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Skills vs. Competencies

Skills vs. Competencies

Fair warning – this is a big topic and there is a lot to unpack.  For the sake of brevity, I will focus on what I consider the larger, more-impactful decision points.  But this comes at the cost of a bit of nuance.

Skills & Competencies seem, colloquially, to be synonymous.  And some recent updates to functionality from Workday are moving Skills & Competencies towards each other (namely, the ability to rate & endorse Skills. My go-to line used to be that Competencies are rated, and Skills are not).  BUT it appears the intent here is to make the two options more complementary, as well as more individually robust.

When clients engage me for work with Skills Cloud, they are most frequently interested in better understanding the capabilities of their current workforce; what skills they presently have, and identifying any skill gaps. “What do we have, and what are we going to need?” Answering these questions will allow them to more accurately plan for sourcing needs in the future, and more effeciently recruit internally.

On the flip-side, when clients engage me for work with Competencies, the goal is usually to clearly communicate desired behaviors from the top down. “We’ve just revamped our Company/Executive/Department metrics and want individuals to put their focus in these areas because this is how we will measure success.” Less of a fact-finding effort, and more of an attempt at steering efforts towards identified priorities.


Perhaps most importantly, skills are self-reported, and their “scope” is smaller and more bite-sized compared to most competencies.  They reference, by and large, a specific ability. And that ability does not necessarily need to be related to their current job at all. Skills and the Skills Cloud leverage machine learning, and while you can rate skills via gigs, feedback, and self they do NOT pull in to performance reviews.


Competencies have a bit more structure and control compared to skills; your organization defines them and dictates how they are assigned (job profile, job family, management level).  Usually, they are related to an individual’s role and represent a broader concept or more complex behavior than simple Microsoft Excel mastery. Competencies don’t get plugged into Machine learning and produce suggestions the way Skills do, but they can get directly pulled into performance reviews.

Separating Fact from Ficton

These two topics operate in similar spaces, and there is a lot of “newness” surrounding some of the functionality (particularly when it comes to Skills).  Likely for these reasons, there are a handful of assumptions floating around that are not (for the time being) accurate.  Let’s take a moment to dispel some of these misconceptions when it comes to the interplay (or lack thereof) of Skills vs. Competencies.


What makes this head-to-head of functionality so interesting, and so complex, is that both Skills and Competencies have many cross-functional touchpoints.  The graphic below is not an exhaustive list, but gets the point across that these two objects each serve as a sort of connective tissue in the worker experience.

We’ve covered a bit about what uses Skills and Competencies were “intended” for, and how others leverage them. But the configuration options are flexible. If you find this framework doesn’t speak to you, or is not quite a good fit for your organization, you won’t be the first to deviate from the proverbial “best-practice” herd. Before you write off Skills or Competencies (or both) entirely, lets chat!

Question? Comment?