Collecting Data to Build Competency Models


The project plan that is completed in Step 2 (Project Planning) will have included one or more methods of data collection that are appropriate for the project. This blog presents different data collection methods used in building competency models, along with suggestions for implementing each method.

Step 3, Data Collection, includes several general tasks common to most data collection methods.

  1. Developing key communication points about the project, to be shared with persons from whom data will be collected
  2. Identifying a set of generic competencies from which competencies will be selected or adapted
  3. For each data collection method, developing a protocol with standard questions and procedures for recording responses
  4. Training or preparing data collection staff
  5. Selecting participants for each data collection method
  6. Communicating with participants to invite their participation
  7. Scheduling data collection activities
  8. Implementing the data collection method (e.g., holding interviews, resource panel)

General Data Collection Tasks

1. Developing Key Communication Points

In order to get the support of people from whom you are gathering data, you need to be able to explain what you are doing and why. For this purpose it is useful to outline some communication points that you can use in emails, presentations, and conversations with the participants and other project stakeholders. The communication points should include:

  • A description of what you are developing (the competency model and the initial application of the model
  • The name(s) of the project sponsor(s)
  • How the competency model and application will be used in the organization
  • How this will benefit the organization
  • Main project steps and timeline
  • How people were selected to participate
  • What the participation involves for each data collection method
  • Assurances of anonymity and/or confidentiality where applicable

You can draw on these communication points to develop specific communications as needed.

2. Identifying a Set of Generic Competencies

Because so much competency modeling has been done over the past 30 years, it is not necessary to develop a new competency model from scratch. Consultants and researchers who have done extensive competency modeling work have prepared dictionaries of generic, or frequently occurring non-technical competencies. Each competency in the dictionary usually contains a definition and a set of conceptually related behavioral indictors.  For example, the staff of Workitect has developed several developmental resource guides that include generic competencies. Selecting or adapting a set of generic competencies streamlines the process of competency modeling.

To identify a set of generic competencies for a particular project, the project leader selects relevant competencies from a generic competency dictionary and reviews these with the project sponsor and other appropriate staff. The goal is to identify a set of competencies that will encompass all personal characteristics and skills relevant to the jobs under consideration and all other jobs for which will competency models may be built. Sometimes it is desirable to adapt the names of the competencies and the language used in the definitions and behavioral indicators to reflect language and concepts used in the organization.

If it is important to identify technical competencies, you can consult one or more subject matter experts within the organization to help identify and draft a set of technical competencies for use in the competency modeling project. The technical competencies should also be reviewed and revised with the project sponsor and other appropriate staff.

Identifying a set of generic competencies is especially important when the Multiple Jobs Approach is being used. The generic competencies are common building blocks used to construct each competency model. These generic competencies ensure use of a consistent conceptual framework across jobs.

The generic competencies are also useful when using the Single Job Approach and the One Size Fits All Approach. For example, if a resource panel is used as one of the data gathering methods, the panel members may be asked to rate the importance of each of the generic competencies to the job under consideration.

3. Developing a Protocol for Each Data Collection Method

A protocol is a document developed to guide the data collection process. It always includes questions for participants. It may also include instructions for the interviewer or facilitator about points to explain and procedures to use to collect and record data. The purposes of the protocol are to (a) ensure consistent communication about the project, (b) maximize the chances of full, honest participation from participants, (c) ensure that all planned questions are asked (d) ensure consistency when the data gathering method will be used with more than one person or group, and (e) ensure consistency of capturing or recording data by the interviewers or facilitators. Interview guides, resource panel outlines, and survey forms are all examples of data gathering protocols.

4. Training or Preparing Data Collection Staff

If two or more persons will be conducting interviews or facilitating resource panels, it is important that these persons use a consistent process. Most of the methods we will discuss do not require special training for staff who have had experience interviewing and facilitating groups. But it is important to hold a meeting of the interviewers or facilitators and to walk through the planned process and ensure that everyone is clear about the procedures for asking questions and for capturing participants’ responses.

5. Selecting Participants for Each Data Collection Method

The first thing to consider in selecting participants is who will provide the most useful data. Also important is the breadth and credibility of the participant sample taken as a whole. If the job has incumbents in several regions or business units, you should try to select participants from all of these regions or business units.  In addition, ensuring diversity among the incumbents selected is important.

6. Communicating with Participants to Invite Their Participation

Before communicating directly with participants, it is important to communicate first with their management. You may need to prepare a draft communication for the project sponsor to send out for this purpose.

Use the communication points described under Task 1 to prepare appropriate communications for the participants. Most likely, you will use an email for this purpose, but you may also need to prepare and deliver one or more brief presentations about the project.

7. Scheduling Data Collection Activities

This is a necessary step that requires little explanation. If you are conducting interviews, you should allow at least 15 minutes between interviews and, if possible, hold them all in a room booked for that purpose.

8. Implementing the Data Collection Method

This process is taught in Workitect’s Building Competency Models workshop.

Specific implementation procedures will be discussed in subsequent blogs on each data collection method.

Q – Which step is the most difficult one to carry out?

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The One-Size-Fits-All Competency Model


1. ModelBuildingGroup_298x224In the One-Size-Fits-All Approach, a competency model is developed for a broadly defined set of jobs that may have very different responsibilities and knowledge requirements. Most often, the competency model is developed for one level of jobs, such as managers, associates, or senior leaders.

