Behavioural assessment vs. competency assessment- What’s the difference?Behavioural assessment vs. competency assessment- What’s the difference?

Behavioural assessment vs. competency assessment: What’s the difference?

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Have you ever wondered why so many employers make poor recruitment decisions?

Well, when faced with empty desks and understaffed teams, expectant hiring managers and concerned MDs can often start to feel the pain of quiet desperation, which then creeps into the hiring process.

In this case, standards may drop or hiring criteria may be altered, leading to poor quality hiring decisions and the inevitable staff turnover that follows.

In fact, this CareerBuilder study shows that the top reason for a bad hire (38%), was rushed hiring, followed by insufficient talent intelligence (21%). This clearly shows that avoiding bad hires is not just about boorishly applying the brakes to the hiring process, as this approach can needlessly antagonise hiring managers.

It’s far more about decelerating enough so you can make a more effective, predictive assessment of talent and then identify with a high level of accuracy exactly WHO will achieve the greatest level of success in the role.

This sacrificing of speed can often open the door for managers and HR teams to discover more effective recruiting practices, one of which is to use specialised talent assessments, which, if used correctly, can lead to higher performing employees who stay longer in your organisation and are far more satisfied and productive in their role.

As result of using talent assessments to supplement your own judgment during the recruitment process, you can also expect to see a net improvement in productivity, which is a business strategy aligned message your key stakeholders cannot ignore!

Not only that, but your ability to predict the success of a potential employee in a given role, drastically increases with the addition of reliable HR data that a talent assessment tool can provide.

So the question remains, what kind of formal talent assessment should you be using?

Behavioural assessment vs competency assessment

As you’ll know, there are multiple types of employee/talent assessments on the market, but we’re going to focus on 2 kinds of assessment in this blog post: Behavioural Assessment and Competency Assessment.

They can often be confused with each other, which is a shame, as they both offer distinctly different insights into an individual, and provide you with hugely differing data about the DNA-makeup of a person.

Companies should ideally understand how both forms of assessment can be of benefit, in their own right.

Behavioural assessment, for example, analyses the unique behavioural preferences that each person has within themselves, by assessing the drive or ‘urge’ of that person to behave in a specific way.

A behavioural assessment can also measure how that person will typically respond to external stimulus, like pressure, uncertainty, authority, change etc., and ultimately gives us a picture of how this person is driven or ‘wants’ to act in a workplace environment.

On the other hand, a competency assessment doesn’t measure the drive to act, but evaluates the person’s skills and abilities, and ascertains whether or not they are able to provide previous evidence for the successful application of those skills or abilities.

Always measured against a pre-determined set of criteria, competency assessments give you an idea of how able that person is to achieve success in the role.

Let’s look at the two assessments in a little more detail.

What is a competency assessment?

Before we can answer this question it’s important that we understand exactly what a competency really is. The CIPD describe a competency as ‘the behaviour that lies behind competent performance, such as critical thinking or analytical skills, and describes what people bring to the job.’

In essence, a competency is developed when you have a skill, talent, or ability which has been practised or honed to a specific level of competence in the past.

If you are competent at something, having done it successfully before, you have a competency.

The thing to remember when you need to start assessing specific competencies during a recruitment or succession planning process, is that each role within your organisation demands different competencies for success, and you must begin with a pre-determined framework of what those are.

Your competency framework could include core competencies, which are necessary for success within your entire organisation, and level competencies which have been identified by you as key criteria for success in a specific position.

To give you an example of this:

Compliance: A core competency, which is required by all employees of the organisation

Strategic Agility: A level competency, which is required by Directors of the organisation

What this means for you, is that before you start to evaluate and assess your potential employee for specific competencies, you need to have created a clear framework which defines the success criteria within your organisation, and the success criteria within the role you are hiring for.

How does a competency-assessment work?

It’s important to remember that competency assessments are generally available in two different formats. You can use a psychometric assessment method, during which your candidate or employee reacts to specific questions or situations on paper or online, and then receives feedback from you on the outcome of that assessment.

Alternatively you can evaluate your potential employee during a competency-based interview, which allows you to ask specific competency-based questions in order to ascertain whether the candidate can actually show evidence of past-behaviours, highlighting the presence of the required competencies.

Whatever method you choose to be able to successfully evaluate the competencies of candidates and potential employees, you should always give them as much opportunity as possible to answer fully and provide you with past-examples, whether from his or her personal or professional sphere.

By asking the right questions to evaluate your predetermined criteria, you can record the positive and the negative indicators for that specific competency and then use that data with your team to make a more objective and accurate evaluation.

