I recently attended a client conference where Earvin “Magic” Johnson spoke. I was impressed by his personal warmth, sense of humor and humbleness. He is an excellent speaker. What impressed me even more, was how he spoke about his early years developing his basketball skills. He put in more hours practicing each skill than any other player on the team. He shared one college team story that really stayed with me.

Each and every day, Magic would show up 3 hours before anyone else for early morning practices. He understood the importance and value of practice. In order to be the best, he had to practice longer and harder than everyone else. Magic didn’t just become an all-time great because he had talent. He was an all-time great because he had talent and because he worked hard to develop and perfect his basketball skills.

Magic also adopted a similar learning based approach to achieve his successful forays into the business world. He knew that he wanted to succeed, and he also knew that he wanted to learn from the best so that he could be the best.

Magic’s approach to honing his skills through practice demonstrates the value of competence development. Competencies, or job related soft skills, are skills that can be learned and developed over time with focused attention and practice. They are typically experience-based and not built by classroom learning.

Superior performers possess more highly developed soft skills than other professionals. Individuals typically develop competencies that align with the skills needed for success in their jobs. They can also develop soft skills through personal activities like team sports, community service, or high school/college clubs.  Practice builds competence. Some people are going to be more inclined to want to develop some competencies more than others based on their interests (driving forces) and natural tendencies (behaviors). Successful job competence is achieved when a cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills enable a person to act effectively in a job or situation.

A common mistake that business managers make is assuming that a top performer will excel in any role they are given. The classic example is the top performing salesperson who gets promoted to a sales manager role. The competencies required for success in each role are not the same and yet many are surprised when the successful salesperson fails in the role of sales manager. To further this point, imagine the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, in a 10,000 meter race. He has trained and developed his body for sprinting, not for long distance running.

If you are thinking about succession planning, employee development and/or career planning, don’t assume that your top performers will automatically fill the requirements for any role.

  • Start with the job and what competencies are required for success, ideally creating a role benchmark (typically we recommend 7 competencies)
  • Use an objective competence assessment to measure an individual’s level of development
  • Identify the gaps from this assessment and help them create a plan to develop the weaker competencies to achieve success

We recommend that you use a validated competence assessment. Many companies that do have defined core competencies for their employees, ask managers to make annual judgements on their team members’ level of competence development. It is challenging to obtain accurate, objective assessments this way. Each manager will have their own subjective system for ranking their team members and their measures won’t be the same as anyone else’s. Objective measurement will provide a common denominator for more accurate rating of employee competence across your organization.

The next step is to create a development plan for each individual that will prepare them for success in the role they seek. Ideally you want to give them an opportunity to embrace those skills through practice the same way Magic Johnson achieved his success in personal development. Your future stars will thank you.


To learn more about how The Oval Group can help you to measure and develop competencies, go to https://ovalgrp.com/talent-assessments/ and scroll down to the section titled TTI DNA® 25 (Competencies).



TTI DNA® 25 is a registered trademark of Target Training International.