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Employee experience · 

6 minutes

Cormac O'SullivanPiggy

Navigating Success with Competency Models: A Guide

In an era characterized by rapid technological advances and cut-throat competition, the ability of an organization to identify, nurture, and retain high-performing talent can significantly set it apart. A fundamental tool aiding organizations in this mission is the competency model. This robust framework serves to precisely define the skills required for each job, ensuring the performance of individuals aligns with broader organizational goals.

What is a Competency?

At its core, a competency encapsulates a blend of skills, knowledge, abilities, and personal attributes that contribute to high performance in a job role. Broadly, competencies are segregated into two types: 'hard' competencies and 'soft' competencies. The former refers to technical abilities, while the latter, 'soft' competencies, encapsulate interpersonal skills such as communication, teamwork, and leadership. It is crucial to strike the right balance between these competencies in any given role.

What is a Competency Model?

A competency model is an organized framework that outlines the exact competencies a job role demands within an organization. These models play an instrumental role in pinpointing the precise skills an employee should possess. It ensures they will effectively execute their jobs and aligning their performances with the broader organizational vision.

Competencies Involved in the Model

Competency models can encompass a wide array of skills, knowledge, abilities, and personal attributes - or competencies - that contribute to job success. Here, we dive deeper into the various competencies frequently included in these models:

Business Acumen

This competency involves understanding the business environment, industry trends, and economic factors that can influence an organization's performance. Individuals with strong business acumen can make strategic decisions that drive the company's success. They are aware of competitors, understand financial principles, and can identify opportunities for growth.


Communication is critical in virtually all job roles. It involves not only speaking and writing clearly but also listening attentively and interpreting non-verbal cues effectively. Good communicators can convey complex ideas in a way that others can easily understand, helping to prevent misunderstandings that can lead to costly mistakes.


This competency is particularly important for roles that involve advising others, such as HR or management roles. It involves understanding others' needs and providing helpful advice and solutions. Those with strong consultation skills can build relationships with stakeholders, facilitate discussions, and drive consensus.

Critical Evaluation

This involves analyzing information from various sources to make informed decisions. Employees with this competency can identify the strengths and weaknesses of different options and make decisions that best serve their organization's goals.

Global and Cultural Effectiveness

In today's interconnected world, this competency is increasingly important. It involves understanding and respecting different cultures, customs, and business practices. Employees with strong global and cultural effectiveness can work effectively with diverse teams and serve diverse markets.

HR Expertise

This competency is key for HR professionals. It includes knowledge of HR principles, laws and regulations, and best practices. HR professionals need this competency to effectively manage talent, ensure legal compliance, and contribute to their organization's strategic goals.

Leadership and Navigation

This competency involves guiding and motivating others to achieve their best work. Effective leaders can navigate organizational politics, manage change, and inspire others to work towards common goals.

Relationship Management

This competency involves building and maintaining strong relationships with others. Those with strong relationship management skills can collaborate effectively with team members, manage conflicts, and build strong networks inside and outside their organization.

Ethical Practice

This competency involves adhering to ethical standards in one's work. Those with strong ethical practice understand their organization's values and legal guidelines, ensure their own actions align with these, and encourage others to do the same.

Competency Model Use Cases

The use of competency models is wide-ranging, influencing several aspects of Human Resources Management:

Talent Acquisition

In talent acquisition, competency models help identify the key skills and behaviors that candidates must demonstrate. They inform job descriptions, applicant screening criteria, and interview questions, ensuring a streamlined and effective hiring process. For instance, Google's Project Oxygen incorporated competency modeling to identify the key behaviors of their most effective managers. This greatly informed their hiring strategy and boosted their workforce productivity.

Learning and Development

In the realm of learning and development, competency models guide the creation of personalized learning paths. By understanding the gaps between current employee competencies and those outlined in the model, learning and development professionals can create targeted training programs to bridge these gaps. IBM's SkillsBuild program, for instance, uses competency modeling to provide tailored learning experiences.

Succession Planning

In succession planning, competency models identify the skills and traits future leaders should possess. They inform the selection and development of high-potential employees, ensuring the continuity of leadership and strategic direction. GE's famous Leadership Development program heavily relies on competency models for identifying and grooming future leaders.

Employee Engagement

In the realm of employee engagement, competency models provide employees with clear performance expectations and career progression paths. By understanding the competencies they need to develop, employees can engage more effectively in their roles and strive for career advancement. Adobe's Check-In system, for instance, incorporates competency models to provide clear expectations and continuous development opportunities for their employees.

Change Management

In change management, competency models help identify the skills employees need to navigate and lead change. They guide the creation of change management strategies, ensuring employees can effectively adapt to new systems, processes, or structures. Prosci's ADKAR Model is a classic example of a competency model aimed at facilitating effective change management.

The flexibility of competency models allows for these diverse applications, making them an invaluable tool in any organization's HR toolkit.

How to Develop an Effective Competency Model

Developing an effective competency model is a multi-step process, each demanding due diligence:

Understand the Role

The first step is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the role in question. This entails thoroughly reviewing job descriptions, interviewing current job holders, and observing job performances. By deeply understanding the role, you lay a robust foundation for the competency model.

Identify Key Competencies

Next, you need to identify the key competencies required for the job role. Here, it's crucial to consider both job-specific competencies, such as technical skills, and broader organizational competencies, like communication or teamwork. Analyzing top performers in the role can offer valuable insights during this stage.

Validate the Model

Once you've outlined a preliminary model, it's time to validate it. This involves seeking feedback from key stakeholders, including managers, top performers, and HR professionals. Their input can help refine the model, ensuring it accurately reflects the skills and behaviors needed for success in the role.

Implement the Model

After validation, the competency model should be implemented across the organization. This could involve training managers on the model, incorporating it into various HR processes, and communicating it to all employees. It's crucial to ensure everyone understands the model and its implications for their work.

Review and Update the Model

Finally, the competency model should not be static. Regular review and updates are necessary to maintain its relevance amidst changes in organizational strategy, industry trends, or job roles. This ensures the model continues to accurately represent the competencies necessary for job success.

Competency Model Template

A rudimentary competency model template might include the following sections:

  • Job Title: The specific job for which the model is crafted.

  • Job Description: A concise overview of the responsibilities and requirements of the job.

  • Key Competencies: A comprehensive list of essential competencies for the job, bifurcated into 'hard' and 'soft' skills.

  • Performance Indicators: Specific behaviors or outcomes indicative of successful competency demonstration.


Competency models are a cornerstone of contemporary human resource management. By delineating the competencies required for high performance in a job, these models can enhance recruitment, employee development, performance management, and strategic alignment. Creating effective competency models requires an understanding of job requirements, identification of key competencies, and routine updates to the model. By harnessing the power of competency models, organizations can augment their ability to attract, nurture, and retain high performers, thus driving organizational success.

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