Employee competence

How should an employer measure it?

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 14, 2024

Odd question, you might think, but when put on the spot it is difficult to actually quantify how we measure success in the workplace.

For any employer, measuring the competence of their employees is an essential element of the working relationship and appraisals process.

A key element to establishing a competency management framework in your business is to ensure that staff understand that their levels of competence will be assessed regularly, that you explain the methods by which you will facilitate this assessment, and to clarify the implications if they fall short of these expectations.

Measuring competency

There are a number of ways in which competence can be measured. These include:

Annual appraisal

An agreed framework of assessment should be integrated across the business. An appraisal outcome should not come as a surprise to the employee; it should provide more of a summary of performance over the previous 12 months. HR Software by BrightHR will help you gain insights that will help you when conducting an appraisal.

360 degree feedback questionnaire

This should be conducted to gather insight into how the employee performs in the eyes of their colleagues, peers, customers and managers. It should provide these individuals with opportunity to be honest about their interactions and experience of working with the employee in question.

Analysis of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

It’s crucial to identify key targets for the employee to work towards. Employers can then demonstrate successes and failings with practical examples. These examples might be scans per hour for a checkout operator in a supermarket, or to keep absence levels below 3% per period for a HR employee.

Regular one-to-one meetings with a line manager

These meetings should serve as a supportive tool to identify and discuss positive points and any areas for improvement. These meetings should be documented, and will give you the opportunity to highlight any issues if you feel the employee has work to do to improve.

The most effective measurements of competence will encompass a number of these approaches, and ideally feature each of the above.

What elements contribute to employee performance?

This will always depend on the role the employee performs, how you choose to measure their success and setting a combination of realistic and ambitious expectations.

It is important to recognise that there are a number of elements which contribute to high levels of employee performance:

  • The employee’s engagement within their role
  • The relationships they have across the business
  • The level of their understanding of the role requirements and their morale can each have a huge impact upon their performance

One common mistake that employers make is thinking that providing basic training for each employee is enough to expect high quality results and long-term engagement. This attitude is short-sighted and will never get the best from your staff.

The balance of employee competence, performance and engagement is reliant on the range of interesting and varied work the employer tasks them with, and the ongoing support they receive in order to excel in their role and impact as many areas in the business as possible.

Wider competencies to consider

It is important to recognise the value of the competencies that are not detailed within a job description. This is a key element in recognising competencies, and to understanding the value of both personal and industry-specific competencies.

For example, imagine a sports coach that has no confidence and is unable to build relationships with his team. He may have an advanced understanding of the game he is coaching; but if his interpersonal skills are not up to the mark he will likely fail in his role.

Guidelines for industry specific competencies

Simply put, these are the competencies that you require of anyone to perform in their role, or the basics without which they could not function effectively.

For example, a teacher will require good Maths and English skills, a teaching qualification and a sound understanding of the curriculum. A midwife, on the other hand, will require the skills to deliver a baby safely, an understanding of the birthing process and a qualification in the subject area.

These industry-specific competencies are the basics to build upon when measuring the competence of staff. These will change over time as industry best-practice and legal requirements adapt. It is therefore important that employers remain aware of the industry-based competency requirements for your staff, and that they support employees to continue to invest in their own professional development in order to remain sufficiently competent.

How to conduct a competency based assessment

Competence should be measured throughout the employment relationship, but don’t forget to include the very beginning of that journey. Recruitment exercises should be as robust as possible to ensure that new entries into your business have the required skill-set to do the job.

Recruitment processes that rely solely on interview only show part of the picture; so incorporate some form of assessment of skills into your process. Have the candidates work on a particular element of the role, or ask them to present to you on an aspect of the job that is important to company goals.

Ensure qualifications are checked and these checks are logged. Employers may be required to show evidence that their staff had the required competencies for the role when they started, and if their performance starts to dip in the future.

The key here is to ensure that those starting their career in your business are capable from the beginning. Managing employee competence, when it is poor, is a huge drain on time for any manager and so starting from a point of incompetence makes no business sense whatsoever.

Conducting ongoing competency based assessments of existing employee requires an analysis of the employee performance over a specific period of time. This is more likely to be an annual performance review process, with mid-point reviews designed to ensure the employee knows how they are progressing and has sufficient opportunity to improve before their final review.

Making sure employees have sufficient competence

Measuring competency need not be something that takes a huge amount of time. If you invest in measuring and helping your employees to work on their key competencies, rewards will be present for both the employee in terms of their own self-worth, and your business, in terms of outcomes.

The ongoing measurement of employee performance is essential in order for them to understand if, and how, they are falling short of the required competencies. Below is a breakdown of a best-practice approach to under-performance:

  • Highlight their shortcomings in regular one-to-one discussions. Give the employee action points for how they need to improve and timescales for this and ensure any support they need to achieve this is provided by the employer.
  • Review the employee’s performance since the original discussion over a course of weeks. Agree a final review whereby you will assess if the employee has demonstrated their required competencies.
  • At the final review, use evidence from the interim reviews to justify your judgement. If performance is not where it should be, commence a formal process down a capability route.

Thea Watson

Chief International Growth and Marketing Officer

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