Competency-based interviews are the most used selection method across all sectors, and competency frameworks are now often seen as an essential way to achieve high organisational performance through individual capability and potential.

Competency frameworks originally measured the behaviours or ‘soft skills’ employers want but have evolved to include technical skills. All skills and behaviours included should have the capacity to be measured, and CIPD recommends that no more than 12 elements – preferably fewer – should be included for any role, with an explanation and example(s) of each included.

The amount of detail included is important: if requirements are too general, they risk becoming meaningless and, arguably, not measurable; but if they are too detailed, they become excessively bureaucratic and as a result, may lose credibility.

Increasingly, competency frameworks look at employees’ strengths and match those strengths to types of work that enhance individual performance. Competency frameworks around organisational values can also ensure you recruit people who match an organisation’s culture. Armstrong’s Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice identifies three types of competencies:

1. behavioural – the type of behaviour required to deliver results under headings such as communication, leadership and decision making

2. technical – the knowledge and skills that people need to have to carry out the role effectively

3. NVQ/SNVQ  - these specify the minimum standards to achieve set tasks expressed in a way that can be observed and assessed with a view to certification.

The ten most popular headings in a competency framework include:

1. team orientation

2. communication

3. people management

4. customer focus

5. result orientation

6. problem solving

7. planning and organizing

8. technical skills

9. leadership

10. business awareness

It is important to ensure that required competencies do not breach the Equality Act and that organisations do not solely look at what an employee has achieved in the past, but also at what they are capable of achieving in the future. Competency frameworks should be regularly reviewed so they keep pace with organisational needs.

Essential soft skills

When job descriptions talk about ‘soft skills’, the list has tended to be headed by communication, presentation and leadership. These have always been important and will continue to be. But at a time when markets, customer expectations and what is required from employees are changing at a phenomenal rate, a further set of skills are now coming to the fore. These include the creativity needed to forge new ideas and lead the market. They also include the flexibility and adaptability needed to respond to fast-changing demands.

A recent Randstad survey asked 19,000 working-age adults in the UK what they believed were their most important soft skills. The top five were:

● 20% rated their creative and problem-solving skills

● 16% adaptability and flexibility

● 14% persistence, perseverance and patience

● 8% leadership and the ability to inspire others

● 8% communication and presentation skills.

It’s telling that creativity, flexibility and adaptability are the attributes job-seekers want to promote, a long way ahead of communication, presentation and inspirational leadership, the latter perhaps being seen as a given rather than a differentiator.

Soft skills are to some extent innate, though training schemes can be very successful. For example, communication skills workshops generally focus on the importance of listening and putting yourself in other people’s shoes, something we can all learn and benefit from without necessarily being a natural communicator.

Similarly, people don’t need to be born creative, flexible or adaptable to have these attributes. Indeed, how people are organised, managed and incentivised are the really telling factors. Many organisations now stress the importance of giving all staff time to put forward and develop new ideas, rather than just people in dedicated product design or R&D teams. They are also promoting greater staff autonomy as a way to boost flexibility, for example in giving call centre staff sufficient licence to meet a customer’s request or sort out a problem, rather than constantly having to refer issues up the line.

The attitude of line management is crucial in promoting the necessary soft skills. Being pivotal to how an organisation is run, they can be an aid or a barrier to creativity, flexibility and adaptability. As staff become more empowered, a lot of organisations now emphasise the importance of line managers being good coaches and good listeners, rather than just vocal leaders. Many also think that it should be staff who are sorting out the problems for themselves, rather than always relying on their line managers. For some line managers this can be difficult. Indeed, learning to let go may be the hardest soft skill to acquire.