The curse or gift of core competence

By Perry Timms, Founder and Director of People & Transformational HR

I can hear the words now bouncing around my head.

A former HRD of mine saying...

" all of our learning must be mapped to the competency framework and everyone's learning must be linked to their core set of competences."

And for years I stuck to that.  I almost made it my mantra "Does it map to your competences".  Then I added "or those in the role you are aspiring towards".

I now think I was dealing in monochrome when learning is about SO much colour.  Neon even.

I think the advent of social technologies enabling us to fall over great insight, content and knowledge of others has made me realise just how narrow the frame of reference was that I had created for others.  Yet that felt safe at the time.  I could easily dismiss what could be construed as frivolous attempts to go on learning jollies in the name of development as it didn't "map to the core/aspired competences".

Over the last 5 years or so I think I've learned things that on the face of it had nothing or very little to do with my core competences.  Yet they stretched the heck out of me.  And they built a yearning for more of the obtuse content.  And it created capacity to learn more and connect this "left field" learning to the core tenets of professionalism.  And I went on a rampage of curiosity - which has now served me well.

For what I now feel I have discovered is just how narrow my field of vision was and how much I appreciate all that is the ecology of work.

So I found out more about technology - now and the future; economics; sociology; anthropology; neuroscience; futurology; hacking; psychology; mindfulness.  All have a link to the world of work yet sit outside of the core competence yet are all proving INFINITELY more useful than sticking to them. 

Now being a freelancer (or selfie) I don't have core competences anymore.  And thirst for learning is - if anything - stronger.  I read insatiably. I am fed by my social networking channels incessantly.  Others share avidly with me.

Does it make LESS sense to me as it's not mapped to core competences?  No.  Does it make more sense to me?  Yes.  The more I learn the more I realise there is more TO learn and apply.  I also have a bank of insight just waiting for the chance to be deployed and so I have a reserve.  Something I never had when I was sticking to the core competences.

So I guess it's clear from me here.  I don't believe it is all about the core competence for me or for "my" learners.  They probably didn't know any different bless them.

Yet I still feel it's a good place to start.  To start the learning process by hooking into professionally recognised behaviours and necessary technical skills.  But in order to really test then we need to move away from the safety or the shadow of the core competence and into the bright lights of stretching ourselves.  So looking back - for me - it was a curse.

ALL learning - when it leads to improvements, productive behaviours and deepened levels of skill - is good. 

Stretching beyond the core competence might just mean greatness beckons.

Perry Timms is a Chartered Member of CIPD. As well as running "People and Transformational HR" Perry is a leading thinker, consultant and speaker on the use of social media. You can follow Perry on Twitter at

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  • Anonymous

    Perry, Great insight as ususal.

    I agree,the focus on competences can reduce the hunger for


    How often do we read /view or watch something that is unrelated to our development that provide great insight ?

    I attended a one day workshop for a colleague a few years ago that proved to be the cataylst for leaving the business I had worked in for many years.

    If my focus had been on competencies, I would not have attended this workshop and missed out on what has been the biggest development journey that I have had in my career.

    Anne Marie