How to identify and reign in competency gaps

Keeping your team on top of their game and your business ahead of the curve means zeroing in on competency gaps. This quick guide walks you through spotting those gaps, why it matters, and how to fix them, with a sprinkle of practical tips and tools to make it all happen.

By Jon Windust

Updated 23 June 2024

Three HR people surrounded by elements of Cognology’s HR Onboarding Software User Interface

What is a competency gap and how do you discover them?

A competency gap is simply the difference between the current competency level of your workforce and the competency level needed to achieve a certain outcome. The process of discovering the nature and extent of that gap – and then taking the necessary measures to overcome it – is one of the most important deliverables of HRM in any organisation.

Why you should identify and reign in competency gaps

Identifying and reigning in competency gaps is not just about keeping pace with industry standards but also crucial for achieving your organisation’s strategic plan. By pinpointing and addressing these gaps, you ensure that your workforce has the necessary capabilities to execute the strategic vision, enhancing productivity, fostering innovation, and improving employee satisfaction. This proactive approach not only aligns employee skills with company goals but also cultivates a culture of continuous learning, essential for long-term success and adaptability to future challenges.

What is the difference between a competency and a skill?

On our website you’ll find a rich source of information on subjects such as how to conduct a skills audit and identify skill gaps. But the notion of a competency is a bit broader than just a skill.

The difference is that a skill can be considered a specific proficiency in some area of expertise. Take, for example, software development. A key skill in this area would be the ability to write code in a particular language, like Python or Ruby. However, the ability to analyse a software development problem and create an elegant and efficient solution using that language is a competency. (We have an article on the exact definition of a competency for those of you interested in a more in-depth discussion).

Essentially, competencies focus on the ability to produce certain outcomes through the application of various skills, and the synthesis of knowledge, understanding and other psychological traits.

How to identify competency gaps

To identify competency gaps:

  1. Determine the competencies needed by your organisation and the roles within it
  2. Conduct a competency audit or assessment to determine current competency levels
  3. If an individual is not at the required level for some of the competencies needed by their role, these are competency gaps
  4. If a role is vacant, the competencies required by that role are also competency gaps

By aggregating this data across departments or the entire organisation, you’ll get a comprehensive view of where enhancement is needed. A business’s role then is to shrink that gap through policies, encouraging great management and leadership, hiring and learning and development (L&D).

This process does take time, but the results are worth it. Leveraging tools like our Competency Management System can streamline this process, making it more efficient and effective.

What is the purpose of a competency assessment?

Competency assessments are not just about identifying competency gaps. The purpose of a competency assessment is to determine:

  1. How effectively employees perform the duties of their job.
  2. What employees are capable of accomplishing.
  3. How those capabilities align with the needs of the organisation.

How do you determine the competencies needed by the organisation?

You need to know which competencies are important, both to each individual role and to the organisation overall. This is best achieved through a survey of your workforce that asks:

  • What tasks must be carried out in order to achieve success in your role?
  • What would someone need to know, be or do in order to achieve that result?

After you’ve compiled these results, you’ll produce a set of agreed-upon competencies for each role in the organisation. Additionally, align these competencies with your organisation’s strategic plan, ensuring any new roles or capabilities required for future success are integrated into your competency framework.

What is the best method to assess competencies?

The next step is to determine if each worker’s capabilities stack up to the requirements.

You could do this by simply producing a questionnaire that asks each employee to rate their own abilities. Obviously, that’s not ideal though, in that people in general are prone to exaggerating their abilities. Some of the options include:

  • Ask managers to assess their team members.
  • Ask managers to assess their team members and individuals to assess themselves.
    This has the added benefit of providing a comparison between the team member’s perception and their manager’s assessment.
  • Use 360-degree assessment.
    This involves not only asking the employee to rate their own abilities, but those of their co-workers, managers and subordinates as the case may be. By tapping into these perspectives, you create a much more realistic picture of each employee’s true ability.

For a deeper dive, check out our article on competency assessment methods.

Completing and compiling assessments requires an investment in time. Technology such as our Competency Management System significantly reduces the time needed.

How do you reign in competency gaps?

Addressing the gaps your assessment uncovers is the next step in the process. When an employee is found to be lacking in a specific area, a good idea is to allow them to share the responsibility of overcoming that shortfall. That is, getting them to help define and manage the process themselves.

This might entail the employee assigning their own goals and formulating a personal development plan that they commit to follow. Such a plan might include attending a formalised training course or in-house mentoring by employees who are already competent in that area.

You might also consider attaching rewards, recognition or extra compensation to the achievement of those goals – think about what would motivate that particular individual and use that as the carrot!

Once you’ve reigned in your competency gaps, what do you do next?

Identifying and addressing competency gaps is not a one-off process. People change roles, processes change, strategic priorities evolve and technology improves. Identifying and closing gaps is a cyclical process called Competency Management. It’s something you’ll do on an ongoing basis.

Managing a company-wide competency assessment is a complex task, I won’t argue with you there. There are tools at your disposal though, that can make things much easier. Technology used well can streamline processes, analyse your data, save valuable time and give you an accurate picture of the competencies across your workforce.

With these insights in your toolkit, you’re well equipped to plan L&D strategies, and any strategic hiring, to get you where you need to be to ensure the competitive success of your organisation.

Simplify Competency Management With Cognology

Cognology’s Competency Management System streamlines competency assessments and offers real-time insights into competency gaps.

More On Competencies

Want to learn more about competencies. Our ultimate guide to competencies has everything you need from the basics to forms, samples and more.