Skip to Content

EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT: Competency, Commitment and Handling Problem Behavior in Employees


It had been a long couple of years leading up to the day when my boss approached me and said, “What’s changed Mike?”  Not knowing what she was talking about, I shot off an inquisitive look. “Your commitment level,” she said, “it’s apparent that something in you has sparked a renewed commitment to your job and the organization.”  I thought for a moment, realizing that it had changed, and searched for an answer.  “I’m not sure,” I said, “but I can tell you what’s different; I feel very confident in my abilities to do my job well.”  It was as if a light went off when I said that, because it wasn’t that I had been uncommitted to the organization; I just hadn’t been committed to myself.  I realized at that moment that there was a direct connection between a person’s commitment level and his/her confidence in his/her own ability to do his/her job. This is typically identified as competency.

Ken Blanchard speaks about Competence and Commitment (C&C) in his discussion around situational leadership; however, what is rarely discussed is the relationship between the two and the belief that competency is a driving factor for commitment.  Blanchard uses these two indicators to help identify an employee’s level of development, which is determined by the level of competency he/she has coupled with his/her level of commitment to the job or organization.

Whether talking situational leadership or the conversation I had with my boss, it is the behavior that is the end result of one’s competency and commitment levels. In addition, if we look at all behavior being driven by a particular motivation that one has, then we can also draw a line between motivation and commitment. The understanding is that if I’m committed to doing something a certain way, then I must be motivated to do it that way as well.  For this specific instance, one might even suggest that commitment and motivation are one in the same.

Over time, these two attributes present themselves over and over again. The understanding that in each of us, and the employees in which we supervise, competency and commitment not only determine the way we interact, the attitude we have or the behavior we see, but also provide for us a way to diagnose level of need and the root cause of poor behavior.  Often times we witness a behavior, possibly poor customer service, or a lack of quality in the work being completed, and depending on how we, as managers, choose to handle conflict, we either address the behavior in an aggressive way by providing direct feedback to the employee, or choose a more passive approach by providing deeper training or instruction that might address the issues we’re witnessing. Unfortunately in this case, our response is determined by our personal preference. Using the C&C attributes, we are able to assess the direct cause of the behavior we’re seeing and apply a more exact approach to tackling the issue at hand.  Let’s use the example of poor quality at work. If we were to use the C&C attributes we would first look at the competency level of the employee, recognizing that competency drives commitment, and so it is appropriate to start there before jumping directly to commitment level (figure 1).  If we assess the competency level of the individual, defined as possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, and/or capacity, we begin to ask the question if the reason or cause for the poor quality is a result of the employee not knowing the correct method, or simply a lack of commitment to doing it right.  Our ability to ask this question first allows us to delineate between competency, which is resolved through teaching, training, and education or commitment, which is around proper management.

Commitment, defined as the act of engaging one’s self, speaks to the motivation of an individual.  In an article by Ken Blanchard’s company, “From Engagement to Work Passion,”  he identifies a direct correlation between an employee’s commitment to the organization and his/her engagement level within the organization.  The article goes on to talk about the attribute of engagement, but for his conversation, it was the idea of commitment as it relates to either the employee’s job or the company that caught my interest. In my experience, commitment level is typically attributed to either a need deficiency on the part of the employee, or the development of group think on a team resulting from a lack of proper management/coaching.  From the individual perspective, it may be the lack of competency, praise, organizational entanglement or meaningfulness that leads to a lack of commitment.  In regards to the team or group atmosphere, the lack of group commitment typically results from a lack of clear standards, morale building activities (figure 2) and level 5 leadership, all of which drive accountability down through the ranks.

Developing Your Approach

If you are familiar with Frederick Herzberg’s theory of motivation (read our article on employee motivation and retention), you begin to realize how intertwined his idea of the four motivating factors (competency, choice, progress and meaningfulness) is with Blanchard’s use of the term ‘Commitment.’  If we assume that commitment and motivation are one in the same, than it is no surprise that ‘Competency’ would be a driving force in determining an individual’s level of commitment to the job or the organization.  More so, as we begin to apply this understanding to our daily work, we begin to see how our approach as managers can have a direct effect on the engagement level of the employee (figure 3).  In my case, had my boss simply looked at my behavior and  immediately associated it  with a lack of commitment, which she openly admits she did in the beginning, her response would have been dictated by a belief that I was not committed to the organization.  In hindsight, it was simply a lack of my knowledge for the business, which was manifesting in a way that was similar to commitment, or a lack thereof.

In hopes of helping you to review your workforce and determine whether what you see is a competency or commitment issue, we’ve constructed a short assessment tool for you. By using this tool you’ll be able to determine the cause of behavior and from there, apply the appropriate tools and methods to achieving the end result of a more engaged and motivated workforce.




Who We Are

An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

Our Twitter Feed