How to Prepare for a Competency Modeling Project

Posted January 21 2014

By Jim Graber, PhD


Increasingly, organizations are deciding that integrated talent management systems are “the way to go,” and that the effort required to build them is justified by the benefits that follow. Recruiting and selection, learning, performance management, career development, succession and workforce planning can all be integrated via competency models.


Comprehensive competency modeling projects are often complex and require significant time and widespread input from subject matter experts. 

Sixteenth 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 models
  16. Preparations for a Competency Modeling Project
  17. 20 Competency Modeling Best Practices


Further, at initial glance, they may not garner the whiz-bang reactions that other program implementations could get, say new technology, an employee opinion survey, or new employee benefits.


That said, I must say that I have been surprised at the high level of interest that supervisors, managers, and executives have shown. For example, recently at one company, an individual selected for a high-potential program piloted a competency modeling project for the company, and then presented to about 40 organization leaders. The most frequent response from the leaders was, “when can we do competency modeling for our functions?!”


ProjectNo surprise, solid preparation makes a big difference. Here are some of the most important steps:

  1. Create a detailed project plan. There are too many important steps to do a project like this off- the-cuff, and a plan can give a little more insight as well as confidence to people who are responsible for the project but may not have prior experience.
  2. All the traditional elements of projects should be included, including change management and communications. Know your sponsors and stakeholders, their objectives and their concerns. Tailor communication content and frequency to each audience. The time you spend on creating high quality introductory communications for stakeholders and sponsors as-well-as SMEs is well worth it.
  3. Decide on your competency modeling approach. We have discussed many in these posts, such as job-based and family-based. Even when picking an existing approach, you may want to tailor it to collect information that is important for your organization or that you want to update.
  4. A job census is critical. You need to identify which job titles will be profiled, organized by function and family, and level. Profiling projects can get very confusing very quickly when the job titles used vary at all during the project.
  5. Line-up sufficient resources. It may make sense to split duties such as updating job descriptions, coordinating meeting times and locations, working with SMEs, and getting data entered into technology systems.
  6. It is unlikely that you will have a competency library that is tailored to your needs. Presuming that you have a starter library (without that you will have a much longer start-up period), remove competencies that don’t fit and add competencies that are missing. Most typically, you will need to add technical competencies, particularly for your operational areas.
  7. Consider selecting a pilot group, then utilizing lessons learned to improve the process.
  8. Be strategic. Identify the areas of the organization that will have the greatest impact, and that are eager to progress. Some functions will take longer or have less impact than others, e.g. those with lots of job titles with few incumbents in each.


Competency modeling projects can be challenging, in part because there are so many different elements and moving parts. Flexibility and adaptability help, as well as trying to stay calm and cool. Like the age-old adage says, “Rome wasn’t built in a Day.”



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