How to Successfully Implement a Competency Model

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From “Practical Questions in Building Competency Models”, written by                    Dr. Richard Mansfield, senior consultant and instructor for Workitect’s Building Competency Models workshop.

The planning of a competency model requires identifying the most important stakeholders and users and considering how they will want to use the model. Here are some possible users and uses:

People in the job often want to use a competency model to provide a recipe for success. These users are asking, “What could I be doing differently that would make me more effective?” They are likely to value very specifically worded behavioral indicators that describe what to do, with whom, and in what circumstances. A matrix linking the competencies to major job tasks is also helpful to job incumbents.

Supervisors can use the same detailed information to assist in coaching jobholders. Since part of a supervisor’s job is also providing detailed feedback about effective and less effective behaviors, descriptions of less effective behaviors associated with each competency are beneficial. For the same reason, supervisors may find it useful to have a matrix linking the competencies to key performance criteria and measures. Because supervisors are also in charge of hiring for the position, they need a competency model that includes all of the important skills and qualifications required baseline requirements for all jobholders.

Human resources professionals who will be using a competency model have a different set of needs. HR staff may need to build a shared conceptual framework of competencies and a common language for describing the competencies. They can then facilitate matching skill profiles to different jobs through selection, promotion, and career-path planning; and the creation of training and development programs for people across a broad range of jobs. HR staff also need easy ways to compare the requirements of different jobs in the organization. It is useful for HR staff to be able to say which competencies are required for a job and the level at which the competencies need to be demonstrated, to achieve effective performance. Since HR staff often need to communicate and explain a competency model, they prefer competency models that are clear, simple, and written with powerful language.

Because HR staff want others throughout the organization to use the model, they need to ensure buy-in to the model by key stakeholders. All key stakeholders should be consulted or included in generating data to build the model and in reviewing draft versions of the model, to ensure that it is complete and accurate.

HR staff must also ensure that the competency model can withstand potential legal challenges, which are more likely if the model will be used to guide selection and hiring of staff. Using a rigorous, systematic process of data collection and analysis is the best protection against possible legal challenges.

HR staff may be interested in acquiring not just a competency model but the technology and training to build other competency models in the future. If so, the project plan should include training of HR staff and their participation in all phases of the project.

When competency models are needed for critical jobs, especially leadership positions, the organization’s top executive is an important stakeholder. Top executives often want to use competency models to drive organizational change. Top executives want competency models to be aligned with the organization’s strategy and most important values. It may be important to include competencies describing needed leadership skills, such as “Change Management” or “Business Partnering,” as well as desired values, such as “Integrity” and “Customer Orientation.”

It may also be important to include competencies that reinforce changes in the organization’s structure, work processes, and culture. For example, for organizations that are moving away from hierarchical structures with supervisors to flatter structures in which much work is done by self-directed work teams, competencies in areas such as coaching and team facilitation become important.

When an organization’s top executives take an interest in a competency model, they are likely to want it written with powerful, high-impact language that can inspire and motivate. Top executives are also to want the competency models to provide a clear, consistent message for all employees. One way to do this is to have a common set of core competencies that are the same for all employees.

Included in Workitect’s Building Competency Models Workshop and applied in our consulting practice to help organizations develop job competency models and HR and talent management applications, including performance management, succession planning, assessment and selection, and training and development.
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Selecting a HR Application for a model-building project

Competencies 4-c [Converted]Competency models have many potential uses – for diverse areas including selection, assessment, development, performance management, training, and planning career paths. Some organizations do not always feel a need to have an initial application in mind when building a competency model. To some, competency models are a novelty, and they want to build one first, and only afterwards think about how to apply it in the organization.

Too often, organizations build a competency model but never get around to applying it. And a competency model alone provides little value to anyone. It is essential to have a particular Human Resources (HR) application in mind when building a model and build the implementation of that application into the initial project plan. It is a important component of Workitect’s Worksheet for Planning a Competency Modeling Project and Building Competency Models workshop.

There are three important reasons for doing this:

1) The nature of the intended HR application can shape the data collection and analysis. For example, in a project to construct a competency model for sales professionals, the competency model would need to be incorporated into a sales training program. Since the training program was to be built around the selling process, it was important to understand how the selling process worked for different types of projects. A day- long resource panel focused on defining the sales processes for both simple and complex sales situations. When the competencies were identified, they were linked to steps in the two sales processes.

2) The planned HR application can shape the format of the model, especially its behavioral descriptors. For example, if the model will be used by managers to assess jobholders’ demonstration of the competencies, as part of a performance appraisal, it is important to include behavioral descriptors of less effective behaviors as well as effective ones.

3) To ensure that money and other resources will be available for the application. If the initial application is not part of the budget for the model building project, there is a chance that financial support will no longer be available when the competency model has been completed. The organization receives little benefit from its investment, until the model is applied in a way that enhances productivity.

Read more in “Seven Key Questions to Answer before Building Competency Models”.

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