Successful companies hire competency

January 1, 2007 By    

The most successful propane companies are comprised of highly competent people who work together towards a common objective. But what do we mean by competency and how do we discern the traits of a potential employee regarding their level of competence? What competencies are most important?

Carl Hughes
Carl Hughes

Let’s look at six basic areas that you should assess in candidates for hire.

Work Ethic – Look for self-imposed standards for their own work. Avoid those whose standards are imposed or directed only by the past employer. Look for those who take responsibility. Avoid those who always seem to be ‘victim’ of a prior boss, company or situation. Look for punctuality, neatness, precision, and those who are not satisfied with an average performance. The competency of a good work ethic is most important as you look for people in any leadership role.

Positive Attitude – Seek those who see the world in a positive light. Employment history discussions bring these tendencies out in people. Those with positive attitudes are open to change, new ideas and training. It is an immeasurable burden on an organization to add an individual with a poor attitude, especially in roles where teamwork and communication are important. Negative people often assume hidden agendas exist where they don’t and distract co-workers with their thinking. Key roles requiring positive attitudes are customer service representatives, dispatchers and any manager.

Attention to Detail – Identify those who will pay attention to small differences, errors or potential problems before they become large and serious. Drivers, service technicians and customer service representatives all add value with this core competency. For example, any employee dealing with customers and their accounts can have a significant impact by their attention to detail. The ability to identify small errors in a billing statement or inflections of concern in a customer’s voice can help management take action to save a customer from going elsewhere.

Teamwork – Look for people who recognize that the organization is bigger than the individual. Candidates should understand that a team can accomplish goals that individuals alone cannot, and that each team member has strengths and weaknesses. They should also understand that conflict is normal and that positive resolutions exist. All candidates for leadership roles should be evaluated for this competency.

Pace of Work – Hire those with the ability to keep up a high level of productivity over time. Prior employer background checks can discover those who work in spurts of energy followed by a history of non-productive periods. Candidates with a history of inconsistent output can prevent an entire team from accomplishing important company initiatives. As much as we want to have the perfect work environment for all employees, all companies have situations of intense pressures and the need to work overtime.

Safety Orientation – Perform a background check to help identify this competency. An overly obvious need for our business, a safety orientation involves being aware of the factors that affect safety. Good judgment is a learned trait that identifies situations that affect safety in the work environment. It should be measured.

Most of us are generally diligent when looking at a new external candidate for a particular role. We do background checks, we conduct multiple interviews and we compare the candidates’ qualifications.

But when we think of promoting an internal candidate for a new role, we often sidestep this important evaluation process. The irony of this error is that we have better data to evaluate an internal candidate than an external one. Because we don’t go through the process thoroughly, however, we make promotional mistakes.

For example, if an employee has been generally productive and consistent in their work pattern but has demonstrated a negative attitude, it would be a mistake to consider them for a position of management or leadership. As a rule, if a trait is not exhibited in an existing role, the core competencies you are requiring will not suddenly appear just because they are in a new role.

Carl Hughes is vice president of business development for Inergy LP. He can be reached at
or 816-842-8181.

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