“There is only one proof of ability: doing it.” [Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach]


You want to convince your boss of your excellent performance? Or you as a boss need to distribute your staff onto several teams according to their skills?

The book “Competence at Work” by Lyle M. Spencer and Signe M. Spencer can help you: This book was originally aimed to support companies and HR departments with the successful selection of staff. For different working profiles necessary competencies are presented with scale values.

But these scale values you can also use to present your personal competencies or to rank the competencies of your staff in a comprehensible way. They helped one of my friends in London when working for an investment bank, for example. He showed his boss with explicit examples his achievement orientation, and impact and influence. Then they no longer disagreed on his performance when discussing his annual bonus.

Scales for Most Common Competencies

You can rank yourself with the competency scales presented here. If your judgement of yourself does not differ too much from the view your boss has of you then I am quite confident that the ranks of both of you will not differ by more than one rank on any scale. But even in case of any difference you have the option now to discuss the detailled description of each scale value or to evidence it with an explicit example. This is also true for your estimation for your staff.

The presented file shows scales for the most common competencies in 6 areas.

Achievement and Action Helping and Human Service Impact and Influence Managerial Cognitive Personal Effectiveness
(1) Achievement Orientation - Intensity and Completeness of Achievement motivated Action (5) Interpersonal Understanding - Depth of Understanding Others (7) Impact and Influence - Actions taken to influence Others (10) Developing Others - Intensity of developmental Orientation and Completeness of developmental Action (14) Analytical Thinking - Complexity of Analysis (17) Self-Control
(1) Achievement Orientation - Achievement Impact (5) Interpersonal Understanding - Listening and Reponding to Others (7) Impact and Influence - Breadth of Influence, Understanding or Network (10) Developing Others - Number and Rank of People developed or direted (14) Analytical Thinking - Size of Problem addressed (18) Self-Confidence - Self-Assurance
(1) Achievement Orientation - Degree of Innovation (6) Customer Service Orientation - Focus on Client’s Needs (8) Organisational Awareness - Depth of Understanding of Organisation (11) Directiveness - Intensity of Directiveness (15) Conceptional Thinking - Complexity and Originality of Concepts (18) Self-Confidence - Dealing with Failure
(2) Concern for Order and Quality (6) Customer Service Orientation - Initiative to help or serve Others (9) Relationship Building - Closeness of Relationsships built (12) Teamwork and Cooperation - Intensity of Fostering Teamwork (16) Technical / professional / managerial Expertise - Depth of Knowledge (19) Flexibility - Breadth of Change
(3) Initiative - Time Dimension (12) Teamwork and Cooperation - Size of Team involved (16) Technical / professional / managerial Expertise - Breadth of managerial Expertise (19) Flexibility - Speed of Action
(3) Initiative - Self-Motivation, Amount of discretionary Effort (12) Teamwork and Cooperation - Amount of Effort or Initiative to Foster Teamwork (16) Technical / professional / managerial Expertise - Acquisition of Expertise (20) Organizational Commitment
(4) Information Seeking (13) Team Leadership - Strength of the Leadership Role (16) Technical / professional / managerial Expertise - Distribution of Expertise

Technicians and Professionals

For technicians and professionals the 5 most important competencies are:

Competency Explanation Weight
Achievement Orientation Measures Performance, Improves Outcomes, Sets challenging Goals, Innovates 6
Impact and Influence Uses direct Persuasion, Facts, and Figures, gives Presentations tailored to Audience, shows Concern with professional Reputation 5
Conceptual Thinking Recognizes Key Actions, underlying Problems, make Connections and Patterns 4
Analytical Thinking Anticipates Obstacles, breaks Problem apart systematically, makes logical Conclusions, sees Consequences, Implications 4
Initiative Persists in Problem Solving, addresses Problems before asked to 4

Interestingly, self-confidence, concern for order and quality, teamwork and cooperation, technical expertise, and customer service orientation are less important for technicians and professionals.