The competency model often includes competencies selected for alignment with the company’s values and strategic direction. Thus competencies may have names like “Respecting All People” or “Bias for Action.”

The competencies are often described in general terms that are not job specific, since the competency model covers a broad range of jobs which may have significantly different responsibilities.

When the One-Size-Fits-All Approach is Appropriate

  • When line management or HR wants to promote alignment with vision, values and strategy
  • When key stakeholders prefer simple solutions and have a low tolerance for complexity
  • When HR wants to implement something quickly that will have broad impact
  • When the budget for developing competency models is limited

Advantages of the One-Size-Fits-All Approach

The One-Size-Fits-All Approach sends a clear and simple message about what the personal characteristics and skills that the organization considers to be important. A competency model built with this approach is broadly applicable to a large number of employees, as are applications based on the model. For example, a competency assessment tool based on the model can be used with all of the employees in the job. Finally, the use of this approach promotes a common language and conceptual framework to use in describing key skills.

Disadvantages of the One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Because the model is used with a wide range of jobs, employees may not feel that it applies well to their particular job. If many of the competencies were selected to describe what the leaders would like people to demonstrate, rather than what superior performers actually do, people may perceive the model to be more espoused than true. The One-Size-Fits-All Approach is not as useful as other approaches in guiding selection, since selection of candidates for a specific job may require consideration of job-specific skills, knowledge and experience that are not included in the One-Size-Fits-All competency model.

Data Collection in the One-Size-Fits-All Approach

When using this approach, it is less important to identify responsibilities and tasks. Since the model will cover a broad range of jobs, the only responsibilities that are important are ones that apply to all of the jobs. Since the competency model will usually reflect the organization’s mission, values and strategic direction, it is important to talk to senior HR leaders and senior line leaders if possible, to ensure that the mission, values and strategic direction are understood and carefully considered. For the competency model to have credibility, it is highly desirable to conduct interviews with several superior performers. These interviews should focus on obtaining specific behavioral accounts of what these persons did during key job situations such as accomplishments or performance of important and challenging tasks.


Example of One-Size-Fits-All models:  Executives
About competencies and competency models.

Taught in Building Competency Models workshop.                                                        Next workshop to be conducted on October 4-6 in Washington, DC.

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The Single Job Competency Model

six steps horizontal 3When deciding how to approach a competency model-building project, it is useful to consider three distinctive approaches:

  • Single Job Competency Model
  • One-Size-Fits-All Approach
  • Multiple Job Approach

A project usually focuses on one of these approaches, although it is possible to use a combination of these approaches within one organization. The first of the three approaches are described below.

Single Job Competency Model

This approach focuses on a single, narrowly defined job that is important to the organization’s success and has at least 10 job holders. The jobs covered by the competency model should have similar responsibilities and performance measures. Any requirements for technical skill or knowledge should be similar across the set of jobs. Examples of jobs for which a single job competency model is appropriate include sales representative, customer service representative, project manager, and plant manager.

The single job approach uses extensive and rigorous data collection, to ensure that the competency model contains highly specific behavioral descriptions of what one needs to do and how, in order to achieve superior results. This approach often includes a detailed breakdown of the main responsibilities and tasks and shows how they are linked to the competencies. Compared to the other two approaches, the single job approach is more time consuming and expensive to implement.

Data Gathering for the Single Job Approach

Usually, in the single job approach, data are gathered in multiple ways. For example, job analysis interviews may be used with job holders to identify main responsibilities, break each main responsibility down into tasks and sub-tasks. A resource panel, comprised of several job holders and several managers of jobholders, may be used to gather the same type of information, as well as information about performance criteria and measures and about changes in the business and organizational context that have implications for new and emerging competency requirements. In order to develop highly detailed behavioral descriptions of the competencies, the Single Job Approach almost always includes structured behavioral interviews with superior performers in the job, in which these persons are asked to provide detailed accounts of how they approached several key tasks or work situations.

Advantages of the Single Job Approach

A competency model built using the Single Job Approach has high face validity and high credibility with job holders and their managers. The model provides a recipe for superior performance. The specific behavioral descriptions of the competencies are useful when developing training programs. The rigor of the methodology ensures that if the organization wishes to use the model for selection, there will be a strong legal justification for doing so.

Disadvantages of the Single Job Approach

Because this approach targets a single, narrowly defined job, the competency model and HR applications built on it affect a relatively small number of employees. As noted earlier, the Single Job Approach is relatively expensive and time consuming to implement, especially if competency models are desired for multiple jobs.

When the Single Job Approach is Appropriate

This approach is most appropriate when:

  • There is an opportunity to gain competitive advantage by improving the productivity of people in a key job
  • The potential productivity gains from applying the model justify the time and expense of building it
  • There is a need to use the competency model as a basis for developing a training program or curriculum
  • The organization currently has several superior performers in the job
  • The job is expected to continue to exist in the organization for at least three years. 

EXAMPLES: These are single job competency models (in several different formats) that were created by Workitect consultants.

  • Project Manager in a high technology company
  • Account Representative in a distribution company
  • Call Center Manager in a telecommunications companyMarketing Representative in an insurance company


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