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Developing Competencies

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As a manager or HR professional you want to steer towards the effective development of competencies among employees. The following components are important:

Making development agreements

To focus on the development of competencies, conducting a HR interview cycle essential. This interview cycle ideally consists of a start, a performance interview and an assessment interview. During a start-up or planning interview, agreements are made about the desired development, preferably in combination with the desired results that must be achieved. During the performance appraisal interview or progress interview, progress is discussed in the realization of the agreements made, after which the appraisal interview / evaluation interview looks at the development and results achieved. The results then serve as input for the subsequent initial interview. In between there are various coaching moments, informal conversations between manager and employee.

Not every organization will organize the interview cycle precisely in this way. That is not necessary either. To be able to steer the development of employees properly, it's specially important to have a conversation with the employee about his development at a number of times a year. To shape the development interviews and thus the HR interview cycle, it's important to know:

  • Which competencies are important to be able to successfully perform a function. This is often determined in a job and / or competence profile.
  • To what extent individual employees master the required competences. The difference between the available and required competencies is analyzed for each employee. Good development agreements can be made based on this analysis. These can for example be recorded in a Personal Development Plan.
  • Which learning interventions are necessary to achieve the desired competence level.

Measuring or testing competencies

Commonly used methods to measure or test the difference between the desired and present competencies are:

  • 360-degree Feedback The structured collection, processing, analysis and discussion of the feedback from multiple types of relationships of the feedback receiver, for the purpose of assessing and improving the competencies.
  • (Development) Assessment Applying an assessment program to select a candidate for a specific position or to be able to give someone specific development advice for the current or future position.
  • Testing competencies Testing with the help of a quali fi ed measuring instrument such as a questionnaire. Common tests are personality, skill and intelligence tests. Many skill tests are directly linked to a specific competence.
  • Observing behavior The focused and conscious observation of behavior and performance, with the aim of being able to provide feedback on the competences of the person being observed.
  • Behavioral interviews The interviewing of a person using the START method. The person is hereby challenged to state how he / she has dealt with certain situations, and the person asking the question receives specific information about the person's competences.

Developability of competencies

Before getting started with competence development, it's important to realize that not every competence can be developed to the same extent. The developability depends on the elements to which the competence relates most. Every competence is made up of four facets:

  • Knowledge: the whole of information, theoretical models, concepts and insights. This is generally the easiest to develop with training, for example .
  • Skill: being able to perform actions. These can be physical or mental skills. This is generally based on knowledge about the actions. Skills can be developed through training , practice and routine.
  • Attitude: wanting and / or being able to show certain behavior. Standards, values, motivation and personal motivations play an important role in this. The attitude underlies behavior. Attitude is less developable. In training and coaching taking into account obstructing beliefs and finding helping beliefs / thoughts is very important here.
  • Personal characteristics: having certain characteristics. This is largely congenital and can only be developed partially, with relatively much effort. Personal characteristics are the least developable.

The whole of these facets can be compared to an iceberg. Only the tip of the iceberg is visible in the form of behavior. Attitude and personal characteristics are not immediately visible, but do form the basis for employee behavior. Competencies are reflected in behavior. So the more a competence has a relationship with the bottom of the iceberg, the harder it's to develop that competence.


An operational competence such as 'Written skill' mainly relates to knowledge and skill, and is therefore relatively easy to develop. However, the 'Vision' competence is strongly linked to the personal characteristics and requires a certain degree of intellectual capacity of an employee. This capacity is less easy to develop. It requires more time and effort and, moreover, the results that can be achieved with the learning efforts are more limited.

Connect with core qualities

During development interviews, attention is often paid primarily to the competencies that are less well developed for the employee. However, it yields more returns if a proper connection is sought with the competencies that are well developed for the employee. Recognize the drivers and state the qualities of the employee. It's these qualities that are usually close to the personality and motives of the employee. The most effective are those employees who are empowered and perform work that fits their personal qualities and talents. It's also easier to develop competencies if they are close to the qualities and strength of the employee.

