3 Direct Ways to Determine Competency Proficiency in HR Staff, Candidates and Yourself

By Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP, SPHR Oct 11, 2017
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This is the first in a series of articles on evaluating competencies. This article discusses direct approaches, including meetings and observation, and provides a list of questions you can use. The series is excerpted from A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff: Tips and Tools for Improving Proficiency in Your Reports (SHRM, 2018).

How do you know if your employees, candidates for hire and even you have the competencies needed to be successful in your HR function? At what levels do you and they possess the competencies? Does a particular person actually have a competency, but not display behaviors that verify it?

​Direct methods for evaluating competencies include meeting with employees, observation, and meeting or talking with co-workers, customers, managers and supervisors. Observing employees doing their work or asking employees to perform a task or assignment is a direct approach.

1. Meeting with Employees

The most direct method for determining competencies is discussing them with employees. The advantages of this approach are engaging employees in the process and helping them understand what is important, in your judgment, for their future success. 

If your organization includes career discussions as part of performance review, you can use this as an opportunity to assess competencies as long as employees have a high level of trust in the system and your own relationship management capabilities are strong.  

Suggested Questions for Evaluating Competency

You can use some of the questions provided in this worksheet (also at right) to generate discussion with employees and candidates to determine their levels. Select questions that include the behavioral indicators and sub-competencies that are important to you and your HR function.   It is important to take good notes on the individual's answers as well as any follow up questions you have.  You should also record any questions the individual asks.


2. Observation

​As you observe your employees working, note behaviors and identify competencies that are exhibited. Using the Proficiency Indicators in the SHRM BoCK,  think about those displayed by the employees and record your thoughts. 

Before observing, make a list of desired behaviors. Try not to be disruptive. If you are commonly in the work area, observation without disruption will be easier. If not, you may want to watch the work several times before making a judgment about the level of proficiency. 

You can also observe assignments or activities that are not a part of the daily job. You might assign an employee to a team that is working on in an area where they need development. You can then look at how well the individual contributes to the team's work. 

When evaluating yourself, you might ask someone who is particularly strong in a proficiency to observe you in action.


3. Meeting with Co-workers, Customers, Managers, Supervisors

​Much like in meetings with individual employees, you can obtain a lot of information about behaviors that indicate competencies by meeting with others who work with an individual. Plan questions ahead of time, basing them both on the actual behaviors and on the relationship of the employee with his or her co-workers.  This method applies particularly to evaluating your own proficiencies. 

Cautions here include which co-workers, supervisors and customers you approach and how you approach them. You need honest answers based on specific examples if you are going to use the information. It is best to use this method along with others to ensure fairness and balance. 

This is the first in a series of articles on evaluating competencies. The next installment will feature four indirect methods, using data, documents and history, and the third will provide information about formal assessment tools, focusing on SHRM's diagnostic tools, as well as some thoughts about troubleshooting problems in competency assessment and development. 

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