5.2 Job Competency Fit

For those new to this series . . .

This blog is for leaders who desire to capitalize upon natural strengths to realize individual and organizational peak performance.  We share insights from an upcoming book on The Foundation of Winning (FOW), the template we have developed to help us and our clients achieve their personal and organizational potential.  The FOW elements include Three Principles of Mankind and Four Disciplines of Leadershipthey are the pillars that enable natural alignment and meaningful success.

I was privileged to spend 21 years at University of Michigan Athletics, including 11 years with Football Coach Bo Schembechler, one of our nation’s most exemplary leaders. Working with Bo revealed there is much more to long-term peak performance than talent. Being a systems engineer, I was fascinated by the science behind what made enduring peak performance possible.  There are many great leaders who possess what Bo embodied, but he may be referenced more than others due to his mentorship.

blog5-2-jobs “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

 – Steve Jobs


The competency that Steve Jobs displayed was exceptional by all standards.  When it came to natural talent competency he had the knack to dream of products and features that customers would realize they needed only after Steve Jobs demonstrated them at one of the legendary Apple Special Events. His knowledge competency was fired by the booming tech industry that was creating capacity to do big things in small devices, that enhanced Jobs’ passion to provide the unthought-of for public benefit.  The skill competency for Jobs was his ability to push people to quality standards unseen previously.  He made mistakes, but that is a part of the growth requirement for exceptional competency.

In our last post, we explored the most important component in the Performance Evaluation Equation, Organizational Cultural Fit.  Now, we turn to the concept that has traditionally been given the most attention and weight: Job Competency Fit. To achieve Job Competency Fit for peak performance an individual must possess:

  • blog5-2-passionPassion for the Job

Commitment, dedication, and perseverance, focused on building Job Skills and Knowledge Competencies, transforms a job into a labor of love.

  • A Growth Mindsetblog5-2-thoughts

A hunger for the challenge of learning, growing, and experimenting provides the energy to serve a deeply meaningful purpose, in service of something greater than oneself.


In the Performance Evaluation Equation, the three components of Competency Fit—Talent, Skills, and Knowledge—are critical for effective execution of the job.


The T-S-K’s of Competency

Competency Fit for the job has three elements:

  1. “T” – Talent – That ability we are born with and execute effortlessly, especially compared to others; for example, the ability to visualize objects and dimensions in space that is required of an architect, or the exceptional depth perception of airplane pilots as they land their plane.
  2. “S” – Skill – The technical ability to perform at a high level that is learned along the way; for example, becoming a master at using Excel spreadsheets for financial data analysis, or deftly sewing small blood vessels, as a surgeon must do. Depending on natural talent, some may learn faster and achieve higher levels of skill than others, but all get better with time at purposeful skill development.
  3. “K” – Knowledge – The information we gain in our area of expertise that sets us apart from others; for example, understanding the complexities of international patent law, or mastering the myriad features in the latest cell phones.

It is important understand that Talent has little capacity for growth, whereas Skill and Knowledge can improve with purposeful commitment of time on task.

Malcolm Gladwell explores competency in Outliers as does Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated. Both authors share what greatness is and postulate that talent is correlated to success, but only to a point. Beyond that point, it is about deliberate hard work and dedicated practice. Successful individuals who capitalized upon their talent by enhancing their skill and knowledge in exceptional ways that are featured in the books include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the Beatles, Tiger Woods, Winston Churchill, Warren Buffett, and Michael Jordon.

As my mentor coach Bo Schembechler said almost daily,

“You are getting better or you are getting worse, you are not staying the same.  If you stay the same, someone is gaining on you and they are going to beat you!”

Leadership Challenge Questions

 As a leader, ask yourself:

  • Assess your best team members – when they were hired, what was their Job Competency Fit vs. Organizational Cultural Fit?
    • What does this tell you about the importance of Job Competency Fit?
  • Do you think Competency Fit or Cultural Fit is easier to teach, and to be learned?
  • How do you put Competency Fit in its proper place in assessing the “right people” to hire?