Competency versus Culture

Joseph J. Lacroix

Have you ever encountered an employee, boss, peer, friend, or otherwise that - in your opinion - knew just the right thing to do - but failed to seize the moment and do it. We've all known someone like that, and at one time or another we've even done it ourselves.

Knowing the right thing to do under a given set of conditions (by action or spoken word) has to do with competency. Failing to do it because of the potential adverse implications has to do with culture. All too often people will jump to the conclusion that a failure of people to act as we'd like them to has to do with a competency, when it is far more likely these days that inaction it has to do with an organization cultural barrier.

Our firm has never assisted an organization that didn't think they had a "communications problem," for example. Almost all the time this is a gigantic organization cultural barrier that prevents people from talking about important topics openly. Yet the traditional communications training to improve competence does little or nothing to overcome the cultural implications associated with this symptom. In fact, if the culture were healthy enough, people who legitimately needed training in how to better communicate would ask for it more directly rather than have to be told to attend it. Here's how to tell the difference.


The standby to determine competency in the training arena for decades has been a test. By any acceptable methods we can devise a test to determine if an individual knows the right thing to do and the conditions under which acceptable performance can be expected. Then, under those actual conditions (not in the classroom, but in a real organization application) does the person perform as expected? Checking beyond the classroom experience is an imperative. If the appropriate action is known in the classroom and yet not performed in the "real application," then it is likely an organization culture issue.

Observation of Individual Performance in a Group.

Observing the individual outside the group environment to determine if they demonstrate that they know the "right" thing to do (given what might be expected of them) while they are alone or with someone who is like-minded, would be a clear indication that they have the competency required. Yet if they are reluctant to perform consistently with other individuals who are not known to be like-minded, then organization culture is probably in the way of consistent performance.


These are only two tests and they may not be conclusive. But if culture rather than competency inhibit key contributors to significant decisions in any organization, tackle the problem head-on, at the cultural level, not at the competency level. Providing people with increased competencies will rarely solve a cultural deficiency in any organization. Our education paradigm leads people to believe that if workers knew better they'd do better. If you believe that, you'll spend too much money trying to increase performance solely through training.

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Copyright 1998 Leadagement Technologies, Inc. - All rights reserved.

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Copyright 1998 Leadagement Technologies, Inc. - All rights reserved.
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Reviewed: 12/98 as ""