Example: Evaluation of a Technical Professional

For technicians and professionals the 5 most important competencies are Achievement Orientation, Impact and Influence, Conceptual Thinking, Analytical Thinking, and Initiative. Let us have a look at the relevant scales for each competency and rank an imaginary female technical professional into these scales.

Achievement Orientation

Let us assume the employee can get her superior’s and some colleagues' buy-in for parallel work on a project to implement its processes with another method. She works on this project in addition to her normal work. Her direct boss and 5 further colleagues support her and work together with her. The new method is successful and new for the company.

In this case she would be ranked at levels 7, 3, and 2 on these scales for Achievement Orientation:

Level Intensity and Completeness of achievement-motivated Action Achievement Impact Degree of Innovation
-1 No Standards of Excellence for Work
0 Focused on the Task Does Not Do New Things
1 Wants to Do the Job well Individual Performance Only New to the Job or Work Unit
2 Works to Meet Others' Standards Affects 1 or 2 Others New to the Organization
3 Creates own Measure of Excellence Affects a Work Group (4 - 15 People) New to the Industry
4 Improves Performance Affects a Department (more than 15 People) Transformation
5 Sets Challenging Goals Affects an Entire Mid-Size Firm (or a Division of a Larger Company)
6 Makes Cost-Benefit Analysis Affects an Entire Major-Size Firm
7 Takes Calculated Entrepreneurial Risks Affects an Entire Industry
8 Persists in Entrepreneurial Efforts

Impact and Influence

If the employee took several steps to convince her boss and further colleagues to influence other decision committees to approve her project, if her project impacts the entire mid-size firm, then the right levels are 7 on scale “Actions Taken to Influence Others” resp. 4 on scale “Breadth of Influence, Understanding, or Network”:

Level Actions Taken to Influence Others Breadth of Influence, Understanding, or Network
-1 Personalized Power
0 Not Applicable
1 States Intention but Takes No Specific Action One Other Person
2 Takes a Single Action to Persuade Work Unit or Project Team
3 Takes a Two-Step Action to Persuade Department
4 Calculates the Impact of One’s Action or Words Division or Entire Mid-Size Firm
5 Calculates a Dramatic Action Entire Large Organization
6 Takes Two Steps to Influence City Governmental, Political, or Professional Organizations
7 Three Actions or Indirect Influence State Governmental, Political, or Professional Organizations
8 Complex Influence Strategies National Governmental, Political, or Professional Organizations
9 International Governmental, Political, or Professional Organizations

Conceptional Thinking

The employee simplifies complex old-fashioned methods with her approach: level 4.

Level Complexity and Originality of Concepts
0 Uses No Abstract Concepts
1 Uses Basic Rules
2 Recognizes Patterns
3 Applies Complex Concepts
4 Simplifies Complexity
5 Creates New Concepts
6 Creates New Concepts for Complex Issues
7 Creates New Models

Analytical Thinking

If the employee analyzes complex processes for products of a major division of a large company, then this ranks at level four twice:

Level Complexity of Analysis Size of Problem Adressed
0 Not Applicable or None
1 Breaks Down Problems Concerns One or Two People’s Performances
2 Sees Basic Relationships Concerns a Small Work Unit
3 Sees Multiple Relationships Concerns an Ongoing Problem
4 Makes Complex Plans or Analyses Concerns Overall Performance
5 Makes Very Complex Plans or Analyses Concerns Long-Term Performance
6 Makes Extremely Complex Plans or Analyses


In case the employee has resolved her company’s challenges for the next five years, and if she has motivated other colleagues to join her extraordinate efforts, then the rank levels are 8 rep. 6:

