An old chestnut - competence, competency, capability.

In some ways this is asking for trouble. Following a request to define each of them, an internet search has thrown up about fifty definitions of competence, competency, capability, etc.

What does everyone think of the following definitions?



The potential to fulfil a requirement within a job role.



Work-related behaviours, based on skills (technical, non-technical and functional) and underpinning knowledge that realise capability.



The output of realised capability through application of competencies, measured on a continuum from novice to expert level. Higher levels of competence improve the predictability of good performance.



The level on the competence continuum where compliance with required minimum safe standards is achieved.



The lowest level on the competence continuum. Competencies are not sufficiently developed to realise capability without extensive instruction or supervision.



The level on the competence continuum where competencies are developed to an enhanced level, leading to improved efficiency and performance.



The level on the competence continuum where competencies are so advanced that improvements to methods of working can be suggested and optimal efficiency is often achieved.


Competence management system

A risk-based, cyclical process for documenting the development, maintenance and assurance of competence, through the identification, development, implementation and evaluation of standards and learning/assessment activities.


Please feel free to disagree (politely!) and suggest better versions.



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Hi Gwyneth,


I see where you're heading with your approach \9and overall I don't disagree) however my view of capability was much more aimed at the organisational level.  Let me expand.


Competence is the ability of an organisation to what it does well and effectively i.e. by showing that it do it competently.  Take Tesco for example - they show competence in running their stores.


Capability (for me) is all about what they could do.  Staying with the Tesco example, when they decided to launch Tesco Home Delivery they clearly had no competence (because they hadn't done it before) but they definitely had capability (supply chain, distribution, payment systems, reward card and so on) and this is why they managed to move so sucessfully into that area of the market.


Returning to an individual; yes they may need some guidance in a new role but at least they have the basics of being capable to succeed.


I am becoming more and more convinced that capability (both individually and organisationally) is where we should be focusing our efforts for the future.  Organisations that have capability in one or more areas (especially if that capability is difficult to copy) will be the long-term winners in any given marketplace.  You may want to take a look at the following book which explains it all so much better than I do:  ' Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy"


Hope this helps.



Hi Jonathan,

Cappelli and Singh (1992) argue that same point - that competent employees create competitive advantage, where such competencies are firm-specific and difficult to imitate.

Taking that a step further, if you take that as the Organisational-level competency and ensure it aligns with the company strategies you then create competitive advantage that competitors find difficult to duplicate.

So to take it away from Tesco for a moment; if a business wants to be capable of producing safe medicines, it needs to develop staff skill, knowledge and behaviour (competency) to a specified level. 

The challenge is finding people with the correct mix of tangible (technical) skills and intangible (influencing, interpersonal, team working etc) skills to enable this to occur.





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