Distinctive competencies

Distinctive competencies
See also

Distinctive competencies are a unique and difficult for others to replicate group of competence decided to a large extent about the competitive advantage of the company.

“Sociologist Philip Selznick (1957) was the first to identify and label distinctive competence as a particularly valuable capacity and resource for organizations. He believed that a key role for organizational leaders is to identify, invest in, and protect such competencies and the resources underlying them.”[1]

Features of the distinctive competencies[edit]

Distinctive competencies are distinguished by such features as[2]:

  • rarity among competitors;
  • difficulty of imitation;
  • value in terms of exploiting opportunities or warding off threats;
  • resulting provision of competitive or collaborative advantage;

They are a source of enduring advantage. They are not a single competency but group may arise from patterns of links competencies.

Key competence[edit]

With the development of the global market and the increase in the number of competitors, companies have begun to look for new areas that will allow them to stand out from others. While the possession of resources in the form of experts is not the best solution because it carries the risk of passing these experts to the competition or is easy to copy (by employing other experts with the same skills), a great solution is the key competence, which is a resultant of a few variables and are created through a unique combination of different skills. Thanks to this competition, it is not possible to easily copy or duplicate this formula (here: distinctive competencies). It gives new and additional opportunities to build an advantage in the world, where it is increasingly difficult to find unique solutions.

Analysis of the key competences[edit]

To determine key competences, we must carry out an analysis including[3]:

  • Understandings of core phenomenon and related disciplines;
  • Understandings of general phenomena;
  • Understandings of product/service technologies;
  • Understandings of product/service sub-technologies;
  • Understandings of product/service classes;
  • Skills;
  • Integrated skills;

Discovering distinctive competencies[edit]

First step in discovering distinctive competencies are conceptual analysis to corporate documents concerning the company’s products and services. Competences are a means to maintain and support products or services provided by the company. We should use both explicit and confidential documents to perform the analysis. The analysis should include:

  • Business statements within annual reports of the last two to three years;
  • Current corporate profiles in Social Media;
  • Product overviews;
  • Product catalogs;
  • Research laboratory agendas and reports;
  • Technical briefs and white papers;

If it is possible, we should also use documents from external sources, such as press articles, interviews, feature articles and anything similar to the described company.

Next step is verifying distinctive competence breadth and dynamic by combining competence breadth findings in order to depict the iterative interactions across them. Here we can see how singular skills are combine into an integrated one. It is very important to understand in these step which competencies are basic, which can be easily replaced, and which are optional but useful.

Last step is enhancing understanding of competence dynamic and elements by interviews with the intellectual leaders of the corporation, whether executives leading large divisions or individual scientists and engineers. We can identify them use criteria like their intellectual diversity and their reputation within the firm for being knowledgeable and thoughtful concerning the firm’s intellectual strengths. During the interview, we should ask them about the competences used in their area and present them the results of their research so far. It is a good practice to conduct interviews using the method "tree and branch" where tree trunk is core topic, and the branches is main question. Then we can explore every branch in different degree of depth.


  1. Bryson J.M., Ackermann F., Eden C. (2007)
  2. Bryson J.M., Ackermann F., Eden C. (2007)
  3. Edgar W. B., Lockwood C. A. (2009)


Author: Gabriela Lupa