Definition of Behavioral Competencies

behavioral competencies

Behavioral competencies are the soft skills that distinguish an average employee’s performance from an exemplary employee.

What are behavioral competencies?

Targeting specific behaviors when recruiting new talent or even defining various positions within your company is one way to ensure you are getting the best fit for what you need. These targeted behaviors are known as behavioral competencies.

Behavioral competencies are the soft skills that distinguish an average employee’s performance from an exemplary employee. Some examples of behavioral competencies include:

  • Adaptability
  • Client focus
  • Conflict management
  • Impact and influence
  • Initiative
  • Problem-solving
  • Resilience

Various positions benefit from different behavioral competencies. For example, you want someone in your finance department to have excellent data literacy, interpretation, and management skills. That wouldn’t be a skill that would be as important for someone in your janitorial department. Effective housekeeping staff must determine how to get stains out and know what supplies they need and when they need them.

Why are behavioral competencies essential to your business?

Correctly applying behavioral competencies to job descriptions and performance indicators sets your company and your employees up for a higher level of success. One of the keys to this success is to make sure that you define exactly what you expect that behavior to look like at various levels of performance.

One way to do this would be to define what various performance levels would look like in a rubric. For example, suppose you have a three-tiered performance rating system. In that case, you might define the behavioral competency of “attention to detail” for someone on the housekeeping staff as:

Sample behavioral competencies

Exemplary Performance Average Performance Poor Performance
All linens are replaced with clean linens and are neatly folded, placed evenly, and without wrinkles, lamp cords are plugged in and moved behind furniture, so they don't show, all fixtures have been tested and any issues have been promptly documented and reported to maintenance, all corners of the room as well as under all furniture are thoroughly vacuumed and cleaned, and furniture, window sills, blinds, curtains, lampshades, and baseboards are free of dust. Every linen is replaced with a clean linen and is placed and folded, lamp cords are plugged in and pushed out of the walk areas of the room, the room has been vacuumed and cleaned, and furniture, window sills and blinds are free of dust. All linens are replaced with clean linens but are not neat, lamps are plugged in, the room has been vacuumed and meets minimal cleaning standards, and the furniture is free of dust.

It is true that this type of approach to behavioral competencies takes time to put in place. However, It also puts the employee in control of how they perform against expectations.

What is the history of behavioral competencies?

Behavioral competencies have been part of the hiring and performance process since David McClelland published a paper in 1973. His assertion was that behavioral competencies could be far more effective performance indicators than aptitude tests.

Competencies are based on internal motivation. This fact defines a significant differentiator between competencies and skills. Using the example we created above, the exemplary housekeeping staff is driven to make sure the customer experiences the cleanest and most welcoming room possible. The poor performer, however, is doing just enough to be able to put a checkmark on their duty list – or at least most of it. The average performer wants to do a good job but isn’t interested in pressuring themselves to exceptionalism.

Additional resources that you will find helpful

Summary of the definition of behavioral competencies

Taking the time to differentiate your company from your competition by defining what behaviors will make sure your employees have the opportunity to be successful. There’s no question that you need to require specific hard skills for each position, but adding these soft skills to those expectations sets your company up for greater success.

Similar glossary definitions you should know

  • Knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs): The knowledge, skills, and abilities that a person must have to perform the role’s requirements. The job description includes KSAs.
  • Performance evaluation: Periodically assessing an employee’s job performance against a predefined set of goals and expectations.
  • Performance improvement plan: A document designed to help employees improve their job performance. It includes areas of performance deficiencies, expectations for improvement, and a timeline for meeting objectives.
  • Skills gap: A mismatch between the skills needed for a position and the skills the job seeker or employee actually possesses. This discrepancy makes it hard for employers to find the right fit and for individuals to find or keep jobs.

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