5 steps to developing competences

In this article we explore a five-step process for competence development. It provides a structured approach for individuals and organizations to strengthen skills and capabilities comprehensively.

A ‘skill’ is a component of a ‘competence’. It’s important to continue focusing on your professional development, especially in the current labor market. This article discusses how to do just that.

So, what are competences? Copied

You can best define the term ‘competence’ as a combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and other personal traits discernible in someone’s workplace behavior and required to achieve certain objectives.

Although the terms ‘skill’ and ‘competence’ are often used interchangeably, there are certainly differences in meaning. A skill is a component of a competence. This means that a competence is something broader and perhaps a little less tangible than a skill.

Adaptability, communication, leadership, self-awareness, and resilience are all examples of competences.

Read our article, ‘What are competences? Explanations & examples!’,  for more information.

Why is acquiring and mastering new and existing competences so important? Copied

The labor market is changing rapidly. Digitalization, automation, innovation, and requirements are changing the landscape by the day. As a result, jobs, roles, and responsibilities are changing equally rapidly.

What if your job were replaced by an algorithm or robot? If you’ve only acquired and mastered those skills required to perform a certain job that no longer exists, then sooner or later you’ll end up empty-handed. If you continue to acquire and master new competences, however, then you’ll remain professionally relevant and find it easier to move into new roles as they emerge.

But it’s not just the modern‑day labor market that’s demanding lifelong learning, it’s also employees themselves! A recent survey revealed that almost two-thirds of respondents would prefer a job with a reasonable income and ample opportunities for professional development over monotonous, demotivating work and a good salary.

Competence development Copied

It’s important to continue acquiring and mastering new skills, but also the broader competences that these skills are a part of. Competence development is one way to achieve this.

But what do we mean by ‘competence development’?

  • honing and mastering existing competences
  • acquiring new competences

Nowadays, many organizations are stimulating competence development because it provides them with so many benefits:

  • better alignment with strategic objectives – higher productivity, improved product quality and/or service levels, and greater profitability
  • increased employee engagement – higher employee satisfaction levels and reduced staff turnover

Read our article, ‘A full breakdown of competence development’, for more information.

How can I acquire and master new and existing competences? Copied

Every competence is different and therefore needs a different approach. What’s more, not every approach works within every organization. Nonetheless, the following guideline applies in most cases.

Step 1: Set a goal!

What competence are you looking to acquire or master? Or what do you want to achieve? If you’re not yet sure, ask your manager, colleagues, friends, or family members what you’re good at and which areas you need to work on. Then select the competence you want to acquire or master.

John would one day like to become a manager at the company where he works. This is why he wants to work on leadership.

Step 2: Break it down into skills and knowledge!

The term ‘competence’ is often a vague concept. Specifying its underlying skills and knowledge can help to make the term more tangible. You can develop new attitudes and personal traits (the remaining components of a competence) once you start applying a competence and its underlying skills/knowledge in practice. A good first step is, therefore, breaking a competence down into a list of specific skills and the required knowledge.

After talking to some friends, who are themselves managers, John learns that motivation, planning, delegation, and conflict resolution are the most relevant skills that make up leadership as a competence.

Step 3: Gather information!

How can you best go about acquiring the knowledge and mastering the skills? First and foremost, it’s important to put a plan together. And you start doing this by gathering information.

  • Observe how others carry out their work, focusing on the skills and knowledge they apply. This approach works better for manual tasks rather than conceptual tasks.
  • Talk to co-workers who have mastered these skills already and ask them how they achieved this. People generally love to talk about themselves, so don’t worry about being given a cold shoulder.
  • Seek opportunities to acquire and master this skill and knowledge. Are there any workshops or training courses you could take, or any books you could read? Who knows? Perhaps there’s even a budget available that would pay for or subsidize your training.

John has been talking to his manager, who recommended a training course that would help him acquire and master the skills he’ll need.

Step 4: Take action!

Once you’ve observed, discussed, and researched all your options, it’s time to take action.

  • Books and online courses are a great way to gain the knowledge you’ll need.
  • Workshops and training courses are the best way to start applying this knowledge in practice.
  • And personal coaching or mentoring is highly effective if you can find someone who fits the bill.

The trainer at one of John’s courses recommended a good book about personal leadership and he’s now reading that book.

Step 5: Practice, practice, practice!

You can only truly start to master a newly acquired competence by putting it into practice. It’s the only way you can start to develop your own perspective and attitudes toward the underlying skills and knowledge. Seize every opportunity available to put these into practice or discuss with your manager how you can become more involved in tasks or activities that require the competence you’re looking to master.

John tells his manager about the training course he’s following and the insights he’s gleaned from the book. He asks whether it would be possible to put his newly acquired skills into practice. Bingo! A small-scale internal project is about to kick off involving three of his teammates and his manager is letting John take the lead on the project.

A tip for companies – make competences visual! Copied

Are you encouraging competence development within your company? If so, skills matrices are one of the best ways to make this process more tangible and visual. Skills matrices provide a snapshot of all your staff’s or team’s skills, competences, and qualifications in a schematic layout.


Using skills matrices has numerous benefits …

  • see at a glance which competences are available, scarce, or missing
  • find replacements and extra personnel more quickly and easily
  • simplify audits by having every piece of relevant documentation at your fingertips

What’s more, if you use specialist skills management software, you can view and edit this information in real time. Curious about how that works? Request a free demo now!


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Original version | November 26, 2021

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