Competency Frameworks

by Julia Miller

Using a competency framework

The best competency frameworks are at the heart of an organisation’s selection, process, training and development, performance management and appraisal systems. This page describes how a well-designed competency framework can be applied throughout your business. Potential benefits for your organisation include the following:

  • Using a common language for high performance
  • Encouraging shared outcomes and working processes
  • Promoting best practice
  • Supporting your key strategic organisational objectives
  • Encouraging career and professional development.
Note

Some organisations use competencies as part of their pay and reward systems, arguing that measuring against the level of competency achieved is a relatively objective way of rewarding merit. However, this can be controversial and needs to be thought through before its introduction.

Uses of competency frameworks

  • Performance measurement
  • Career development
  • Pay for competencies
  • Selection and recruitment
  • Assessment/development centres evaluation/description
  • Training
  • Job evaluation/description

Learning and development for teams and individuals

Tip

Some behavioural competencies can be linked to personality traits. Individuals may find these difficult to change, or may not even want to, so you need to concentrate on achievement.

Once you have identified the competencies you are looking for and have measured your team against these competencies, you can focus on those competencies that need to be developed, either through team workshops or as part of individual learning and development plans. These development plans can also form part of your appraisal systems. You can determine the content of your training courses from the competency behaviours that need to be developed.

Selection and recruitment

Competencies can easily be built into the selection process. As competencies measure the behaviours you would like to see in all your staff, measuring applicants’ behaviour against these behaviours is a realistic and objective way of rating individuals’ current capabilities. Examples of how to use your competency framework include

  • Basing your (written) interview questions on each competency or competency domain
  • Designing your job simulation exercises so that they can measure up to three competencies at a time.

You should spend some time considering which are essential for effective performance and then look for the behaviours which underlie these competencies. You can decide the essential competencies by listing the most important tasks and then identifying which competencies are required to do the tasks.

After this, you can decide which competencies individuals could quickly develop once they start the job; delete these from your list and the remaining competencies are those whose behaviours you need to look for during the selection process.

Performance management and appraisal

Remember that competencies are behavioural and are therefore easy to observe and measure. Each competence will have different levels, according to the individual’s experience, skills and knowledge. This helps you, as a manager, to

  • Clarify which elements of performance are critical for success
  • See how an individual is performing
  • Help spread best practice.
Tip

Some organisations only use their competency frameworks for assessment when their employees have become familiar with their use in training and development.

You need to gather evidence when using competencies in this way, usually through a 360 Degree Assessment process. This helps you measure the individual against the competencies and gives you the evidence you need.

However, remember it takes time to build competence. Competencies require knowledge, skills and attitude that you can only get from doing the job over a period of time.

Career planning

Competency frameworks can be a very useful aid to career planning.

For yourself

It might be fun to think about your own competencies for the kind of career you might like to follow. Think about the competencies you might like to develop in the areas of communication, leadership, problem solving or team working. Think, as well, about any further technical or professionally-accepted competencies that you might like to develop, and then create your own competency framework and career development plan.

Ask yourself: ‘Do I have these competencies?’ or ‘Would I want to do this on a regular basis?’

Within your organisation:

There are various ways you can use competency frameworks within your organisation.

  • You can use competency frameworks to track employee competencies, so that if particular jobs or tasks become available, those employees with the appropriate competencies can be considered.
  • Competencies are also used within workforce planning and deployment to help you look at your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses and develop skills needs for the short and longer term.
  • Succession planning – what competencies need to be developed?
  • You might use your competency framework as an organisational Training Needs Analysis.
  • It can be used to help you consider how you might expand your business in line with its core competencies, by focusing on your people’s strengths.

Integration with other tools

Competency frameworks, once developed, can be integrated into a variety of other management and development tools. They are usually the basis of 360 Degree Assessment instruments. The competency statements form the basis of the behaviours that are measured by your boss, colleagues and other stakeholders as part of the 360.

You might also hear the term ‘Competency-based management’. This approach to managing employee performance is based on the knowledge, skills and attitude that can make the difference in day-to-day performance. It looks at how performance is linked to business results, and gives employees a systematic approach to developing their skills and capabilities.