Level Time Dimension Self-Motivation, Amount of Discretionary Effort
-1 Thinks Only of the Past Avoids Required Work
0 Not Applicable or Does Not Take Initiative Not Applicable or Absent
1 Shows Persistence Works Independently
2 Addresses Current Opportunities or Problems Extra Effort
3 Is Decisive in a Crisis Does More Than Is Required
4 Acts Up to 2 Months Ahead Does Much More Than Is Requiredh
5 Acts 3 - 12 Months Ahead Makes Extraordinary, Heroic Efforts
6 Acts 1 - 2 Years Ahead Involves Others
7 Acts 2 - 5 Years Ahead
8 Acts 5 - 10 Years Ahead
9 Acts More Than 10 Years Ahead


The five most important competencies and base requirements for managers are:

Competency Explanation Weight
Impact and Influence Uses Data or Other Information, Points Out the Benefits to the Others, Uses Concrete Examples, Visual Aids or Demonstrations, Appeals to Reason or Logic 6
Achievement Orientation Works to Meet a Standard Set by Management, Sets and Acts to Reach Challenging Goals, Makes Cost-Benefit Analyses, Takes Calculated Entrepreneurial Risks 6
Teamwork and Cooperation Solicits the Input of Others and Involves Others, Gives Credit or Recognition and Encourages and Empowers the Group, Works to Improve Group Spirit, Resolves Conflicts 4
Analytical Thinking Sees Implications of Situations or Information, Analyzes Situations Systematically to Determine Causes or Consequences, Anticipates Obstacles, Thinks Ahead 4
Initiative Seizes Opportunities as They Arise, Handles Crises Swiftly and Effectively, Exceeds the Bounds of One’s Formal Authority 4
Organizational Awareness and Relationship Building, Expertise/Spezialized Knowledge Base Requirements

Surprisingly, developing other, self-confidence, team leadership, and conceptional thinking are in general less important for managers.

Teamwork and Cooperation

In contrast to technicians and professionals managers also need to focus on teamwork.

Here the relevant scales are intensity of fostering teamwork, size of team envolved, and amount of effort or initiative to foster teamwork.

Level Intensity of Fostering Teamwork Size of Team Envolved Amount of Effort or Initiative to Foster Teamwork
-1 Uncooperative
0 Neutral Makes No Extra Effort
1 Cooperates Small, Informal Groups of 3 - 8 People Takes More Than Routine Action
2 Shares Information A Task Force or Temporary Team Takes Much More Than Routine Action
3 Expresses Positive Expectations Ongoing Work Group or Small Department Makes Extraordinary Efforts
4 Solicits Inputs Entire Large SIze Department of 16 - 50 People Gets Others to Take Nonroutine Action
5 Empowers Others Division or Major Firm Involves Others in Extraordinary Efforts
6 Team-Builds Entire Major-Size Firm
7 Resolves Conflicts

Other Generic Competency Models

Above mentioned competency models for managers as well as for technicians and professionals were most important and most interesting to me.

The recommended book “Competence at Work” additionally presents models for salespeople, helping and human service workers, and entrepreneurs:

Model Most Important Competency Second Most Important Competency Third Most Important Competency
Salespeople Impact and Influence (10) Achievement Orientation (5) Initiative (5)
Helping and Human Service Workers Impact and Influence (5) Developing Others (5) Interpersonal Understanding (4)
Entrepreneurs Achievement Orientation, Thinking and Problem Solving, Personal Maturity, Influence, Directing and Controlling, Orientation to Others, and other

A Note of Caution

Generic scales are applicable to all jobs - and none precisely. Many competencies can be irrelevant to a given job. Even a critical competency for a job can show irrelevant scale levels for that job.

The scales just represent the most common competencies. Many jobs require unusual or unique competencies which might not been shown here. Unique competencies can cover 2% - 20% of a job. Many jobs require special combinations of competencies.

Higher levels on a scale are not necessarily better. Each job has an optimal point on each scale. Higher levels can result in as many issues as lower levels.


Competence at Work - Models for Superior Performance, Lyle M. Spencer and Signe M. Spencer, John Wiley & Sons Inc., ISBN 0-471-54809-X

Please read my Disclaimer.

Competence_at_Work.xlsx [27 KB Excel file, open and use at your own risk]