Principles of Competency Modeling

Posted October 27 2013
By Jim Graber, PhD

A competency model is a set of competencies (typically 15-30) that describe the capabilities of successful performers. There are numerous competency modeling methods. They range from the most basic such as creating a short list or checking off items from a competency library to complex processes that involve interviews, focus groups, and surveys with hundreds of participants. Adding to the variety of approaches, the level of analysis varies:

    Eleventh 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
    • Task models (e.g. telephone sales)
    • Job or role models (e.g. customer service representative)
    • Job Family models (e.g. sales)
    • Job Level models (e.g. all managers)
    • Talent Pool models (e.g. all high potentials)
    • Core Competency Models (e.g. all employees in the organization)




    We believe there are many approaches that can be effective, and whenever we work on a competency modeling project, we tailor the approach based on a variety of organization factors including how and for what the models will be used, size and sophistication of the organization, internal resources and budget, and time frame. Therefore, no two projects and approaches are ever identical, but regardless of the approach and level of analysis, there are certain principles from which we don’t deviate. Here are five:

        1. We are convinced of the importance of having a trained facilitator to conduct the process. We have not seen good results when supervisors are told to do this on their own, regardless of the tools provided.
        2. Subject matter experts need to be part of the mix. Key among these experts are people who have done the work and/or supervised it and that have demonstrated success in getting the work done well. HR or others can do some pre-selection, but the people who do the work every day need to be actively involved.
        3. The models should be broad and balanced, including cross functional (e.g. communication) and technical (e.g. C++ programming) as well as behavioral (e.g. integrity). There are people that will say that a competency models doesn’t really need one or more of these types of competencies, but all are critical to complete work properly.
        4. All the methods benefit greatly from a competency library. Libraries can be created or purchased. Without them the process will be far more laborious and every competency model will standalone; its relationships to other work or jobs within the organization will be unclear.
        5. Competency models should be clearly tied back to the work being done. We think it is important that a selected competency is validated by identifying the part(s) of the work that require it.

    Typically, competency modeling is part of a broader job profiling process. Competency modeling is usually not done by itself for three reasons. First, it should be based on the latest knowledge of required tasks, deliverables, and manner of performance required by the organization, and sometimes the anticipated tasks in the near future. Second, given that subject matter experts have been gathered, it is efficient to leverage the gathering to collect other important job information that may not have been collected before or that is out-of-date. For example, if an organization plans to do career development or succession planning, it is useful to look at job characteristics such as job variety, amount of job structure, and closeness of supervision, and other factors that impact whether a particular individual is satisfied in the job or not. Third, for purposes of legal defensibility, some additional information may be required. For example, in the U.S., it is important to be able to show that a competency is job-related, and if a task is an essential task or not.

    Next time we will describe a Job or Role competency modeling approach.

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