Decisions to be Made Before a Competency Modeling Project

Posted December 23 2013
By Jim Graber, PhD

Increasingly, organizations are taking the leap and initiating competency model projects. There is no denying that the projects are a lot of work, but they are worth the effort because they form a basis for improving every aspect of talent management.

Five Decisions

Competency modeling can and should be tailored to an organization’s needs. Each organization has its own priorities, objectives, resources, and timelines, as well as its own unique challenges.

Fourteenth entry in a seventeen part introductory series on competency management:
  1. Why does the world need a competency toolkit?
  2. What’s a competency? How do they differ from KSA’s? 
  3. What are the main types of competencies?
  4. What is integrated talent management, and how do competencies relate?
  5. What’s the business case for competencies?
  6. Why are behavioral indicators so important?
  7. How are behavioral indicators created?
  8. What’s competency modeling?
  9. How does a competency model fit within a job description or job profile?
  10. Different approaches to competency modeling
  11. Principles of competency modeling
  12. Job role competency modeling
  13. Job family competency modeling
  14. Decisions to be made before a competency modeling project
  15. Organization core competency model
  16. Preparations for a Competency Modeling Project
  17. 20 Competency Modeling Best Practices


Our next post will discuss competency modeling project preparations; that is how to appropriately prepare after deciding how to customize the project.  Here we will talk about five of the most important decisions.


competency-modelsHow do you intend to use competency models?

This is one of the most important decisions. The content collected during the competency modeling process will vary based on the talent management processes you will be supporting. What a waste of time if you come to the end of the process and don’t have the information you need! Here are some of the potential uses:

  • Staffing
      • Incorporate critical competencies into the selection process for internal and external candidates (e.g., testing, behavior-based interviews)
      • Provide a fuller picture of the job and their job fit to candidates
  • Individual Development
      • 360 degree (multi-rater) feedback to identify an individual’s strengths and development needs
      • Developmental action planning
      • Development resource guide with e-learning, OJT, job rotation, classroom training, etc.
  • Learning and Development
      • Training needs analysis & identification of appropriate training programs
  • Performance Management
      • Incorporation of competencies into performance plans and reviews.
  • Compensation
      • Competency-based compensation
  • Career Management
      • Career Planning/Internal Job Search
      • Career development plans
  • Succession and Workforce Planning
      • Develop competency profiles for key positions
      • Evaluate candidates on demonstrated competencies
      • Create development plans to grow leadership capabilities

What will you model?

This question gets at the strategic value of modeling different jobs, the cost/benefit of different levels of detail, how your organization is structured, and whether you have mostly a lot of unique jobs, or if you have a lot of people doing similar work. You may choose to create some or all of the following types of models:

  • Jobs (such as “HR Director”)
  • Job categories (such as “Supervisor”)
  • Departments (such as “Marketing”)
  • Occupations (such as “Administrative” workers)
  • Categories, such as leadership, high potentials, operations staff, etc.

What Competency Modeling Process will you use?

Previous posts discussed Job Competency Modeling and Job Family Competency Modeling, but there are other possible choices. Here are several:

  • SME (subject matter expert) panel discussions. This is probably most common, and there are variations such as the Job and Job Family approaches that we have previously discussed.
  • Observation of exemplary performers. It can provide good results, but it is time-consuming.
  • Critical Incident Interviews. It is good for developing competencies and behaviors, but it also is more time-consuming than the SME method.
  • Structured Surveys of supervisors, and/or employees. Although preferred by some organizations, we haven’t seen very good results from this approach.
  • Role-based Competency Modeling. This approach has not been used widely, and it requires considerable pre-work, as competencies must be tied to primary organization tasks, but then the proper competencies can be assigned very quickly to jobs.

Who Should Participate in the Competency Modeling Process?

It could be supervisors, job incumbents, technical experts, HR and/or training staff, or consultants. It is critical to have persons involved who understand the job well. Keep in mind that you not only need to get good information, but you also need to create credibility. The last thing you want is sponsors and stakeholders that don’t trust the information.

Where do you get competencies for the project?

CTK must acknowledge some built-in bias on this question, but we don’t believe it is very practical for most organizations to create their own libraries unless the libraries are very limited in scope. Sourcing a commercial library is usually the best course, although customizing of the library will usually be needed. A desirable library will typically have some or all of the following:

We can tell you that taking the time during the project design process to ask the right questions and make the right decisions usually spells the difference between a project with mediocre results versus one that exceeds expectations.


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