There are few subjects more boring to read about online than how to attain competency in any area, from leadership to instructions on plumbing. And it doesn’t matter if that reading is directly from an organizational HR manual, or from the very informative HBR.org website.

Reading about watching paint dry might rank higher.

Typically, such articles are drily written and are rarely brought to life in any way that’s going to help you in a “real-life” scenario.

Or, the advice contained in them comes off as “pie in the sky.”

Part of that is the way that these articles are written.

The other part is that you make a choice about what to remember and what to forget after about 8 seconds when you skim an online article or blog post.

So do I. So does that guy over there.

The real issue with such writing is not a lack of reader understanding about the levels of competency or the modes of conflict. It’s not even the epidemiology of conflict, the fact that your boss may be a conflict incompetent, or even that there are really very few tangible KPI’s for reducing conflict in the workplace, other than emotional ones (and emotion in the workplace is a “no-no” as “everybody” knows).

The real issue is that there is very little robust measuring or tracking of the links from competency in any given situation to addressing how people actually behave when placed in a situation they find to be uncomfortable, distracting, irrelevant to accomplishing their goals, or that they have no interest in. There is also very few robust descriptions of such situations to buoy the writing along.

Competency is the combination of observable and measurable knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal attributes. Competencies are demonstrated by real people, who are able to recognize hazards associated with a particular task and have the ability to mitigate those hazards within a set of defined standards, consistently and over time in an organizational setting, from their home to their workplace.

This definition is so narrow and specific (and dry), that OSHA requires job sites to designate a person on the site as the individual who is competent enough to perform safety tasks in a suitably repetitive manner. And by the way, merely appearing to be competent isn’t good enough when OSHA shows up on a job site.

Imagine if such things were required in every workplace?

There are five levels of competency: the novices, the advanced beginners, the competent practitioners, the proficient performers, and the experts. Competency used to be sexy and interesting in an Industrial Era focused on the metric of maximum production out of the maximum number of people, but that has shifted as fewer people can do more work. And in the Information Economy, even at the highest levels of many industries, competency (whether HR defined or emotional) is still confused with expertise—and rewarded.

So, it seems as though it is time to propose a new model for the workplace; or at the very least, initiate a mash-up of several research areas and explain why a new direction is needed.

Who’s the “designated competent person” in your workplace?

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