Avoiding the Bad & the Ugly with Competency Modeling

150x150_logo-no_textDo you know what makes for a successful competency model? It’s not so much the broader basics, such as having the right behavioral descriptors or meeting the needs of key users – although these initial thoughts are valid and important. Instead, to truly work toward maximizing the return on your HR investment, you must first consider the relationship between business needs and where a competency framework makes sense.

The nature of your business

What exactly defines the “bad” and “ugly” of competency model building? Essentially, it is the downward spiral that occurs in the very beginning stage, when users do not understand or take into account the nature of the intended application – the factors that shape the data collection and analysis.

For example, for a project to construct a competency model for new staff accountants working in a personal tax sector of a CPA firm, you know the competency model would need to be incorporated within a personal tax training program. When done correctly from the start, only then can adoption and real results take shape.

As a result, aligning competencies within the context of your business is an essential first step, and there are many best practices you can follow. Here are three great examples:

  1. Identify the most critical competencies by avoiding exhaustive lists and by keeping models smaller, thus more manageable.
    Try sticking with fewer than 14 competencies to help you maintain organizational focus. Include technical or functional competencies to specifically address the job skills that define superior performance based on your organization’s culture and vision. Anything beyond that becomes a greater challenge to manage, especially in times of performance reviews.
  2. Remember the consequences of having too many irons in the fire.
    This is never a good habit to follow, but it is particularly true when it comes to competency modeling. Instead, integrate your competency models into your existing recruiting and talent management processes in order to avoid having to manage a series of silos.
  3. Think of brand competency modeling as a strategic business initiative.
    Think beyond your HR function, and position your competency models as strategic initiatives necessary to the success of your organization. Remember that employees are the advocates and sounding board for establishing competencies that make sense on the job. Don’t neglect any feedback.

The solution, not the problem

When you position competency models as business solutions, instead of yet another HR process, they certainly seem far less “ugly”. And by keeping competencies focused on the areas of greatest interest for your organization’s success, the ROI of your competency models can only be increased.

If you wish to learn more on how to connect competencies with your business strategies, browse our website for more tips and tools, or let us come to you to help you build and implement the right model for your business.

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Getting Specific with Behavioral Descriptors

Book - OpenIf you’ve ever used or researched competency models, you probably know that their value is essentially measured with regard to their behavioral descriptors. In other words, the more accurate the descriptors to the roles, functions, objectives and culture, the more value the model has for the organization.

Although these indicators can certainly be – and often times are – adapted from a generic competency dictionary, it’s important to remember that when a job role requires specific abilities, then behavioral descriptors must also be highly customized for the model to have any bearing to the recruiting, retention, management and success processes.

Identifying a superior performer within a specific role

Behavioral descriptors indicate patterns considered to be contributory to superior performance in a given job role. As such, a competency’s definition represents an ability or trait, while the behavioral descriptor indicates the way in which that ability or trait is demonstrated.

For example, let’s say your organization is looking to fill a sales role. In that environment, the competency named “interpersonal awareness” is therefore of great relevance. This is defined as having the ability to notice, interpret, and address customer concerns and feelings. Behavioral indicators for this type of competency that make the most hypothetical sense would include:

  • Thorough understanding of the interests and concerns of the customer
  • Ability to anticipate how the customer will react to a given situation
  • Pro-activity to address customer concerns before they are even voiced (at which point, you have most often reached a critical moment in the customer’s “non-buying” decision)

In light of this example, you can now see why it’s important to equip your HR or managerial professionals with these precise descriptors in order to successfully recruit, evaluate or even train the right candidate for this sales role using competency models, as a generic competency – in our example, “interpersonal awareness” – may not speak as clearly of superior performance to a recruiter or manager as would our bullet points defining this competency.

Turning generic into specific

Whenever a competency is used, particularly when sourcing from a generic document, it is generally defined. But the work of developing competencies doesn’t stop there. These behavioral descriptors must be customized with respect to the role, the organization and the industry.

It is of course very important for an organization that is new to competency modeling to begin the process of developing competency models and indicators with the use of a competency dictionary license. Yet, it’s as important – if not more – to then know how to tailor this information to your needs in order to generate considerable value from such an approach.

