminder, I worry about the downside of treating competencies as a check-list.

That’s because behavioral competencies are powerful tools in a any leader’s tool-belt. What changes is the practitioner’s skill-level. She may demonstrate a behavior at a skilled, unskilled or over-skilled level. A check-list doesn’t deal very well with nuances such as these.

Secondly, demonstration of behaviors is very situational. Imagine having a tool-belt with all kinds of construction tools. When all the situations you face look like nails, the only tool you need to use is a hammer. A check-list encourages the use of the wrong tool for the problem at hand just so that it is checked-off. 

Jay needs to first examine what behavioral competencies look like at a skilled, unskilled and over-skilled level. Then, he needs to create experiences for his directs that give them all-round exposure. Lastly, he needs to keep up a continuous dialogue where he gives and receives feedback towards development.

Use behavioral competencies! Don’t reduce the practice to a check-list. You’ll end up in a mess.


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