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Elaine Betts

Local Government

Development Consultant

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I'm just producing a framework for Managers and I'm not sure which spelling to use - Can anyone tell me if there is a difference between competences and competencies, if so what is the difference apart from the spelling? Thank you

3 Responses

  1. Competence and competency…and excellence!
    You might take a look at Steve Amos’s useful distinction at
    I have a lot of respect for Steve’s view – and from an academic perspective he is quite correct – however I believe that semantic distinction is only helpful in the workplace if it actually results in something more valuable happening. Most people, including managers, are really only interested in the ability to do something well, not whether it is labelled a competence, a skill, or a competency. Steve does make the important point about exemplarary performance, which I think is worth exploring further.

    There are degrees of ‘well’ – from novice, to competent, to excellent – which for me is a more important distinction. Implicit within the competence movement is getting to a standard. You might in other circles call it mediocrity, homogeneity or the absence of incompetence. Training based on this approach is often about compliance, elimination of errors, fundamental skills or task related abilities. It is the mainstay of most organisational training and is suitable for widespread, systematic development to meet organisations’ immediate operational needs. However, it is not the sort of development that helps propagate excellence, that helps unleash latent talents and that encourages individuals’ unique capabilities to be exploited.

    The former – the ‘getting everyone up to a basic minimum standard’ – is the default position for organisations taking a competency approach. This is a good thing in many organisational contexts. All I would say is don’t let it drown out the latter – the ‘getting the best out of people’ – as it is often this investment that helps raise people’s sights, find new ways out of tight economic difficulties and lifts an organisation out of abject mediocrity. Sometimes people get drawn to one philosophy to the exclusion of the other, but I think the two can work powerfully alongside each other and organisations (and their staff) are the better for it.

    I appreciate that this goes beyond your initial request on definitions, but I hope it helps set the idea of a ‘competency framework’, if that is what you will call it, into a wider context.


  2. A simpler definition
    I was once told that competences are outcomes and are used to describe the output that an individual creates. Competencies were described as the inputs; the manner in which the way the task is carried out.

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Elaine Betts

Development Consultant

Read more from Elaine Betts

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