As a starting point to companies who are new to competency modeling, Workitect offers a dictionary containing a full list of competency and descriptor options, but we also provide support and training to help you further customize this information accordingly. Throughout the year, we hold a variety of workshops around the country to bring you the tools and educational material required to make truly valuable use of your dictionary. Companies in cost-control mode or those requiring a high level of customization may also be interested in our on-site consulting and training sessions. Our consultants travel to your office, at your convenience, to teach your teams all that they need to know to build, implement, and assess their competency models and talent management processes.

Click here if you’re interested to learn more about our workshops, or here to read more about our competency dictionary.

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Modernizing competency models for millennials

Group of businesspeople having a meeting.Competency models are defined as blueprints of what an organization seeks from its workforce, based on its top-level objectives. As a result, competency models are typically used as a hiring tool to find those employees who meet the exact criteria set forth by the employer: culture fit, soft skills, abilities, interests, etc.

Yet, it appears that the roles have changed, and employers must now adapt to the expectations, styles and demands of new generations. More specifically, Millennials are known to demand a better work-life balance, as well as greater flexibility and diversity in their role. The benefits of this new reality can be argued at length, but what’s important for employers to understand is that Millennials are not afraid to move on to bigger and better things if they are not entirely pleased with your offer and current work conditions. In fact, 60% of Millennials leave their companies within three years of hire, at a cost of $20,000 per person for the organization[1].

This prompts the following question: Should an organization adapt to the output potential of its workforce, or should it focus on seeking only those employees who can deliver on its pre-established objectives?

The power of a growth-focused culture

The answer to the above question is ‘neither’. Knowing that each generation has different views and expectations of the workplace, employers – mainly managers and HR professionals – must instead seek to create a plan of action that will ensure that all employees, no matter their generation, work together to achieve the organizational goals for which they were hired in the first place.

This can be achieved by developing a talent management system that will:

  1. Define the goals and key culture elements sought by the organization
  2. Identify the skills and competencies required for each role within the organization
  3. Determine the skills and competencies that are lacking in the current workforce
  4. Develop a training and coaching program that will seek to bride that gap between steps 2 and 3

It is important to note that it’s the organization’s responsibility to ensure that such a program is communicated appropriately to its workforce. Without clearly defined benefits of following such an approach, even the best of programs may be set for failure, particularly with Millennials who are recognized for demanding a higher level of transparency and feedback.

The humanization and modernization of the model

A PwC & University of Southern California study has revealed that most organizations still embrace old models of talent management, which are inconsistent with Millennials’ expectations of the workplace.

Competency models are one of those systems often perceived as ‘old-school’ by many young leaders, mainly due to the fact that they are highly technical and focus primarily on current skills, instead of an individual’s potential for growth and development. In other words, they are considered too mechanical and impersonal, not factoring in the oft-overlooked benefits that a different perspective can bring to an organization.

Yet, competency modeling has also evolved over the years, and many experts in the field have since adopted a more modern and human approach. In fact, implementing competency models that match the needs of both the organization and the workforce fosters unity, a crucial element to motivation, teamwork and performance. It’s simply a matter of giving employees an active role and the freedom to understand the importance of that role in achieving the organizational goals. By using competency models to establish a clear path from hire to development to promotion, with explicit expectations at each step, employees are put in control of their professional success, all the while facilitating the performance assessment and succession planning process for managers.

At Workitect, we offer a wide array of tools and training opportunities to help you customize your competency model to your workforce. For more information, contact us or visit…

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The importance of application in competency model building

22571540_sModern technology and the arrival of a new generation, the HR function is evolving rapidly, particularly with respect to recruiting, retention and talent management. At the heart of these processes is competency model building and implementation; that is, a system designed to group a series of competencies, which together describe the skills and behaviors required to achieve the level of performance within a particular role, in a given organization.

Competency models serve many purposes, the most important being able to define characteristics to not only hire the right employees for the job and the company culture, but also to promote efficient mobility within the organization.

HR professionals and managers can no longer view these models as a novelty, meaning an organization simply cannot build a model without an initial application in mind, only afterwards contemplating how it should be used.

