The 7 Core Competencies Great Employees Have

Here's How to Spot High Potential Employees

Businessman in office looking thoughtfully out the window thinking about his employees..

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Core competencies intimately entwine in understanding and predicting which employees will become your superstars. Every business needs to plan for the future. That means figuring out early-on which employees have high potential and then coaching and training them. You want to make sure that when a high-level position opens up, you have an employee ready to take over.

Of course, this is always a gamble—you don't know who will quit after you've spent money training them—and you don't know when the right positions will open up. And, most troubling is, the person who is performing like a superstar in a low-level job may or may not have what it takes to perform like a superstar in a senior-level job. Remember, doing the job is different from managing employees or processes.

One way to help you figure out who the best and the brightest employees are now is to focus on core competencies. They can predict who may perform like a superstar in the future.

What Are Core Competencies?

The concept of core competencies as it is applied in organizations is defined in the Business Dictionary as follows:

“A unique ability that a company acquires from its founders or develops and that cannot be easily imitated. Core competencies are what give a company one or more competitive advantages, in creating and delivering value to its customers in its chosen field. Also called core capabilities or distinctive competencies.”

What does this mean for your business? Well, first you need to sit down and figure out what makes your company your company. Why is your company different and special and what makes it better than your competitors?

Keep in mind that unless your company is a complete and utter disaster with no clients, there is something that you do better than your competitor. Identifying those things and looking for people who have capabilities in those areas is the key to identifying high-potential people for your organizations.

Defining Seven Essential Core Competencies

This process of identifying your unique brand and deliverables can seem vague and academic. Here are seven core competencies that are crucial. While not the only core competencies you'll want your employees to possess, you can use these as a start to develop your future leaders. Remember, a business isn't a static thing—if you don't have these core competencies today, it doesn't mean that you can't develop them for the future.

Written Communication

Does your business excel at explaining things via writing? So many companies today rely on written communication to get their messages across—whether it is through formal proposals or a blog on the company website. An employee who has strong writing skills as a core competency can be a person who has high potential.

They can communicate effectively and clearly without error and can write content that is geared to the needs of the audience they are addressing. It's much easier to identify a low or mid-level person with this skill and train them on other leadership qualities than it is to send an executive to a remedial writing course.

Building Collaborative Relationships

Every business depends on relationships—whether internal or external. A person with this core competency helps your business. What makes a relationship collaborative? An employee who exhibits the ability to build collaborative relationships expresses interest in other people, takes the time to get to know coworkers, supports other people in the accomplishment of their goals, and develops two-way relationships.

This core competency is critical for every function from management to sales, finance, customer service, and human resources. People who succeed, your superstars, understand that to accomplish their work mission, they must build collaborative relationships with key employee alliances.

Diagnostic Information Gathering

When a problem occurs in your organization, a high potential person with this core competency sets out to solve it analytically. They not only fix the problem but gather the information that explains how the problem happened in the first place.

It involves talking to people, asking questions to get information, not jumping to conclusions, and making a well-reasoned decision. This core competency is especially critical to senior leaders in human resources and customer service roles. Both require intensive information gathering, even in situations when people aren't willing to immediately offer up the whole truth.

Technical Expertise

This core competency has become increasingly more important. The idea that a person who is at the top of the organization needs to have their emails printed out is laughable today. But technical expertise is so much more—a person with this competency looks for technical solutions to complex problems but also understands that technology doesn't solve everything.

They keep up with technological changes in their field and aren't afraid to learn new skills. As technical expertise continues to change rapidly, a person only has this core competency if they're willing to learn constantly. So, look for an individual who is technically savvy and not afraid of change.


A successful leader needs to have confidence in themselves. Self-confidence also means that you can respond to correction or negative feedback without becoming completely devastated. An employee who has self-confidence speaks up when needed and keeps their mouth shut when it's not necessary for them to speak up.

If an employee is willing to speak up but not to shut up, that's not self-confidence. That's a sign for you that the person isn't sure their ideas can withstand a little discussion. Or it's a red flag that the person feels that their way is the only right way. Neither is a confidence builder that the individual has the core competency of self-confidence.

Personal Credibility

Well, Steve is a great salesperson, but be careful, or he'll dump his entire workload on you. Have you known someone like that? That person may have great sales skills but isn't someone you want to put on the high potential path. You need people who are honest and trustworthy. Someone who everyone knows will do the right thing.

Forward Thinking

To be a leader, you have to think about tomorrow. Being good at thinking about today makes you a good worker, but thinking towards tomorrow makes you a high potential person. This core competency involves looking at the industry as a whole, not just your business or your department. It means constant development. You want to promote an employee who figures out what is going on now and how to handle things in the future.

To do this, you need to provide broad information, learning experiences, developmental opportunities, and mentoring from your experienced superstars.

These are seven core competencies that apply to most businesses, but there are certainly others that may apply to yours. Identify the core competencies that are the ones critical to your business. Then take a look at your current employees and identify which employees have these skills and put them on your high potential track.

If you see your business needs competencies that your people don't have, those are the competencies you need to look for when you recruit employees.

You may be tempted to hire just for today's needs, but if you want your business to have long-term success, then you need to look for and develop these employee core competencies in all departments.