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When developed correctly, competency models enable organizations to close skill gaps, increase employee engagement and retention, guide succession planning, and more. However, a poorly developed competency model may not yield desired results. In this article, we’ll cover two inadequate competency model hazards and how you can avoid them.

What is a Competency Model?

Before we cover these common competency model hazards, let’s first define competency model. A competency model starts with a collection of data, usually including the skills, abilities, and requirements needed for an employee to successfully perform any given work position. The skill sets an employee has are considered competencies. This collection of competencies jointly defines successful job performance or can be used to rate an employee’s capability in a specific role.

These competencies also get added into the competency model — but before you do, there are a few things you should be aware of. Here are two of the top hazards of an inadequate competency model and how to avoid them.

Ill-Suited Competencies for the Organization’s Needs

With numerous commercially available competency models, it can be tempting to simply purchase and implement one. However, off-the-shelf competency models without modifications and some customization typically lead to limited success. As the adage goes, you get what you pay for. Skills and knowledge definitions that are “vanilla”  ̶  or generic in nature  ̶  tend to yield data that is also generic and of limited value to the organization. What is desired is rich, actionable data about the workforce’s competencies, which can assist long-term strategy development and decision-making.

The first step is to conduct research both within and outside of the organization. A variety of tools can be implemented to identify which skills are critical for success across the organization’s vital roles. Tools such as questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, and checklists can be used to dive deep into each role and learn the most important components.

It is through the use of multiple tools that the reality of the organization is revealed: redundant roles or teams are uncovered, black holes where no work is being done are identified, and critical functions in need of a tune-up are revealed. Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ application provides an excellent starting point, with a variety of tools that deliver deep dives into each job role.

Prevent Ill-Suited Competencies:

  • Conduct research both inside and outside of the organization.
  • Ensure that every competency is relevant to the organization’s long-term success.
  • Dig deep to identify competencies that set your organization apart from its competitors.

A Faulty Competency Framework

A common hazard in numerous organizations is a poorly designed competency framework where the competency model starts to takes on a life of its own, getting very large, very quickly, as it expands, for example, from an initial pilot program to other parts of the organization. As it grows, it becomes unwieldy, so much so that even the competency manager, working with the model daily, doesn’t know where to find specific skills due to overlaps and duplication.

Consciously creating a logical and predictable structure will benefit users at all levels and avoid this competency model hazard. It helps to plan ahead, anticipating what the ultimate model might one day include, even if starting with a small subset of skills used in the organization. Early in the creation of the competency structure, it is helpful to establish rules for the hierarchy based on both the initial project as well as what might be logical in a few years. It is easier to grow into a competency structure than to retrofit and adapt an ill-fitting one.

Competency models are typically tailored to the unique characteristics of the organization and its culture. A successful competency framework will reflect those characteristics, while aligning to the organization’s strategy and goals and fostering a competitive advantage for the organization.

Competencies that can be used in all jobs – or across a majority of them – should be included, such as core value competencies that define the organization’s culture. These should include ethics levels, business conduct definitions, knowledge of the industry, rules of communication, etc. Consider also including horizontal, or job-level, competencies, which vary according to job type.

Core value competencies that define the organization's culture.

For example, supervisory employees must exhibit critical levels of coaching skills, while executives and senior management need to be competent at strategic and long-term planning. These varying levels should be included in the competency model. Similarly, unique competencies related to vertical disciplines or job families – such as engineering, production, marketing, or human resources – must be well-defined for each field of specialization.

It is also helpful to group competencies in a logical sequence, which makes assessments easier to complete and reporting more meaningful when interpreted. One method for grouping involves presenting assessments in a life-cycle format, starting with skills needed for the first step. Another method could be creating logical clusters by functional area. In human resources, for example, grouping assessments with staffing competencies could be separated from those requiring learning competencies.

In addition, use of a numbering system will permit the easy addition of new skills in the future. Skipping a set of numbers to allow for internal expansion could be considered. As the business grows, expectations, skills, and processes will also grow and evolve, creating the need to retire certain skills and add new ones. Additionally, entirely new competency sections may need to be added. It is wise to leave room in the numerical system to permit room for growth and inevitable future changes.

Prevent a Faulty Competency Framework:

  • Make use of the competency model easy for everyone by logically grouping competencies in ways that make sense to survey respondents and those interpreting the data.
  • Create logical sequences that best fit the organization, such as life cycle, sequential, basic to advanced, etc.
  • Create a numbering system that permits changes, removals, and additions within the structure, which will ease use in the future.

Avoiding competency model hazards by developing a strong competency model is a blend of art and science, and the resulting, well-designed model of knowledge, skills, abilities, and success factors required for success is well worth the effort. For additional resources and related articles, subscribe to our blog. Or contact us for personalized assistance.