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The Definitive Guide to Competency Models

By Dave Root on March 20, 2018

A competency model is a collection of the specific behaviors that effective individuals exhibit to achieve success in a particular role or group of roles. Unlike a job analysis or job description, which only summarizes the functions to be performed and the skills and knowledge required to perform them, competency models describe actual job behaviors.

The use of these models can support your company’s growth and overall business success. According to the 2016 SHRM Competency Survey, 93% of the more than 500 C-suite executives surveyed said that formally defined competencies were important for the overall success of their business units. Though there are challenges associated with developing and using competency models, overall they can help you define and distinguish “great” performance and enable more effective employee development.

Types of Competencies

Competency models can range from a collection of universal competencies to more complex multilevel models spanning across multiple job functions. It is helpful to divide competencies into three main categories:

  • Organizational or “core” competencies. These are behaviors that all employees need to exhibit to be successful, regardless of their function or level in the organization. Examples include communication skills, continuous learning, and integrity.
  • Functional and job-related competencies. These are competencies related to a specific job function or type of job. An example might be relationship building for salespeople.
  • Leadership competencies. These are the skills and behaviors needed to manage and lead people. Examples include inspiring others and communicating organizationally.

Learn more about Eagle's Flight's experiential approach to competency  development here.

Challenges of Competency Models

Whether you use a model that incorporates a mix of core competencies or one that focuses solely on leadership behaviors, it is important to be aware of some of the common associated challenges:

  • Challenge #1. With so many different competencies, it may be difficult to identify the ones that will work best for your organization and to pinpoint the desired behaviors that define success for each competency.
  • Challenge #2. It is difficult to know where to start, particularly if you’ve never created a competency model before.
  • Challenge #3. Even after you’ve identified competencies, you may struggle to link your model to talent-management processes such as performance management and succession planning. One study found that, in 2016, companies allocated only 4% of their talent-management budgets to competency management, a drop of 5 percentage points from 2014.

How to Realize the Benefits of Competency Models

Despite the challenges of developing and working with these models, the benefits abound. Competency models help organizations understand workforce capability and identify opportunities for learning and development; they also help employees understand their own capabilities and recognize opportunities for improvement. Finally, the development of competency models is positively linked to overall organizational success. One study found that 89% of organizations defined as “best in class” (those with a wealth of top performers and a strong succession plan) had well-defined core competencies for all job roles, whereas only 48% of other companies had clearly defined core competencies.

The benefits of working with competency models far outweigh the initial challenges, which can be overcome with a mix of resources and support. Here are some ways to ensure you reap the benefits of a robust model that fully aligns with your employee-development and organizational goals:

1. Develop a competency framework. Get started with the development of a competency framework that maps out the most critical competencies for success in your organization. Engaging in this important first step will help you address the common challenge of knowing which competencies are the right ones and how to define success for each.

Developing your framework will involve research and information gathering to help you understand the key knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required for each job within your organization, as well as the behaviors that define the ideal performance of those jobs.

2. Link competency models to employee development. Whether you already use competency models or you plan to work with a learning and development partner to craft them, these models can serve as roadmaps for identifying opportunities for employee development at every stage of your employees’ careers, such as opportunities to help individual contributors and managers improve their leadership and communication skills.

3. Align competency models with talent-management activities. In order to address the challenges associated with linking your competency models to your talent-management processes, incorporate your models into activities such as succession planning, hiring, and the identification of high potentials. This has the added benefit of validating your competency models and highlighting opportunities to address training gaps.

Unlock the Value of Competency Models with a Trusted Partner

Despite the associated challenges, developing and implementing competency models that work with your talent-management initiatives is a realistic goal. It doesn’t have to be a laborious process of sifting through a maze of competencies and struggling to determine which direction to take. In fact, working with an experienced learning and development partner can help you improve your existing competency models or develop new ones. Lastly, working with the right partner can help to align your models with relevant training and development programs for employees at various stages of their career, ultimately supporting career development and performance improvement.

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Dave joined Eagle’s Flight in 1991 after having spent a number of years with a Toronto-based accounting firm. Since that time, he has held a number of posts within the company, primarily in the areas of Operations, Finance, Legal, and IT. In his current role as both Chief Financial Officer and President, Global Business, Dave is focused on ensuring the company’s ongoing financial health as well as growing its global market share. In pursuing the latter, Dave’s wealth of experience and extensive business knowledge has made him a valued partner and trusted advisor to both our global licensees and multinational clientele.

About Eagle's Flight

Founded in 1988, Eagle's Flight has earned its reputation as a global leader in the development and delivery of business-relevant, experiential learning programs that achieve specific training objectives and lasting behavior changes.

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