More than a job description

Competency models allow an organization to implement talent management systems that integrate staffing, performance management, succession planning, and development in a way that both increases the percentage of outstanding performers in the workplace and drives results.

Common types of applications include:

  • Precise identification of superior performers in an organization, and what they actually do
  • Performance appraisals using relevant behavioral descriptors
  • Addressing specific technical competencies on an individual in the context of a given role
  • Training and assessment programs designed around an actual job function

The above list is by far nowhere near exhaustive, but because of models’ many uses, it is essential for HR to have a particular application in mind when building a model. In fact, determining the application before implementation allows for more precise and purpose-driven data collection and analysis, as well as ensuring that a budget and necessary resources are made available from design to implementation.

You can read more on effective competency model building here, or contact us to see which tools or training programs are suited to your organization.

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Stakeholders involvement in the competency modeling process


There’s no doubt that for a company’s processes and tools to be cost-effective, senior management must be involved in their development, albeit to varying degrees. The creation and implementation of competency models are no exceptions. But just how involved should a company’s stakeholders be in the talent management process?

First step: Determining the key stakeholders

A company’s key stakeholders are the individuals who hold a vested interest in the decision-making process of an organization, as well as in its results. This therefore involves everyone from the actual owners of the company to upper-tier management, including the Board of Directors.

Just as these same individuals are responsible for the success and growth of the company they manage, they cannot turn a blind eye to their most important asset, their employees, particularly with respect to hiring and retaining a workforce that is so detrimental to their top-level objectives.

The why and how of senior management’s involvement

Simply put, HR is tasked with creating a model that addresses the company’s objectives and direction so at the end of the day, there is a pressing need to ensure that this model is aligned with the proper behavioral queues for the organization.

Key stakeholders are not only invaluable resources to the competency modeling process, they are also the source of the resources HR needs to build and implement an effective model that adheres to both the company culture and mission.

Having key stakeholders involved in the competency modeling process allows for:

  • Increased trust in the model within the organization
  • Complete transparency and consensus
  • Considerable value added in the data collection and validation process
  • Unique insight that might otherwise be missed or not considered

Of course, despite these benefits, involving senior management requires careful planning and a significant investment of time into a project that may be regarded to be “HR’s job”. As such, obtaining a commitment and true engagement in this process is not always easy.

To learn more about how HR can plead the case for competency modeling, or to better understand the different steps required to build an effective model tailored to your organization, visit our website or sign up to attend our upcoming workshop.

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Research for Building Competency Models

iStock_000003902282_DoubleOne of the main concerns we hear about implementing competency models within an organization pertains to their reliability and validity; that is, how accurate and precise are these models in terms of effectiveness? The fact is that it all depends on how they are developed, as well as how they will be used: performance management, recruiting, career development, etc.

Building competency models requires that a certain level of data collection and analysis be conducted collectively by HR and senior management. After all, how else can an organization begin to understand the behaviors displayed by what is considered ‘superior performers’ if proper research is omitted? But just how is validity achieved? How much evidence is considered ‘sufficient’?

A sufficient research approach

Research approaches to competency model building emphasize a systematic data collection and analysis. However, it must remain of great priority in deciding specifically how much evidence is considered sufficient for the inclusion of competencies in the model.

Developing a competency model is a multi-step process. Just as specific steps are required to finalize and apply a model, another set of steps must be in place to determine validity, thus, sufficiency, namely by:

  • Using a broad panel of incumbents (focus groups, employees, surveys, etc.) to test the model in order to increase the probability that all competencies have been captured and make sense to both those doing the job and those determining objectives for these jobs.
  • Analyzing the qualitative and quantitative data collected to determine if there is concrete correlation between the competencies identified and the objectives of the model.

Fact checking and validation

Aside from withstanding any potential legal challenges, the main advantage of a research approach is in fact achieving validity. A fact-checked research approach can identify behaviors currently demonstrated by superior performers, as well as employees’ beliefs regarding what is important to superior performance.

