Competency Models, Explained — and How to Build Them

4 min read
Dec 22, 2016

ABCs of competency models

Running a company where everyone is on the same page is hard work. And it gets even harder as companies grow and hiring decisions fall on the shoulders of managers. CEOs and founders can’t do everything on their own, after all.

As evidenced by our Employee Engagement Report, work culture has an extremely strong influence on employee happiness. When employees love the cultures their companies have, they’re more productive and engaged. How, then, can CEOs be sure that the right people are being hired if they themselves can’t afford to be involved in the process?

Extending offers to the right people is a lot easier when leaders provide hiring managers with a clear set of criteria that they should use to judge the merits of prospective candidates. These sets of criteria are perhaps most easily conveyed through the creation of competency models.

Quite simply, competency models are frameworks which thoroughly define the skills, experiences, and personality traits necessary to excel in a particular role — something you need to add to your recruiting strategies. The more a prospective candidate lines up with a specific role’s competency model, the higher the chances that individual will succeed in that position.

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Benefits of Competency Models

  • Companies: Competency models make it much easier for employers to strengthen their organizational culture with each new hire. They also help create clear guidelines that indicate what is expected of employees. What’s more, competency models provide organizations with the added benefit of improving professional development programs that help ensure employees meet specific criteria. For example, if a company prides itself on delivering best-in-class customer service, professional development programs could be created to support that end.
  • Managers: Competency models give managers confidence during the hiring process. They also provide a clear set of criteria employees can use to gauge their job performance; there shouldn’t be any surprises when it comes time to review an employee’s performance. Beyond that, competency models provide managers with a launchpad for conversation if an employee happens to be dropping the ball at any specific point in time.
  • Employees: From an employee’s point of view, competency models provide a checklist of sorts that can be used to improve performance on an individual basis. If, for example, they realize they aren’t offering that high-end customer service their employer demands, they could proactively take steps to sharpen their customer service skills on their own time.

Now that you understand how competency models can benefit all stakeholders, let’s take a look at how exactly competency models are built.  


How to Build a Competency Model

Competency Models: What They Are and How You Build Them by TINYpulseSOURCE:

Generally speaking, there are two different approaches you can take when drafting your competency models:

  • A universal approach requires you to build one competency model that applies to every individual performing in every job function at every level. A manager of a coffee shop might take this approach because it focuses less on specific abilities and more on values.
  • In a multiple approach, you create a number of competency models that each apply to specific jobs and levels. A manager of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company might take this approach, expecting different things out of their customer success managers and their engineers.


01. Find background information

After you’ve made the decision to build a competency model, it’s time to start conducting research to identify industry trends and figure out precisely which attributes employees need to keep up with those trends — if not start trends of their own. Tap into your existing resources, and network with relevant contacts you may have to assist you in this endeavor.


02. Draft a competency framework

Once you’ve gathered enough resources, it’s time to put together your first draft of a framework. Remember, the more specific you are, the better. When it’s possible, try to put together a scale that makes it easy to identify the extent to which a candidate possesses a certain trait. For example, if you’re looking for someone who can work well independently, your scale might look something like this:

  • Low: This person pretty much can’t get anything done on their own.
  • Medium: This person can get a good chunk of their work done on their own, but still needs to rely on someone to guide them through some projects.
  • High: This person only asks for help under dire circumstances.

Assessing candidates’ skills this way should make it easier to identify the best ones.


03. Solicit feedback from people you trust

Once the draft is complete, it’s time to turn to your trusted advisers to see whether you’re on the right track. Include your management team in the process. Make sure that your criteria definitions are clear. Also make sure that you’re not leaving anything obvious out.


04. Update your framework based on that feedback

You don’t have to use every piece of feedback you receive; no one is as familiar with your vision for your company as you are. That said, you are not the wisest person in the world. Two minds — and even seven — are often better than one. Do your due diligence and consult with your team to see which pieces of advice should be incorporated into your revised framework.


05. Review your framework once more

It’s now time for the second round of feedback. Reach out to your contacts and talk with your management team to see whether any additional improvements can be made. Go back to step four as many times as you want. 


06. Make any last-minute changes and finalize it

Once you’ve determined any additional updates that need to be made, it’s time to create the final draft of your competency models. Bring in a couple extra sets of eyes to validate your framework. Publish your final competency models once you reach consensus.

If you’re interested in establishing a strong work culture and keeping it intact, create competency models to help guide hiring managers to the right candidates. You won’t regret it.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.   



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