So said Laurence J Peter, a high-profile Canadian educator, perhaps best known for his management theory, the ‘Peter Principle’, published in 1969. This theory proposes that candidates tend to be selected on how well they’re doing in their current role, rather than how well they’re able to deliver an intended one. In his eyes, we only stop promoting people when they’re clearly no longer performing effectively. In other words, because we’ve little way of measuring competence in a future role, employees will naturally ‘rise to the level of their incompetence’.
It’s partly because ‘competence’ is a hazy concept, and (some would say) a subjective one, hence Peter’s fairly damning quote above. The HSE describe competence this way: “the combination of training, skills, experience and knowledge that a person has, and their ability to apply them to perform a task safely. Other factors, such as attitude and physical ability, can also affect someone’s competence.”
So, it’s clear that competence has two broad categories: technical and behavioural, with every person’s working life combining bits of both. On the one hand, technical competencies are easily measured or verified by qualifications gained, certification, and the proven ability to use certain machinery or software. Behavioural competencies, on the other hand, are less easy to measure. These are the ‘soft’ skills like leadership, initiative, clear-headedness in a crisis, and so on. How do you measure those?
Many engineering firms now require that all contractors – on top of providing training and qualification records – evaluate the competency of all their staff. That’s a big ask, when competency seems like such a subjective asset. But, if done well, identifying required competencies for every role your people do can give employees a clear road-map of what’s expected of them, and an understanding of which of their talents are most valued. There’s merit in getting it right – not just to satisfy your client, but to keep staff motivated and happy too.
After all, with so many of them related to personal attributes, they’re pretty hard to pin down and prove. Or are they?
isCompliant has spotted how tough it can be to measure competency, and to ensure that every person is right for the job they’re about to do. In response, we’ve built a role-based Competency feature into isCompliant that fits snugly into the Employees module there. Here, you can associate your people’s competencies with job roles and auto-populate employee records with those competencies based on their current role. Crucially, an employee can be evaluated against a proposed one too, as the feature allows you to define the ‘must-have’ competencies for any role. Use this feature, and you’ll get a bright red traffic light if you put someone in a role for which they are not competent. Simply put, you’ll avoid promoting any staff ‘to the level of their incompetence’. That’s good news, not just for your client, but for everyone.
The result? A satisfied client, and employees who know exactly what they are doing. So, while beauty, truth, and contact lenses may very well be in the eye of the beholder, we’d be inclined to disagree with the late Mr Peter on competency being so, too. It’s just that isCompliant hadn’t been invented yet.
Tags: competence, competency, HR management, ISO 9001, iso 9001:2015, knowledge, people management, peter principle, qualifications, recruitment, training