The Evolution of Competency Modeling

The first ten years of competency modeling were dominated by consultants trained in the McBer approach. This approach involved a rigorous research methodology, which included identification of criterion samples of superior and average performers, behavioral event interviews, thematic analysis of transcripts of half the interview sample, and cross validation through coding and statistical analysis of the other half of the interviews. During this period, competency models were most often used to guide selection and professional development. Workitect uses the same methodology to develop job competency models.

Today, 40 years after the first competency model, more than half of the Fortune 500 companies are using competency modeling. Consultants working in the McBer tradition are still building many models, but these consultants have been joined by many other consultants using different methodologies. With market pressures to build models more quickly and less expensively, there is less emphasis on methodological rigor.

Over the last two decades, organizations have begun to use competency models in new ways. Many organizations that have redesigned their work processes and restructured their jobs have developed competency models for newly designed jobs for which there are few, if any, job incumbents with experience. These new competency models, of necessity, describe emerging and anticipated skill requirements, rather than skills that have been effective in the past. Many organizations have taken a “one size fits all” approach to competency modeling, by developing one competency model, usually for leaders, and applying this model to a large set of jobs, sometimes even non-managerial ones. Other organizations have moved in the opposite direction, by simultaneously developing multiple competency models for different jobs within an organization.

Competency models are still most often used to support selection and professional development, but developmental assessment – “360 feedback,” competency assessment by self, manager, peers, direct reports, and customers – has become a significant human resources application in its own right.

In the past twenty years, there have also been changes in the workplace which affect competency model building. Because organizations are changing more rapidly, the “shelf life” of a competency model has diminished. Frequent reorganizations change job roles and make existing job descriptions and competency models obsolete. Competency models are often needed for new and critical jobs, even though there are few employees with experience in these jobs and fewer still who could be considered outstanding performers.

Staff functions, such as human resources, have become leaner, so that the remaining staff have more responsibilities and job pressures and less time for discretionary, additional activities such as investing time in competency model building. Thus, more of the model building work falls to external consultants. At the same time, human resources staff are under more pressure to produce results quickly, and this means implementing a useful human resources application, not simply developing a competency model. The budget for the development of a new competency model must therefore compete with the budget for its applications.

Organizational changes have also affected employees, who are the “end users” of competency models. The increased intensity and pace of work make it more difficult to get employees to participate in model building activities, especially resource panels and focus groups. Perhaps because of the pace of work, employees’ attention span, their tolerance for complexity, and their willingness to read have diminished. As a result, competency models need to be leaner and simpler, with high-impact language that holds the reader’s attention.

What has impacted the way you do models today? How are you doing them now?

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This entry was posted in About Competencies, Building Job Competency Models, Competency Modeling, Talent Management and tagged , , , , , , , , by Edward Cripe. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Cripe

Ed has over thirty-five years of experience helping companies effectively utilize their organizational and human resources. His experience includes senior consultant roles with Merit Group, Inc., Kaset International/Achieve Global and McBer/Hay Group, plus corporate positions as director, training, organization development and quality for Ryder System and director, human resource consulting, training and organization development for the Bendix Corporation (now Honeywell International). He also worked for NASA as a Presidential Interchange Executive. Co-author of “The Value-Added Employee”. Ed holds a M.B.A. degree in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior from Indiana University and has completed doctoral level studies at the University of Michigan.

2 thoughts on “The Evolution of Competency Modeling

  1. Hello Edward,
    Can you provide source information on your stat around “more than half of the Fortune 500 companies are using competency modeling”. I would be interested in getting the most update information on this topic and am looking for a valid and reliable source.

    • The source is a 72 page research study published by the American Compensation Association before it became WorldAtWork. It’s titled “Raising the Bar – Using Competencies to Enhance Employee Performance”. The Hay Group, Hewitt, TPF&C, and William Mercer contributed. You can find the report or excerpts at:
      It contains a lot of very interesting information, particularly helpful if you are trying to “sell” a competency based HR approach. I haven’t seen any recent research about percent of companies using competency modeling. Based on our experience, I would estimate about 60%. In my opinion, many of the findings in the report are still valid, which may indicate that competency modeling has still not been found by many CEOs to be a major contributor to business performance.

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