The skills needed to do a job are not just the basic functions but other behavioural aspects. Kate Foreman clears up the confusion between competence and competency

An area that seems to produce a great deal of confusion is the difference between competence and competency. Although we have addressed it previously, now would seem to be a good time to revisit the issue. Many of you will be busy constructing T&C and assessment schemes, either first hand or utilising online systems. It is important that you make a definition between the concept of competence and competency as this will allow you to distinguish between behaviour and knowledge when you are deciding what benchmarks you want to use for your firm.First, let's recap on what competence means. The Training Agency defines competence as "actions, behaviours or outcome that the person should be able to demonstrate" .When we create a job specification, we are looking at the 'functional analysis' - that is, what people in specific roles have to actually be able to do. These are often described as 'occupational' or 'hard' competences as they are concerned with the nitty-gritty of the job.Competencies, on the other hand come from examining the key aspects of behaviour. For example, this might include the ability to work jointly and supportively with colleagues, or perhaps analytical and accuracy skills. They are often referred to as 'behavioural competencies' or 'soft' skills.Both areas are equally important. Charles Woodruffe succinctly defined the difference between the two as:

  • Competence - a work-related concept that refers to areas of work in which the person is competent
  • Competency - a person-related concept that refers to the dimensions of behaviour lying behind competent performance.
  • If you cast your mind back to the last CPD article I contributed, where we looked at making a cup of tea, you'll remember that we examined how I wanted it to be made (the competences). If we applied the idea of competency to making the tea, we might be measuring your ability to recognise when the kettle is boiling, or whether you have made the tea too strong or too weak for my taste, which could come under the heading of 'ability to communicate with colleagues'. In a nutshell, it is a useful way of describing the kind of behaviour that a firm might be looking for in order to reach high performance levels from its employees.Let's look at what a typical list of competencies might include:
  • Communication skills
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Leadership skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Results orientation
  • Planning and prioritisation
  • Business awareness
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Flexibility.
  • This list is not exhaustive as there are many others to consider that may be pertinent to an individual's role.However, if we are looking at what things might be used to assess an individual's competence in a specific job role, we might, for example, need to consider something like the following. Let's make the assumption that we are looking at an employee whose chief role is the processing of renewals business:
  • Draft standard letters, referring to the office manager when guidance is required
  • Renew policies once payment received and update the computer system
  • Issue all renewals as per the firm's procedures manual guidelines
  • Photocopying and faxing as and when required.
  • Specific roleThese are all examples of actual job tasks. Obviously, this list is not exhaustive by any means, which is why construction of job specifications requires your complete attention. Without considering a combination of the competences and competencies required in a specific role, you will not have a basis on which to measure whether or not an individual is competent to his job.It is useful too at this point to remind you that you need also to consider the knowledge that is required to carry out a job role competently. In many respects, this is the easiest area to address, since it is relatively simple to identify what an individual knows. But beware, the risk lies not in assessing what an employee knows, but what he or she doesn't know.As an exercise this week I am going to ask you to revisit two of your firm's job specifications. The first should be that of an employee who is performing a common function - say, an account handler. The second should be the job specification of a senior member of staff, preferably a director or principal. The purpose of the exercise is to help you to recognise either what you have left out and/or what needs to be amended when you measure those job specs against the guidance in this article. So, you should consider:

  • What competences does the individual need to have? Remember, these are the specific job tasks or responsibilities that the person needs to be able to do in order to carry out that role
  • What competencies does the individual need to display in order to carry out the job at least effectively? These are the behavioural attributes that they need to show
  • What knowledge does the individual need to have in order to carry out the job role? A good place to start here is by considering the products that the individual needs to know about and how much knowledge of those products they need to have. You should also consider the underlying knowledge they need to have. For example, you cannot be considered competent to sell insurance if you do not understand what disclosure means.
  • I have asked you to consider a director or principal because these are roles that are equally important, but often overlooked. You will quickly recognise that these roles are often broader and actually require considerably more thought. You will also begin to recognise that senior roles are more complex to assess in terms of what is competent and we will address competence assessment for senior staff in a few weeks' time.On a lighter note, those of you who find time to indulge in a little light reading may enjoy a recently published novel called Incompetence, by Rob Grant. This book examines what would happen if the EU decided to make it illegal to discriminate against the incompetent. The entire workforce of the UK becomes useless overnight - except for a serial killer and the detective who has to find him.Let me know how you get on with this week's tasks - feedback is always useful.
  • Kate Foreman is director responsible for learning and competence at RWA
  • Using this CPD pageFor the vast majority of practitioners and indeed support and supervisory staff in our industry, CPD is about regular learning and study that is planned, recorded, timed and evaluated. If you are a member of a professional body with a CPD requirement then there will be certain rules regarding the quality and nature of study material, and the way in which it is recorded.For staff of GISC members this means recording on your individual training file what the learning was, who provided it and when.It might be structured, such as a course, a learning programme or exam study. But it can be unstructured. This form of study encompasses reading the trade press, technical material or taking part in activities to support your professional body. Some CPD requirements are points related (a little antiquated) and others require a time value to be allocated. For example, it might take one hour to read Insurance Times each week. Most of that could be put as a time value but, in reality, perhaps only an half hour was devoted to learning something. The rule is to be honest with yourself and record the time that is relevant. Always take time to make a note of what you felt you gained from the activity. This is useful information for anyone else considering the same activity.In response to the popularity of our CPD programme each week's CPD page can now be downloaded from our website.To download a PDF of this article as it appears in the magazine click here .