HR professionals can be taught how to collect, code, and analyze the data needed to build an effective model using resource panels, job analysis interviews and structured event interviews. They can learn how to:

  • Plan a competency-modeling project
  • Build models for multiple jobs
  • Use resource panels to collect data
  • Conduct structured key event interviews
  • Analyze and code interview transcripts, and write job models
  • Develop HR applications for talent management, assessment, selection, succession planning, development and performance management, and implement competency-based systems to produce bottom-line results


Click here to learn more about a Building Competency Models workshop, or access a library for additional information about building competency models for your organization. The next public workshop is scheduled for July 18-20, 2017 in Washington, DC. The workshop can also be conducted on-site for organizations.

If you are contemplating the building of models, or have already built models, what kind of rigorous methodology research has been

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Develop competencies to fulfill basic professional needs

In today’s environment, employees and managers can no longer just think of a career ladder concept when assessing performance and growth opportunities within an organization. Mastering the skills needed for one role does not guarantee success in another function. For instance, a waitress can excel at her job, yet lack the necessary competencies to take on the role of manager.

Instead, HR professionals should focus on developing sets of competencies for each role within the organization in order to promote opportunities for mobility and advancement. By laying out the critical requirements for each role, employees gain autonomy in pursuing other opportunities by working toward developing the competencies required to accomplish their own aspirations. This type of framework puts employees in control of their career path, thus helping drive motivation to perform beyond current responsibilities and specific-job requirements.

Competencies to fulfill basic professional needs

It is safe to assume that every one of us wants to feel like we contribute to our organization’s goals. We seek to improve our performance and the competencies that help us become experts at what we do – or aspire to do. The need for professional recognition is a key driver to performance. Yet, there are many factors outside of an employee’s performance within a specific job function that influence career opportunities and often times, employees resent the fact that although they are performing as expected or beyond, they are not given a chance to access other roles that are more in line with their goals.

One can say that organizations prefer to preserve top-performers in the role they excel at, but the reality is that they often do not provide a sufficiently clear framework for employees to know – and as a result develop – the competencies they need to access other functions. Employees therefore peak in their respective job and have nowhere to go from there, leaving them motivated to either leave the organization or maintain an average performance, instead of going above and beyond.

Building a model for organizational success

A competency model is a set of 8 to 16 competencies with definitions, which define the underlying abilities of each. The more complex the job, the more competencies can be identified. The key is keeping in mind not only what is required to do the job, but also what is necessary to achieve the organization’s primary objectives to succeed.

Once the competencies have been determined, your HR team, along with your management officials, must create clear and concise definitions for each of them. A competency dictionary makes it easier to start as it provides a starting point for discussion and help you customize each definition to your company’s needs, but you can also write them from scratch. Whichever approach you use, remember to use the language of your organization.

With a customized and detailed competency model, you not only offer your employees a tool by which they can develop and grow within your organization, but you also facilitate performance reviews and promote a unified culture and workforce that work together to achieve the same goals.

Of course, it then also becomes necessary to implement a process by which you can evaluate employees on these very competencies and assess their degree of success. Our decades of research and data gathering have allowed us to develop several tools that help you accomplish every one of these steps.

You can also attend our workshops to learn to create and implement these models in house. These practical events allow you to share your concerns and experiences with industry peers and experts so as to help you get over some of the hurdles of performance management.

For more information, contact us or consult the different sections of our website for more information on developing models for your success.

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Your Competitive Edge depends on your Employees

3D_pyramidThe business of human resources is changing. Given the accelerated rate of turbulence in almost every aspect of the economy, HR professionals have to work harder than ever to maintain the knowledge, skills, insights and experience that prove relevant for the companies and competitive markets within which they work.

As the HR function is expected to effectively measure these characteristics during the crucial selection process, it must also seek an exact combination of these factors – knowledge, skills, insights, motives and experience – in every candidate in order to fill a role successfully and thus support the company’s viability and growth.

But in today’s changing workforce, this means getting more specialized, and this isn’t always easy if your HR processes are not keeping up with your evolving environment.

It’s not business as usual

As the future role of HR has begun to undergo change, competencies are now being used as an effective and highly accurate way to refocus an organization on what is really important to its success specifically, as well as what it takes for the workforce to be successful in achieving both their and the company’s main objectives. In other words, it is no longer a process that seeks to find a candidate who can ‘do a job,’ but now one that needs to determine if the prospective employee can do the job in a manner that consciously accomplishes the top business goals.

