3 Better Competency Model Guidelines to Follow

A business man is at a drawing board designing a competency model

Most companies have analyzed their talent to the extent that they have defined the core competencies that seem to spell success in their organization. They have been diligent in enumerating the behaviors that are supposed to dictate how employees are selected, assigned and developed. And those same lists are passed down from year to year.

But how many companies review their core competencies to be sure they are still relevant and being used to improve performance? Unfortunately, darn few.

So what is wrong with competency models these days? Why aren’t they being used?

The easy answer is that they are outdated. But it goes beyond that. Most models remain on the shelf because they are too complicated, too generic and too far from what matters most to the business. They don’t fit the specific company they were designed for and they are impractical to use because of their complexity.

The original intent may have been pure. Most companies developed competency models that:

  • are comprehensive enough to cover all the capabilities needed for success
  • align talent selection, development, engagement and retention initiatives

But the number of competencies grew to an unwieldy number that was then multiplied by levels for function and proficiency. The result was something that only HR could understand and did not fully tie back to executing the current or future business strategies. It was not a practical tool for those on the line who were actually responsible for making decisions about what to do and who to hire, retain and develop.

Here are some guidelines for building a competency model that WILL be used as you build and manage your talent:

  1. Keep it simple
    Forget trying to cover every competency needed. Prioritize and focus. Initially, just worry about the critical few high performance competencies required to be a high performer in your unique organizational culture.
  2. Keep it relevant
    For behavioral competencies to matter, they must be integral to driving the business strategy forward in a way that makes sense within your unique organizational culture. Review the list regularly vis-à-vis the business strategy and desired corporate culture. Identify what matters most in terms of hiring, firing and rewarding.
  3. Keep it specific
    Don’t take the easy route and adopt generic competencies. Make the behaviors specific to your short- and long-term strategies. Effective competencies should also fit your unique culture and reflect the working and personality styles of the employees you want at your particular organization…not the employees that could fit anywhere.

When you can follow these three guidelines and design behavioral competencies that are business outcome-focused and that differentiate you from the competition, you will have a competency model that is truly effective.

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