Ultimately, a competency assessment is always evidence-based, and relies on the candidate giving clear examples of situations in the past when he or she has shown these.

During a competency-based interview, you can solicit these answers from your candidates by asking questions like “Tell me about a time when…” or “Describe to me the situation in the past in which you…”The key thing to remember here, is that your competency-based interview questions should always be based on the framework and “success criteria” which you and your team defined, previously.

To summarise the differences, behavioural assessment shows how we respond to different situations behaviourally and thus gives an idea of the kind of environment best suited to a person. While the competency assessment simply assesses how good we are at a particular skill and is less concerned about whether we like or dislike using this skill.

In practice, this means that while a person may have good communication and team working skills, it might not mean that they enjoy or prefer working in a way that they are constantly using those skills.

Being good at something and liking something are not always the same thing and confusing these two things can lead to poor career decisions and of course bad hiring decisions.

What is a behavioural assessment?

It’s not uncommon for people to use personality assessments and behavioural assessments as interchangeable terms, but that’s not quite right.

In fact there’s no tool, assessment, or system that can fully and completely assess the whole personality of an individual human being, despite there being many tools that can give you valuable and deep insights into the various aspects of personality, such as behaviours, skills, agility, etc…

That’s why it’s important to make the distinction and to understand that a behavioural assessment does not measure the whole personality, but rather measures the factors that drive behaviour, as well as the natural, observable and adapted behaviours of an individual.

By assessing these behavioural criteria, you can gain a deeper insight into aspects of person, like:

• Their natural drive to influence situations and people
• Their team-orientation
• Their decision making style
• Their preferred style of communication
• Their relationship to risk

The reason why forward-thinking companies use behavioural assessments, is because observation alone can often lead us down the wrong path in the interview room. That’s partly because observable behaviour is incredibly fluid, and we humans are remarkable at adapting ourselves to whichever environment we find ourselves in.

On top of that, the natural psychological biases that we have as humans often stop us from making objective and accurate decisions and may end up with our hiring the best interviewee and not the best candidate, simply because we relied on our observations of their behaviour during the interview.

I mean, how often have you hired someone after a blinding interview, only to find that they are not the person you thought they were, six months down the line?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

In our last blog post we reported that 46% of new hires will fail within 18 months. This is often caused by mistakes made in the interview room, and by basing hiring decisions on misinterpreted behaviour and subjective gut- feeling.

Consequently, if you hire your next employee based on your subjective observations, without an insight into the hidden drivers behind their behavioural tendencies, you’re risking placing someone in a role for which they are not actually suited.

This will ultimately have a knock-on effect on productivity of your team, the retention rates in your organisation, and the success of your business overall.

This is precisely where behavioural assessments can help.

In essence, what a behavioural assessment can do for you, is to give you powerful and deep insights into the less obvious personality traits and hidden psychological drives that lie behind the behaviours you observe.

Rather than pigeonhole candidates and employees into a ‘personality type’, behavioural assessment looks at the factors which motivate behaviour, and measures the unique blend of these factors present within an individual.

In other words, you can use behavioural assessments to identify what’s below the surface of your candidates, as well as what they choose to show you, above the surface.

What’s your success criteria?

Whether using behavioural or competency assessments, one of the first things you’ll need to do is develop a framework with clear success profiles for your organisation and for each role within it.

One way to do this, is to assess a selection of your most engaged, satisfied and high performing employees to identify their competencies and preferred behaviours – this will give you a clear idea of the success criteria for your business or a specific job.

Having developed your success profile (behavioural and/or competency-based) you can then apply it to your external and internal hiring processes to give you a greater level of insight into candidates, enabling you to hire candidates with greater long term compatibility and who will be more effective.

The behavioural assessment especially can help you to identify those candidates who perhaps lack the skills today, but who have the potential to be stars, tomorrow.

Career development and employee performance

The good news is, these kinds of assessment tools have applications that extend far beyond the interview room.

Behavioural and competency assessments also make powerful diagnostic tools, meaning you can identify employees’ strengths and weaknesses, and develop, train, remould and reposition current employees in order to maximise their individual and team contribution.

These assessments are excellent career development and performance optimisation tools with a quantifiable and visible ROI.

As a final reminder, while behavioural assessments and competency assessments are often used side by side in organisations, they do assess different things.

Hopefully, this article has helped to clarify those things in your mind, and given you a clear idea of how you might be able to benefit from using both within your organisation.

What are your experiences with behavioural or competency assessments? Have you used these tools in your business to improve hiring and managerial practises?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below this article, we love to hear your opinions!



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