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I would like to discuss in this blog the significance of competencies for the strategic corporate human performance management process and have a look at SuccessFactors Performance and Goals which provides a competency assessment during performance appraisal. The goal is to get a deep understanding of what competencies are, how they are categorized, how they differ from skills, abilities and personality and how they can improve the performance management process.

Accordingly to Prof. Dr. Erpenbeck competencies are self-organizational dispositions of human beings in unpredictional situations. There are four basic competencies which can be described as follows.

  • Personal Competencies (P): This competence type is characterized by the dispositions of a person to act in a reflexive and self-organized way and to evaluate oneself. This implies the ability to develop productive attitudes, value positions etc., to unfold one’s own talents, motivations, intentions, and creativity.
  • Activity-and Action-oriented Competencies(A): This competence is a dispositions of a person to take action in a self-organized way, and to focus on the implementation of intentions and plans – either for themselves or for others and with others, in a team, in a company, in an organization. This implies the property to integrate one’s own emotions, motivations, abilities and experiences across all other competence categories.(e.g., flexibility, independence, creativity, initiative)
  • Socio-Communicative Competencies(S): This competence equals a disposition enabling the individual to independently act in a communicative and cooperative way; in other words, to be capable to deal and work with others creatively , to act in accordance with the needs of the group, and to develop new plans, tasks, and goals together. (e.g., team skills, ability to accept criticism)
  • Methodological and Professional Competencies(F):This competency is a disposition of a person to act mentally and physically in a self-organized way when solving factual and objective problems, i.e., to solve problems creatively by applying professional and functional knowledge, skills and abilities, to classify and evaluate knowledge sensibly; this implies the ability to design and develop activities, tasks and solutions using creative and innovative methods. e.g., objectivity, project management

All other competencies like leadership competence, loyalty, ability to solve problems, intercultural competencies are cross-sectional or meta competencies and can be build up based on that four basic competencies. 

These cross-sectional or meta competencies will be the foundation to build up a competency model for a specific organization.

Summarizing competencies are more than skills and knowledge. Additionally they contain the ability and the will to act in a self-organized, innovative and competent way in unpredictable situations.

There is also a fundamental difference between competencies and personality. Personalities are deep related to the human being and can be described with terms like abilities, attitudes, behavior and trait ( maybe intelligence). These dimensions of a human being are more or less constant along its live. They can be trained and extended, but normally there will be no fundamental change in a short time period. One approach to describe personality traits in detail is the Big Five personality Traits concept. This concept reduces personality to five basic factors such as:

  • Openness to experience:
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

These factors from the acronym OCEAN.

There is no direct impact of personalities on job performance! Consider. a shop assistant in a footwear store. This person must not sell more shoes only because of his extroverted personality. Some Customers may be irritated or even nerved when talking to that person?  Maybe personality helps but further aspects like competencies are required to show job performance. Compared with personalities competencies can be trained and developed and have a direct impact to the job performance.

But why should a competency assessment be part of a performance appraisals form? What is the coherence between performance and competencies?

The answer is very simple: Competent employees are in general high performers. That means there is a linear relationship between having dedicated competencies and a high performance score for dedicated job objectives. This is only true if there is a fit between requirements and provided competencies.

However this seems to be very simple, there is an other dimension to be dsicussed in that context. In modern developed and technically sophisticated societies like ours, values like social sensivity and environmental responsibility become more and more important. So in times of global competition the question of how a company acts ( sustainable, social, respect to your employees and customers, responsible etc. ) on a dedicated market has become of strategical significance. Digitalization and social communication around the globe make all kind of information transparent for market participants and especially for customers within seconds. One example is the work conditions for employees working in the textile industry in Bangladesh or think about the impact of Foxconn's working conditions to Apple.

This is the reason why companies should ask them self how they act, how they will act in the future and why they should develop a structure of values which represents a final and binding framework for action. This guideline or framework of behavior has to be public all across the company and all employees have to consider these structure of values during their daily work ( especially managers!? ). And at least all employees including managers should be assessed against these framework of values.

In a nutshell performance management can be a tool ( if done the right way) to measure:

  • performance of an employee
  • the way how an employee contributes to the company's success

In other words.....performance management makes employees:

  • doing the right things 
  • doing the right things the right way

From my point of view Successfactors Performance and Goals has adopted a great approach of combining job objectives, core values and job competencies into one performance appraisal form. Whereas SF provides a great UI to maintain competencies and core values they also provide great tools for the manager to complete a competency assessment.

Maintain Competencies: SF provides an administrative tool to define a competency library. Within this tool it is also possible to create a new competency. You can define some common data for that competency. But the most interesting part is to define employee's behavior related to that competency.  In more detail it is possible to describe personal behavior and relate it to a category level. There are e.g. three levels "Improve", "Meet" and Exceeds" in the screen below. To each level a dedicated behavior can be assigned. 

During objective settings these competencies and core values should be assigned to an appraisal from.

These behavior types can be used by the manager during performance appraisal for core values and job competencies. (see below)

It is also possible to assign competencies to a Job Role as requirement for a job.

Writing Assistant: The Writing Assistant (and coaching) is another great tool and works with predefined competencies (see above) . For any given competency in the appraisal form, there are multiple variations of descriptive sentences describing different levels of competencies and behavior. These "sentences" can be used and inserted into a comment field on the appraisal from. Furthermore these sentences can be adapted according to the manager's assessment. At the end a so called Legal Scan can be done to check if the wording is correct from a legal point of view.

This screen is a part of the performance appraisal form. The Manager can provide a rating (scale can be defined by customer) and a comment. For that comment the manager can use the Writing assistant:

Next Screen displays the writing assistant:

The result is having a competency assessment which consist quantitative an qualitative elements which is a good foundation for further talent related developments.

Competency library: Includes a best practices library of job-specific competencies and core values to help you create your review forms.


There is a huge impact of competencies on the effectivness of performance management initiatives. Employees can be influenced to act in a way which is aligned with company's values und culture. Additionally a competency model can be a framework for further Talent Management initiatives like succession management or recruiting.

Hope you had fun reading this blog and thank you for your time.

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