Competencies are back – from space!

Last night I was the guest of the IET at their annual dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel here in London, and a fine affair it was, too.

President John Loughhead focused on the future need for skilled engineers – not, as is usually the case in these addresses, to bolster the UK’s global competitiveness, but rather to meet our obligations in tackling climate change. He made a good case for engineering as a crucial profession for the future.

And the after-dinner speaker was a slight, greying American chap who for nearly three decades just happened to hold the record for the longest time spent in space by a US astronaut – Ed Gibson. Dr Gibson took us through some of his extra-planetary exploits, including his three space walks, and talked about what he’d learnt from some of the pioneers he’d worked with, including Gene Krantz, Eileen Collins and Deke Slayton.

In this, he outlined some of the characteristics that made up a great leader, and guess what? Up there on the list, along with all the things you would expect such as vision and courage, came competence

Now I do have other things in my life other than attending swanky dinners and going on endlessly about competence, but you know, when the two come together, it just makes for a perfect evening.

Plus, a commentator whom I otherwise respect recently said:  “we’ve done competence, we know how it works”.

No, I don’t think so.

You’ve never ‘done’ competence. You might understand the concepts, you might know some of the competencies of your people, and you might even have in place programmes for developing them, but you are never ‘done’. The effective use of competencies requires constant monitoring to ensure that they’re working at their best.

So I am not surprised that Chief Learning Officer Magazine predicts that in 2008, once again, competencies will be the top concern for learning professionals:

Competencies have always been the backbone of training. Today, however, amid the shortage of talent, competencies have taken on greater significance. In order to address current and future vacancies, organizations are looking to competency models to help them identify skill gaps and develop the necessary skills internally.  

Last September, I mentioned how the US military calls for sacrifice, courage and competence. For Ed Gibson ‘competence’ belongs with vision, courage, altruism, respect, trust and empathy among the characteristics of great leaders. And so it should.

Let’s not be apologetic about the word competence, and let’s not underestimate it, either. Without competence, any vision will remain unachieved, and any courage squandered.

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4 responses to “Competencies are back – from space!

  1. By chance, yesterday I was reading an article on the diffusion of innovation in the Australian automotive and wine industries.

    The author distinguished between capability and competence. Capability is our capacity to deliver value to our customers. Competence is the the actual delivery of value to our customers.

    We concentrate so much on training and selection and we get so little involved in understanding and supporting delivery under real time conditions.

    In my early career, we had an Operations Director who promised to fire any manager he caught sitting down during the working day! Graphic and to the point! Get out there to where the work is being done!

  2. Sorry to use your column to advertise, but your post prompted me to write up a simple case study of a UK example where T&D has moved into the workflow and manages competence directly.

    Sleepy Dog – the makers of the highly successful game Buzz.

    http://working20.wordpress.com/2008/02/22/working-20-in-the-uk-draw-daily/

    Thanks for the challenge and stimulus. That is a great T&D competence!

  3. What percentage of the population have heard of competencies, understand them and use them voluntarily and to their and their organisations benefit.

    My experience is that this percentage is very low.

    Many people have heared about them, lied about how they have used them, got themselves into deep water when they have been found out and wished that they were able to identify them, be aware that they are using them and use that awareness to develop them. Those of us in Organisational Learning and Development make the mistake of assuming that others are as passionate about learning as we are. my experience is that this is not the case. We will never be done with competencies indeed we need to develop our competence to use compencies in effective development. That is reraly a competence worth having.

  4. Climate change, compettence and swanky dinners! Well these days this makes a heady mix, where was the transition from one to the other? There is a connect though, if the efficiency increases in the real sense that is if the :
    population goes down
    These silly hybrid productions decreas(we need not fool around by something that has so beautifully evolved from an amoeba to a human)
    drugs, alcohol abuse and most importantly abuse of children ceases
    Greed is less, let the trees grow whats the rush ? Can’t we do with lesser furniture for heavens sake we were crawling the Earth on almost four limbs a million years ago.
    Well I leave it here my frustrations coming up. A good post, thanks for provoking some thoughts.

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