Why Functional Competencies?

by Patrick Allen, Vice President of Strategy and Development


Why Functional Competencies Make Sense for Your Business 

Philosophically, functional competencies make sense. This is because functional competencies are concerned with someone being able to perform an act that demonstrates competency rather than a behaviour.  How are these differentiated?  Well, for one, in trade-related industries many job functions are highly technical in terms of physical capacity to perform a specific function. For instance, a welder is considered competent if the welds they do are of high quality and accurate.  In identifying functional competencies specific to welding, you would define exactly how to perform a perfect weld.  Other kinds of competencies are directed at such things as workplace behaviours (e.g., communications, soft-skills, management style, etc). As stated in previous posts, both kinds of competencies are of value; however, there is a more robust argument for electing to introduce a functional competency strategy in your workforce.

Why Should I Consider Functional Competencies in My Organization? 

Measurable outcomes. That’s why. The difference between someone who is said to have good communication skills and someone who can perform job role ‘x’ such that there is a specific outcome is that one is much easier to measure. It is hard to gauge if someone is ‘a good communicator’ or not. This is a highly subjective claim. Unpacking it a bit, the first question you’d have to ask is, ‘what is good’ with respect to communication and what is ‘communication’?  Then, when these kinds of value questions are answered, the next step is to figure out how to measure when someone is a good communicator or not. This kind of competency is very hard to measure and keep on track. Oftentimes, soft skills competencies such as ‘good communicator’ are only a problem if someone in your organization is completely misaligned with what an expectation for what ‘good communication’ should be. In this case, the problem is no longer whether someone is competent as much as whether that person fits the workplace culture.

Conversely, if you hired a welder and expected this person to perform welds of high quality and accuracy, then evidence is immediately obvious for whether or not this person is competent. The proof is in the outcome. The counter argument here is that both kinds of competencies are equally measurable, but in different ways. This may be true; however, the accuracy in which someone can argue competency in a particular role is likely more contingent upon successful outcomes for what their function is in the role. So, if a person is hired to be a communications professional, then ‘good communicator’ makes sense in terms of competency tracking; however, ‘good communicator’ may be less valuable in the role of welder.

Functional competencies can offer an organization significant insights into productivity, developing effective competency-based training, and offering more accurate measurements for what makes someone competent in a particular role. While both kinds of competencies can be argued as valuable to an organization, functional competencies help with things such as compliance, productivity, and safety.  These things translate directly into success in terms of profitability for an organization.

The Competency Group are industry leading experts with over 20 years of experience in the development of functional competencies for a wide range of clients. For more information, please contact

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