Friday, 7 September 2012

Topic of the Month for September - Competencies

From the suggestions we received, I have decided to start the discussion with the topic on competencies and competency models.  The question had four main aspects:

  1. Should an organization create their own or buy an off-the-shelf model?
  2. How do you evaluate the efficacy of a model or vendor?
  3. Comparison of competency models
  4. Who are reputable vendors?

While I will be sharing my opinion and insight into the topic, I also ask the others please share theirs.  Individual experiences will help us all learn more to help our own organizations be more successful.

I have been dealing with competency models since 1987.  In this post I will do my best to answer question 1 above.  I have had a tremendous hesitance to using generic models because pride of authorship is, in my opinion, one of the keys to having employees embrace the competencies.  Regardless of the area of talent management to which you want to apply competencies, employees have to broadly accept them as accurate / meaningful to their role if they are to be used appropriately. 

As well, generic models will have 80% fit with an organization or role, and that might even be increased by some customization.  However, any gaps between the competency model and your organization’s culture or strategy will cause misalignment between your employees and the goals of your company.  It can also cause confusion for employees who see a behaviour among the competencies that wouldn’t have been included had the behaviours been written by those who know the role best.

The willingness to purchase off-the-shelf competencies in order to save a few dollars is a concept that I find a little baffling sometimes.  Organizations like to state that their competitive advantage is their people.  Or they brag their people are what makes the difference between them and their competitors.  If that is true then why would you buy competencies that your competitors can also buy?  Why would you want competencies based on a consultant’s research over utilizing the knowledge from years of experience from those who are already successful in your organization?  You wouldn’t buy off-the-shelf marketing, then why would you buy generic competency models?  It may save you a few dollars in the short run, but a single wrong hire based on an ineffective competency model can cost more than the difference between a generic model and a model customized to the culture and strategy of your organization. 

Because behaviours often truly are the difference between success and failure within an organization, investing in the right model is an important foundation toward truly achieving your strategic goals through your people.


  1. Competencies must be aligned to the strategy of the business and built to support the organization's capabilities - both for where the company is today and where they want to be in the future. So you can't "outsource" the development of your competencies - and I particularly refer here to Leadership Competencies. I believe you can look to vendors and practitioners for a Talent Management Model. The model needs to be a system, and competencies are the foundation of that system. The Competencies you choose that support and build your Organization Capabilites then have to be inculcated into your Talent Development processes and programs and your Talent Acquistion processes and programs and of course, your Total Reward systems.

    Each of these areas have reputable vendors that can help you achieve your overall goals, but you must first start with the overall business strategy, which gives visibilty to the the organization capability needed and you lay your foundation by defining your competencies. If the vendor can't work strategically first, look for another vendor.

    1. Coleen I think we are in agreement that whatever and however you develop your behavioural competency model it has to be rooted in the business strategy. I would go further and suggest it also has to be aligned and reflect the values of the organization. While there are a multitude of vendors who have pre-defined models those models are not based on your business plan or your values. However, they do reflect in the behaviours an attitude towards work based on the values perspective of the vendor. That is another reason you need to build the partiuclar company models internally.

  2. We struggled for a couple of years with the idea of building our own competency model. But the amount of time and resources we felt it would take to be done effectively was a critical inhibitor. We finally decided if it was going to get done at all, we'd need to hire a vendor who had a robust database of competencies from which we could start.

    To David's point, however, it wouldn't be enough. We asked our top performers in the role and and their managers to select from a list of key competencies, then add their own. Because most of the vendors we looked at didn't have a technical database, we also asked our top performers/leaders to identify the key technical competencies required now and in the future. Then we went a bit further and asked about key characteristics or personal attributes required.

    Having a list of competencies and definitions started the process and enabled us to get our leaders involved and engaged in the dialogue so necessary to our full understanding of both current and future needs.

    1. Kate I do agree that most organizations begin the process with a list of competencies from a database. As long as the list is only a trigger to start an exchange of ideas and that the conversation expands beyond those ideas to capture behaviours specific and unique to your culture and business strategy is is fine. My preference is not to give 'guidance' to the participants with a list that might or might not apply to them but to have the open ended critical incident conversation with them. Then from their words extrapolate the behaviours that define success in the role.

      Key to success in the competency work is the participation, in the articulation of the behaviours, by those in the role and those impacted by the role. For example I would have suggested that in addition to the manager of those in the role you also have a focus group with direct reports and if applicable internal or external customers/contacts. This 'full circle' perspective adds much depth to the final project.

      I appreciate you taking the time to add a comment thank you.


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