A customized technical competency model highlights specialized skills and proficiencies required within each job role, in addition to the behaviors, motives and self-traits sought out by the corporate culture. According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, implementing such a model further supports the future and success of the HR function within the business context, as it:

  • Provides a strategy that binds organizational culture and individual performance
  • Serves as a tool to explicitly define technical roles within the context of the overall business and market
  • Aligns individual performance with that of the organization, as well as with the industry within which it operates

An aptly tailored competency model that includes a set of technical skills for each role can prove to be the mechanism by which organizations link the specialized aspects of a particular job to the bottom line results desired by management. The outcome: a selection and recruitment process that is adapted to the evolution and goals of the organization, and a workforce that understands and works toward the same objectives.

Click here to learn how technical competencies can help your HR team gain a competitive edge.

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Are technological advancements undermining your HR processes?

man_using_clear_touchscreen_sqWith rapidly advancing technologies, the majority of industries are faced with the double challenge of 1) staying informed and current and 2) effectively integrating new systems, processes and software into existing job functions.

Within the context of an organization, and even more so in terms of human resources and job performance management, this modern reality can prove to be an even greater challenge, as the workforce naturally habituates itself to its acquired skills, while monetary investments needed to provide coaching on new developments seem to grow exponentially.

Even with a renewed workforce of students entering the job market, the tasks and responsibilities pertaining to a job are often not as expected, and the skills required to execute them therefore aren’t as perfectly aligned to the candidate as originally conceived.

So how can companies hope to find, attract, retain, and ‘update’ their workforce with the right technical competencies in their HR processes?

Not your average pyramid scheme

A competency model can be conceptualized as a pyramid, from personal competencies (or soft skills) at the base, to industry-specific and sector-specific skills in the middle, and task-specific competencies at the upper tier.

Competencies considered to be industry-specific are technical competencies pertaining to a very specific domain, role or industry; let’s think, for instance, of standards and certifications, core technologies and processing methods, etc. Because they are so technical, it can be extremely challenging for a ‘generalized’ HR function to both identify and update these competencies over time.

The benefit of dictionaries

Aside from the obvious benefit of providing a starting point and uniform language for the development of a competency model, a competency dictionary is often a crucial source of up-to-date industry-technical skills that will help you optimize your recruiting process and the performance management of your existing workforce.

You can also learn to identify, plan, and implement technical competencies into your competency model at our 1-day Creating Technical Competencies workshop.

Contact us for more information.

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Managing Role-Specific Technical Competencies

Health care professionals in lab.With the continuing evolution of the business environment, it has become necessary for companies to adopt a competency framework that is not only sufficiently solid and accurate to provide guidance to your workforce and HR staff, but also flexible enough to account for regular updates – and even additions – to role-specific skills.

In other words, your talent management or competency model should seek to identify the required technical, functional and professional skills for a given role, as well as be easily adaptable to change within your organization.

Let’s get technical

Technical competencies refer to the technical proficiency required for an employee to perform as expected within a job function.

In addition to supporting your hiring process, including a set of technical competencies provides opportunities for continuous learning and growth, which can be perceived as a real performance motivator for employees and a great talent management and retention strategy for your company.

Set it but don’t forget it: A dynamic process

There is no doubt that when executed skillfully, a set of well-defined and current technical competencies help you hire the right people for the job and, in turn, allow employees to become vital contributors to the success of your organization. After all, when you have a match between the employee’s competencies and those required to effectively perform the task at hand, it’s nothing short of a recruiting success!

However, in times of reorganizations or when a transition occurs within the workplace, it becomes necessary to assess the previously established competencies required to perform a task to ensure that they not only remain relevant to the updated role, but that the employee assigned to the task has retained and adapted to the revised position.

Because technical competencies are so job-specific, there are no competency dictionaries or libraries from which to draw competency definitions. You can however learn how to establish and manage technical competencies by collecting and analyzing the right data at different levels in specific jobs at our interactive 1-day Creating Technical Competencies workshop that can be scheduled on-site at your facility and can be combined with our 3-day Building Competency Models certification workshop.

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