Effective learning: the learning process and learning styles

Not everyone learns in the same way. One learns best by trying things out, the other learns by reading a lot about the subject and another learns easily by seeing a good example. An expert has developed a handy model for effective learning. He establishes a link between the preferred style of an employee and completing four essential learning phases. The phases are:

  • Specific experience: gaining direct, actual experiences. It's about doing it yourself and experiencing actions / actions firsthand.
  • Reflective observation: reflecting on the consequences and effects of actions from different perspectives.
  • Abstract conceptualization: gaining theoretical knowledge, models and principles and integrating or merging these with existing knowledge.
  • Active experimentation: testing and testing whether knowledge, models and principles also apply in practice.

Based on their preferred style, every employee will be inclined to automatically start at one of the four phases. However, it's important that the employee is also encouraged to go through the other phases of the learning cycle, so that competence is developed in all its facets (knowledge, skills, attitude and personal characteristics). At the same time, it's important for the supervisor / trainer / coach to align with the employee's preferred style with the learning interventions, because the employee feels comfortable with this.

Ways of learning

Coaching and / or following a training course is not the only or correct answer for every development need. Learning in the workplace can also be a very effective way to develop competencies. The development tips take into account the different ways of learning. These ways can be used depending on the learning need, learning style and the nature of the competence to be developed. Below are some examples of common ways of learning:

  • Individual coaching The employee receives direct, personal coaching in the development of competencies. The personal learning objectives are central and the employee receives targeted feedback on behavior and tips for improvement.
  • Learning in the workplace The employee develops competencies, for example, by taking on new challenges in the workplace, learning from colleagues with various expertise and solving practical problems together with others. But also through stimulation and coaching by colleagues and by receiving targeted feedback. If you want to speed up this process.
  • Mentoring The employee is assigned a mentor in the work situation. This mentor offers the employee a learning trajectory tailored to his / her work situation, whereby the mentor encourages the employee to introduce practical problems. The mentor provides feedback on this and coaches the employee.
  • Intervision A group of employees of the same hierarchical level exchange different experiences, ways of thinking and visions with regard to work-related dilemmas. At the end of the intervision meeting, the contributor of the dilemma receives advice without obligation.
  • Training and education By means of training and / or education (at the workplace or outside) the employee gains knowledge, insight and experiences, aimed at developing certain competencies. The trainer guides the employee through exercises, theory, feedback and reflection. Read more about successfully deploying training courses in your organization.

Preconditions for developing competencies

If you take into account the facilitating and stimulating preconditions below, you support the learning of your employee. If these preconditions are not present, the development process can be hampered. When making development agreements, it's therefore important to create the right learning conditions.

  • Reflection Offering sufficient opportunities to reflect on behavior with colleagues and supervisor / coach, such as through peer review, bilateral consultation and / or evaluation. This gives the employee insight into his / her behavior and competences; both in the areas for improvement and in the qualities and talents present.
  • Feedback Giving constructive, constructive feedback on the actions of the employee, which gives the employee insight into how others experience the behavior in the work situation and where there are opportunities for improvement. This can include 360˚ feedback, the performance review, giving tips, coaching, etc.
  • Safe learning environment Creating a safe learning environment in which employees are given the opportunity to try out new behavior, to make mistakes and to learn from their mistakes.
  • Rich learning environment Offering a stimulating, multifaceted work situation in which employees are challenged to tackle new issues, try out new behaviors, collaborate with colleagues in various compositions, receive varied assignments, tackle more challenging tasks, etc .
  • Exemplary behavior Showing exemplary behavior so that employees can imitate it, learn from it, be challenged to try it out for themselves, etc. It's also important that the manager / coach shows the behavior that is expected from employees themselves ( 'do what you say').

Conclusion developing competencies

You have seen above that connecting with an employee's talents / qualities, consciously dealing with his / her learning style and giving good feedback are the most important factors in the success of developing employee competencies. The so-called success factors.

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