Comprehending Competencies: The Future of L&D

I had the opportunity this week to listen to George T K Quek (Founding Director, DistincTions Hong Kong) speak about human resources optimisation. He highlighted the importance of understanding employees’ competencies for learning & development solutions and succession planning. This scientific way to measure potential emphasises the links between having specific personality traits and how they support the natural ability to perform. George explained how competencies are based upon what people are naturally good at and therefore enjoy doing – this is called ‘being in in the flow’, where people are stimulated enough to not be bored, but also not too challenged to cause stress.

He argued that employees with low competencies required for their work are still able to perform well, however that they have to work much harder to achieve than their naturally competent counterparts. This is all well and good until eventually these competencies are challenged too much and the employee will hit a brick wall and break. In contrast, an employee who has the natural competency will embrace the challenge and perform well with relatively less effort.

George explained that once we understand an employee’s competencies and performance, learning and development professionals can determine the best strategy to help optimise performance. This knowledge is invaluable for succession planning, as it is clear that past performance (perceived strengths) does not necessarily predict future performance if the core competencies are not natural to the employee. As the ancient idiom goes: “The leopard cannot change his spots”.

Here are some of the different kinds of competency and performance combinations and the best strategies for developing them:


  • Low competencies but high performance

These employees need to be cautioned to make sure that they are not pushed too far on their unnatural competencies. For example, for an employee who is not naturally socially competent, it’s important to allow them time for solitary activity after a social situation in order for them to ‘recharge’ and avoid burn out.


  • Low competencies and low performance

Training is unlikely to produce many results for these employees, since they don’t have the natural competencies to do well. These employees need to be compensated in some form. For example, their role could be redesigned to avoid the task that they perform badly in, such as by having it delegated to someone else.


  • Mid-range competency and low performance

These employees have mid-range potential, and need to have a clear structure of procedures to follow in order to give them a good understanding of how to improve. The manager’s role is vital in providing the objectives, feedback and support to help these people.


  • High competency and low performance

These employees have high potential, and are therefore going to benefit the most from training compared to their peers. It would also be beneficial to provide them with a mentor to guide them.


  • High competency and high performance

The ideal employee! Make sure that these employees are continuously challenged so that they remain engaged. For example, encourage star performers of the same competency to meet periodically to discuss how to excel further.


To quote Aimee Mullins, “If we want to discover the full potential in our humanity, we need to celebrate those heartbreaking strengths and those glorious disabilities we all have. It is our humanity and all the potential within it that makes us beautiful”.

To what extent do you believe that performance is based on nature or nurture? Please share your thoughts!


George Quek_jobable

This blog post was co-authored by George T K Quek. He has been passionately helping organisations and individuals realise their potential through assessments, development and coaching for the last 10 years.

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