Creating A Killer Competency Palette


When you think of the term “strategic thinking”, what comes to mind for you? How do you define it? What does it look like? And how do you know that the term means the same thing to everyone else on your team? At the company?

If you’ve ever known someone was or wasn’t a fit for the company but you couldn’t articulate why, you are in need of a competency palette. Competencies provide definitions of what’s needed to be successful at the company. They are a vital component of hiring great talent and of managing the performance of your employees.

Employee engagement is at an all-time low, which has companies large and small scrambling to reinvigorate and redefine company culture. A key contributor to low employee satisfaction, according to Gallup, is lack of job clarity and unclear success indicators, making now a great time for your company to either establish a competency palette, or revisit the effectiveness of an existing one.

There are many off-the-shelf options available, but they’re often bloated, have overlapping terms, irrelevant competencies, and aren’t written in a language that feels organic to employees. You’ll have much more success with adoption and usage if you take the time to craft your own custom set.

So what does a killer competency palette look like? It should be minimal, easy to understand, and if at all possible, custom-built for your company or organization. Follow the guidelines below to make your competency palette truly shine.

Separate Them Into Qualities & Skills

At Plumeria, we separate competencies into two types: Qualities & Skills. Qualities describe characteristics of the ideal employee at the company. They are difficult (but not impossible) to teach. They might include things like Curiosity, Heart, and Follow-Through.
Skills define key professional requirements needed to fulfill a job successfully. They might include things like Strategic Thinking, Collaboration, and Active Listening. Skills are more easily taught than Qualities.

As a basic rule of thumb, if you had two candidates for a job, one with all the Qualities but none of the Skills, and the other with all of the Skills but none of the Qualities, you’d want to hire the first one, because you can theoretically help them develop the missing skills.

Use Relatable Terminology

What terms do you hear regularly around the office when employees discuss great performance? One company I worked for continually used the term “People First”, so we turned it into a competency. Rather than forcing the company to adopt a new language, we crafted the language around the company culture.

Keep It Simple

Some off-the-shelf competency palettes have upwards of 60 competencies, many of which  overlap in meaning. Consider adopting no more than 15 Qualities and 15 Skills. Smaller numbers force you to be more deliberate in identifying and defining competencies, and also make change management and adoption much easier.

The Anatomy of an Effective Competency

A competency has two basic components: the Term, and the Definition.

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The term should be organic to the company culture. The reader should have a basic idea of what it means without needing to read the definition.

The definition should contain a collection of characteristics that describe the term. In the example, “humility” here is not defined as it is found in the dictionary, but rather with characteristics someone at the company might use to describe someone who possesses the quality of “humility” at the company.

Observable Behaviors

Depending on how you’ve defined each competency, you may or may not want to identify observable behaviors. If you opt to include them, they should be very specific, with no room for abstraction or subjectivity. Observable behaviors are separated into positive and negative examples.

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Let Us Help You

If you want to refresh your current competency palette or create one from scratch but don’t feel you have the bandwidth or expertise, then let Plumeria help you. We can craft a competency palette that truly reflects your company, and help you with implementation and supporting change management.

Check us out at or email us at

Stay Tuned

In a future article, we’ll cover ways you can put your killer competency palette to good use for hiring, interviewing, job analysis, performance management, and succession planning. So stay tuned!

Cody Wright