4 Important Considerations for Writing Competency Definitions

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I think we can all agree that writing competency definitions can be challenging. Every employee has a unique writing style developed during their career, and some writers are more skilled than others. Levels of detail can vary, and those levels can often make or break the success of the project. Some technical or role-related jargon is understandable and acceptable; but an entire list of competencies written in jargon and acronyms is of little value to the remainder of the organization. While there is no one “right way” to define skills or competencies, there is a level of consistency that should be adhered to.

Be aware of weakly-worded competencies.

The implementation team must determine the level of detail needed – both overall and for each job role. This detail level is one of the most important aspects of the entire process of implementing competency management into any organization, and should be kept in mind at each phase. The writing of competencies is done within a Job Task Analysis, which identifies and defines each job at four levels of detail: Job, Role, Task, and Activity.

Job Task Analysis Components

Job:   A collection of roles, tasks, and responsibilities assigned to a specific job title.

Example: Website Developer for external, customer-facing Website, and internal, employee-facing Intranet

Role:   A set of responsibilities or functions and the expected results associated with a Job. Most Jobs typically contain several Roles.

Example: Conducts analysis of Website Visitors, determining frequency of visits, pages visited, and length of time spent on pages. Updates Intranet with new content as directed.

Task:   A unit of work performed as part of a Job or Role.

Example: Compile and disseminate the Website Visitors Report.

Activity:   An activity that is specific, discrete, and observable, which is performed to complete a task.

 Example: Run the Website Visitors Report every day and send to Marketing Manager.

Usually, skills identified in competency assessments are those in use at the Task level. Behaviors associated with specific activities are then part of the skills definition. But keep in mind, some activities could be “elevated” to the skill level. One example would be if the purpose of the assessment is to determine employee advancement potential. However, the skills needed for several related tasks usually can be combined and condensed, reducing duplication and minimizing the quantity of skill sets to be assessed.

When determining the level of detail required for competency definitions, consider these four important yet intangible factors:

  1. The level to which behaviors in the skill definition are likely to vary together and in the same direction. Often, proficiency in written and oral communications are combined into one skill. However, good speakers are not always good writers, and vice-versa.
  1. The skills and definitions must be clearly understandable for the survey respondent. More precise definitions will eliminate confusion or inaccurate responses; however, the level of detail should be appropriate to the job. Jargon should be used sparingly, to ensure that employees at all levels of the organization can interpret the question and results in the same way.
  1. The data collected in the assessment must be valuable to the organization. Senior management especially – and the organization as a whole – must be prepared for what the results indicate. Understanding and responding to the results is a crucial next step, one that will be expected by employees at all levels.
  1. The use of observable, behavioral terms will ensure that the assessments are accurate and objective. Descriptions written with objective terms should be created. Compare the differences in this example:

Subjective:  Is goal-oriented and driven to achieve objectives. Is highly motivated to advance his/her career.
Objective:  Able to articulate purpose and desired end result for work efforts. Makes personal sacrifices when needed to achieve important goals. Persistent in pursuing important goals despite setbacks and obstacles.

While defining competencies is only a small step in the process of implementing a competency management system, common hazards can be avoided so you can be a part of a rewarding and exciting experience. It may be a hefty project to implement, but when broken down into smaller steps and assessed for mistakes that can occur, Avilar’s shared experiences can help you avoid some common missteps and prevent potential pitfalls that could occur along the way.

For more helpful information on implementing competency management within your organization, contact us at Avilar or download our white paper – Mastering Competencies: How to Create the Best Framework.

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