complex competency models

“Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.”

                                  C. W. Ceran

Many organizations are questioning the value of their existing competency models. Over the past few years, multiple clients and prospective clients have expressed their concerns or outright dissatisfaction with their models. Here are comments from several organizations. “Our current competency models are so long and complex that managers and employees see them as just another HR program that is unusable and out-of-touch with the way we do business here.”  Director of Talent Management, High Tech Company

“Competency models have earned such a bad reputation that we are looking for an alternate name to call them.”  CHRO of Consumer Goods Company

“Too academic and theoretical even for us.” Chief Administrative Officer for Educational Institution

Based on detailed feedback from people in these and other organizations, there appear to be several causes of this dissatisfaction and lack of success.

  • Models and applications are not driven by the business strategy and focused on producing superior organizational results. Thus, there is little or no support by top management.
  • When not done correctly,building models with multiple levels of competencies can increase the size of a complete model to 25 – 50 competencies. Adding in multiple levels of proficiencies for each competency can then create textbook-sized models. 
  • People don’t like working with large models that are difficult to comprehend and use, especially when it comes to applying them to selection, development, career planning, and performance management.
  • Models created with a generic competency dictionary created by external consultants often do not capture the unique language and culture of the organization, and fail to resonate with employees. These dictionaries are often large and complex and integrated into a human resource information system, making it difficult and expensive to customize.
  • Too much emphasis on research and validity often leads to comprehensive models that are not practical to implement.


Organizations have avoided these problems by creating concise competency models that are tailored for each organization and contain information that is most helpful to each employee. These models include:

Short descriptions of each job or job role, in simple non-theoretical language that is easy for all employees and executives to understand and apply. Each description includes:

1) Job Responsibilities, Tasks, & Performance Measures

2) Critical Abilities and Attributes (aka competencies) needed to perform the tasks in a successful or superior manner.

3) Compilation of these competencies (typically 8-14), including competencies required to support the company’s mission, values, & strategy; with behavioral indicators for each competency (observable, measurable ways to demonstrate the competency)

Example – Project Manager position




Tailor job competency models to your organization’s vision, mission, and shared values

Six Steps to Building Competency Models Step 1: Conceptualizing the Project

Build Better Job Competency Models

Obtaining A Customizable Competency Dictionary

Learn how to build competency models the right way (workshop)

Workitect WebsiteCompetency Models

References: Competency Models Are Failing. Why?


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