Core Competencies: Setting Training Up for Failure?

Core competence is an organizational attribute. It’s so comprehensive that no lone element of an organization can drive it.

By Dan Cooper, CEO,

When it comes to training, the “competence” word gets thrown around a lot. The assumption is that everyone knows what it means, but that often isn’t the case. You need to make sure you know which of two definitions you’re talking about, and what the training department is signing up for.

Core Competence

In their book, “Competing for the Future,” authors Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad define a core competenceas: “A bundle of skills and technologies that enables a company to provide a particular benefit to customers.”They go on to observe, “… transcend any particular product or service, and, indeed, may transcend any single business unit within the organization.”

Core competence is an organizational attribute. It’s so comprehensive that no lone element of an organization can drive it—not any one product line or any single department, including Training.

Employee Competence

In contrast, the definition of employee competence is: “Qualified to perform job processes to standards.”

Employee competence is a readiness of individuals to perform to job requirements. Using standard quality measures, this means that employees can do their processes

  1. Within the specified cycle time
  2. Without defects and
  3. To customer satisfaction expectations.

Table 1 summarizes the differences between core competence and employee competence.

Table 1.















Business unit

(and above)








The Bind

The exposure for you is when leadership tasks the training department with driving the core competencies for the organization. You can’t determine your organization’s core competencies, and you can’t ensure they endure to deliver a strategic advantage. That’s a job for leadership.

What trainers can do is create learning solutions that improve the job-related competence of employees. This needs to support the core competencies of the organization, but it’s done one employee at a time versus directing the entire organization.

To Do

You need to make certain everyone has the right expectations of the Training department. It starts with making sure you’re all talking about the same thing when you use the word, “competence.”

Keep these two concepts separate when you communicate with others. Internally, you might use the term, “competence,” when referring to employees, and use “core competency” when referring to organizational strategies. With outsiders, make your meaning clear by always explicitly using the terms, “core competence” and “employee competence.”

Letting the Training department assume responsibility for core competencies sets you up for failure. You’re not in a position to implement organizational strategies. What you can do is provide a direct link between the core competencies your organization has chosen and your department’s specific training offerings in terms of employee competence.

Dan Cooper is CEO of Fast 4ward your learning—find out more at


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