Competence Development: The Path to Excellence

Path to Excellence

Authored By:

Geir Arnhoff, CEO of Dossier

Geir Arnhoff


A CFO asks a CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

The CEO responds: “What happens if we do not and they stay?”


We are often asked, “What is competence and how do leading organizations develop it?” The answer is dependent on the organization and the situation. Competence occurs when people demonstrate expertise in their roles. Competence development, then, is the ongoing assessment and improvement of the knowledge, skills, judgement and behaviors that roles require to build and sustain expertise. For organizations to excel, leaders must be strategic in their approaches to competence development, as it is essential for continuous improvement.


Defining Competence Requirements

The strain of the pandemic has been felt at both the individual and organizational level. Many executives have used the pandemic as an opportunity to identify and close competence gaps. Evaluating employees, tasks, behaviors, processes, etc. to create standards for competence and, then, identifying individual performance gaps helps to ensure the organization and staff are on the path to excellence. This requires executives to view professional development as an investment in the organization’s future.

An organization’s competence plan should be operational and not so overarching that it only becomes words without real content. The plan should define the guidelines necessary to to mobilize, further develop, or acquire competencies. It should also be operationalized through an action plan with specific activities and an implementation timeline.


Building a Competence Strategy: Your Path to Organizational Standardization

Standardizing competence helps organizations, especially those in healthcare, ensure the right people have the right skills for the tasks they are responsible for. While industry standardization is the goal, organizations can standardize competence to ensure staff knowledge while identifying and closing performance gaps. Staff appreciate the investment in professional development, which helps to boost morale. As well, organizations are rewarded with higher-quality performance.

The competence strategy, established at the organizational level, defines the vision. When creating a competence strategy, a good starting point is for executives to answer the following:

  • What risks are the organization exposed to if there isn’t a focus on competence? Starting with this question helps executives come to consensus about the value of this investment – allowing them to stay the course when budget constraints are needed.
  • What trends will affect the business?
  • Who will place higher demands on competence and what will that look like? I.e., healthcare experiencing higher expectations for delivery of care or changes in care models that affect delivery of care
  • What goals do we want to achieve in the next three to five years?
  • What competencies will the organization need to achieve these goals?


In addition to building the competence strategy, executives should also assess the environment and capture anything (internal or external) that could influence competence development and desired outcomes. This level of scenario planning can help identify budget needs and help ensure the company is adequately prepared for possible disruptions. This critical step helps to identify opportunities for changes and ongoing improvement. It may be necessary to document re-evaluation periods, times when changes to plans may be needed at the strategic level based on changes to the environment.

Establishing a clear vision for organizational competence is only part of the strategy and should be included with other goal and management documents.


From Strategy To Measurable Action Plans

Once the organization has clearly defined its vision for competence, it’s time to assess performance against that vision. Identifying gaps is a critical step in developing the action plan and a timeline for measuring improvement. Once gaps are identified, competence development can occur. Competence plans are built, implemented and monitored at various levels within the organization.

Competence development takes place in many different forms, from comprehensive formal education to more informal side-by-side instruction. Plans should use a blended learning method.

In some cases, all employees may need to be trained when, for example, an organization introduces new digital systems. In other cases, a select few may need new skills in connection with the work they perform. The starting point for prioritization should be the organization’s current situation, then future needs.

Competence development is an essential investment by the organization and needs to be viewed as such by leadership. Just as upgrading technology is regarded as an organizational priority, competence development should be, too.

Once the training needs for staff have been identified, a budget should be built. Protecting the budget from being reduced or removed, especially during recessions, is highly recommended.

When operationally mapping which competencies should be developed, involve key people in the organization in workshops designed to discuss current issues and scenarios. To be sure you have come up with the most relevant competencies, have discussions with individuals at different levels and within different departments. Systematically review each work area, department and facility. Assess instructions, procedures and requirements for the different roles. Then you can use goal and development interviews as a basis for preparing and updating competence profiles for each individual employee.

  • Assess how critical or vulnerable the various competencies are (critical competence = difficult to replace by external recruitment. Vulnerable competence = important competence that only one or a few in the organization have.)
  • Focus on identifying hidden competence. Tacit knowledge is often found in the performance of an activity.


The next step is to document and educate staff about the expectations and their competency plans. Be clear about the measurable outcomes of demonstrating competence. Each action plan should be as specific as possible, but not so extensive that staff get stuck. Plans should contain the following:

  • An overview of who will implement which measures
  • A schedule for the activities
  • Cost estimate
  • Information about who is responsible for following up


Competence development should always be adapted to the organization’s ambition level and access to resources. The goal should be to make your plan thorough, but simple. Good luck in your work with strategic competence development!

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