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Making Competencies More Meaningful using DISC Behavioural Styles

You probably work in an organisation that has spent a lot of time, effort and money to identify and define particular competencies that are needed to succeed in specific job positions. It is even quite possible that you were involved in developing the Competency Framework as a Consultant or HR Practitioner. Typically, these Frameworks consist of a breakdown of measurable skills required to perform a particular role in the organisation. Additionally, competencies are often used as a basis for training by converting competencies to learning objectives.

The successful extensive use of the competency models has demonstrated that they can work very well. At the same time, you have probably seen models that are very confusing at best. Some of the competencies on the surface sound impressive, but in practice, leave the employees wondering if their organisation has completely lost all sense of reality and reason. In such cases, the models are ignored by the employees and have no impact in positively affecting their behaviour.

However, whether or not the competencies are well designed, one thing is sure: the competencies do not mean the same thing for every employee and all of them have their unique challenges in meeting them.

Interpretation of Competencies

Take Gabrielle and Luca, for example. They are both successful Regional Managers at a large financial services company. While there certainly are some aspects of their jobs that are different – most notably the different kinds of employees they manage and the unique interpersonal minefields they consequently have to navigate – essentially they are performing the very same jobs. Their performance is evaluated against the same criteria, and they both report to the same boss.

Part of Gabrielle and Luca's evaluation criterion is how well they perform against the 35 competencies that have been developed for the organisation's Regional Managers. One of those competencies is:

'Foresees issues and challenges and resolves them before anyone else sees a problem in the making.'

While we could certainly agree or disagree about the merits of this particular competency, let's focus on how Gabrielle and Luca deal with this one.

Gabrielle has been a Regional Manager for over two years. She was rather quickly promoted from a Branch Manager to Regional Manager as she quickly developed a reputation of getting things done fast. In fact, her assertive demeanour gained her a reputation of being able to turn around poorly performing branches. If there was a mess to be cleaned, Gabrielle was the person for the job. However, her direct, even blunt, behavioural style did not make her popular. But she was respected and perhaps, also feared.

Luca's reputation is very different. Although his physical presence was somewhat intimidating because of his tall and fit physique, he was well-known for being a very loyal and fair team player. While Luca frustrated some of his employees because of his deliberate and cautious approach, he was liked by all. Like Gabrielle, Luca was well respected. 

So how do Gabrielle and Luca approach this particular competency? What are their unique challenges?

Competency Analysis 

When Gabrielle foresees a problem, she already has a solution. She trusts her instincts entirely and confidently begins to implement the course of action she is confident will take care of the issue. The only problem Gabrielle perceives in these situations is that others simply do not share her sense of urgency. In Gabrielle's mind, they just move too slowly.

When Luca is faced with a problem, his reaction is often quite different. While he typically comes up with a solution very quickly, Luca usually begins to second-guess himself. "Maybe I need to think about this a little more", he often says to himself. "The solution cannot be this simple." Luca would then begin to think about the issue from almost every possible angle until the problem had grown, become complicated and intimidating in his mind. Luca often then becomes stressed.

Gabrielle and Luca are faced with the same situation that calls for the execution of the same competency. Yet their reactions are very different. Gabrielle shoots first then aims. Luca aims, re-aims, and then aims again.

So, how can we help both Gabrielle and Luca?


Many of our clients take a straightforward yet efficient approach. They make their competencies more specific and individual by taking into account how the different behavioural styles can more effectively address and implement them. Simply put, they add a DISC behavioural style dimension to each of their behaviourally-based competencies. By doing so, they can more meaningfully guide their different DISC styles of employees to succeed. 

For example, for Gabrielle, the additional guidance to address this competency is: Remember that sometimes the first solution is not the best.

For Luca, it is: Try not to overestimate the challenges and problems.

Of course, our clients have similar guidance provided to their other styles of employees. As a result, the competencies are more specific and meaningful. Employees now understand what they mean to ME.

Next time you review the competencies you have established for your employees, you may want to consider the implication they have on the different DISC styles of employees. By doing so, you will guide them on the right path and equip them to perform their jobs better. The best part is that the competencies will have a more specific and practical meaning to your employees. As a result, the behaviours will begin to positively change.

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