Singing From the Same Hymnal: 5 Tips Toward an Effective Competency Model

Developing—and attempting to implement—a best-in-class competency model without first asking yourself these five questions is asking for trouble.

The foundation of an effective talent management strategy is the development of an enterprise-wide competency model. An effective enterprise-wide framework encompasses the key behaviors required for successful performance across an entire organization. Done well, these clearly defined behaviors become a shared point of reference for what’s important in the organization and how employees should execute on their objectives. These individual behaviors are clustered into groups with an overarching theme referred to as ‘competencies’.

But not all enterprise-wide competency models are effective, strategically-relevant, or even well-used or understood. In order to develop an effective organizational competency model, our experience has shown that there are five key questions that every organization should consider and revisit periodically.

Question #1 — Does my Competency Model differentiate top performers from average performers?

Do the competencies and underlying behaviors reflect performance above and beyond the status quo or do they simply describe the more mundane behaviors that even lower performers exhibit? Not asking yourself this question can result in a model that fails to challenge existing employees and provides little clarity to new employees on what truly ‘great’ looks like.

Not all enterprise-wide competency models are effective, strategically-relevant, or even well-used or understood.

Question #2 — Are these competencies linked to my strategic business objectives and future direction?

Have I thought about where my organization is headed? When I look at this model, is there a clear linkage between the competencies and our future-oriented business objectives? It’s imperative that the model spotlights the behaviors that will be vital for carrying the business to where it needs to go, not just reflecting what’s important today.

Creating a model that reflects the future requirements and strategic vision of the organization propels the organization in the right direction. For most organizations today, digitalization is the driving force behind new business models and strategies that determine the competencies employees need to exhibit to achieve future business objectives.

Question #3 — Is my organization going to understand this model?

Is the competency model unnecessarily complex? Does it create barriers to effective implementation in the business? Sometimes—with good intentions—a newly-minted model is so detailed that it makes it nearly impossible to be understood by the very people it’s designed to impact. The language should reflect how people talk about their work and the culture of the company, with the right level of specificity.

Finding the right balance between encompassing the breadth of desired behaviors and keeping the model succinct will increase the model’s acceptance and ensure it’s aligned with a format and language that employees are accustomed to.

Question #4 — Are these competencies finite and relevant across functions and job families?

It’s easy to fall into a trap where your model is only relevant to that certain subset of your organization that includes the greatest number of employees or is the strategic focus of the business at the moment. Often, this focus lands in the more ‘commercial’ or customer-facing areas of the business and neglects support functions in the organization.

A well-developed model will avoid this by ensuring there is representation across the organization in the development process. Consider starting with a competency framework that has been proven to apply to a wide range of roles, such as SHL’s Universal Competency Framework, to ensure the right level of comprehensiveness and depth.

Question #5 — Are the right people involved in the development of the model?

All too often, extensive time and effort are devoted to building a great competency model, and implementation is forgotten. This wonderful model is then left sitting on the shelf. As part of the process, it’s important to include others across your organization to build buy-in and ensure you have a clear sense as to how the model can be implemented effectively once finalized.

A collaborative implementation plan that occurs concurrently to the development will build buy-in and make the integration much more seamless. Excluding those most likely to provide momentum for the implementation (or even those who hinder momentum) is often a reason for a competency initiative stalling.

All too often implementation is forgotten. This wonderful model is then left sitting on the shelf.

Asking yourself these five questions at the beginning and throughout the development of your competency framework will increase the likelihood of creating a successful, future-proofed model that truly adds value to your organization.


Author: Luke Simmering