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What do you recommend about developing and using competency models in an association/non-profit/membership organization?

We've seen accelerated activity among associations over the last few years.

A competency model describes what it looks like to be great in your role. Part of the value proposition of industry associations is to help people get to “great”.  In addition to having in depth knowledge about what people need to be able to do in that industry now, associations also have significant insight about how the industry is changing and the skills that will be required in the future.  This puts associations in the perfect position to develop competency models.

In addition to having unique insight, associations typically provide development resources, which enable members to close identified gaps with competency-based learning.  Having a competency model enables the association to better organize and direct members to the best resources and make their competency model actionable.

When building a competency model for an association, because members span different companies with different job titles, you need to describe job roles more generally.  For example, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) has different tracks, such as Learning Management or Instructional Design.  Other associations, like the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) use years of experience in the role to delineate between different models and target levels of proficiency. So it’s important to identify how many different roles you need to support, and if they need multiple models or only one model with different target levels of proficiency.

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What key factors need to be considered when creating or revising a sales competency model?

When you’re talking about a sales/commercial competency model, you need to consider whether the items in your model are truly the required skills.  Often people get hung up on including too much, and sales people, with their short attention spans, won’t be able to focus on everything.  So pick what is most important now, keeping in mind that your competency model should not be fixed/forever. It will evolve over time. 

If the most important business priority is getting new business, then have your competency model focus on the skills required to get new business (hunting).  If it is to focus on ensuring you are perceived as the most technically proficient provider, then be sure it includes making sure your sales team is technically proficient. 

Look for the 20 or so things that someone needs to be able to do well now, and then re-visit it once a year to make changes as your business strategy changes.

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What is the right number of competencies for roles?

This is one of the questions I’m asked most often.  The answer is there is no “right” number.  What I can say is that it depends on the nature of the role.  First, it is important to describe that a competency model is designed to identify what is most critical to success in a role.  If your model describes the technical and soft skills required to do that job, you want to be sure you cover it.  But as you can imagine, there are probably a hundred soft skills that could be appropriate.  So it’s important to pick the most important ones.

You also need to keep in mind the typical personality type of the person in that role.  Sales people typically have a shorter attention span than technical people.  So you’d want to have closer to 20 competencies in the Sales model and you could have 35 for a technical role. 

When we create a custom competency model, we right-size the number by ensuring that we capture the key things that a person in the role does to be successful.  And we generally use the soft skills to differentiate levels of proficiency.  For example, instead of having 3 skills on analyzing and reporting out data, tailoring communication, and influencing, we have one skill on analyzing and reporting out data, where level 4 might be the ability to tailor communication to the needs of the individual and level 5 might be making a recommendation and influencing others to it.  For more on how to do this, see the ATD webinar (http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/2235).

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How do you create a competency model for a role that is not clearly defined?

This is the perfect reason to have a competency model.  If it’s not clearly defined, how can the person in the role possibly perform it with any degree of confidence?  How can their manager help them to be successful if they don’t know what that person should be doing?  It’s a sure way to create stress, frustration, and ultimately turnover.

So to create a competency model, either use a custom competency model development process (http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/2235), or start with a standard model or models that reflect the primary functions of that role (http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/1809). The webcasts listed walk you through the process, step by step, and provide you with materials you can download.


News / Events / Blog Posts | SkillDirector

Who is most important before, during, and after training resulting from using a competency model?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

There are 2 people who are most important: 

  1. The person who is doing the assessment that identified the need for training
  2. And their manager

By aligning the understanding that a skill gap exists, both the employee and the manager will be bought into the training.  The employee will be motivated to participate, and the manager will be comfortable with the time out of the job to attend.  After the training is over, the employee and the manager will be able to focus on applying the learning to the job, using the behavioral examples for the skills.  And this accelerates learning transfer.


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How would you assess compliance with a competency model?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

You assess compliance by providing behavioral examples that help people to identify lack of compliance or lack of knowledge and be motivated to do something about it.  It’s not that different than assessing someone’s product knowledge.

Let’s take personal protective equipment as an example.  If I assess myself against a skill such as “Use personal protective equipment whenever required for my personal safety”, and I see a list of situations in the behavioral examples, I’d be able to select which set of examples best describes my use of PPE.  Not only would I potentially see what I’m not doing (that I should be doing), but I should become intrinsically motivated to close compliance gaps. 

woman with safety goggles 1.jpg
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How do you create real buy-in for development from people managers?

Question: “Managers will often ask for training then become one of the road blocks to ensuring it happens and that training is followed up on. What advice do you have for creating an attitude of real buy-in from managers of people?”

There’s actually a great article from Tim Riesterer called “A skills deficiency of our own making” (http://ow.ly/HfAR306FitX) where he talks about managers becoming the road block.  “Faced with the contradictory pressures to drive the business or take time to hone their team’s skills, the majority of managers are opting to take a pass on the training, according to 56 percent of respondents.”

So you need to help them understand the impact. 

We have a customer toolkit just for managers to help them understand what’s in it for them – if employees are more proficient, then you’ll get greater results… but YOU must help them close those gaps.  They need both an education and tools to help them to change, quickly and easily.  Managers also need to understand that NOT developing people is a risk. If they aren’t given the opportunity to grow, they’ll go somewhere they can. 

Through active participation in their team’s competency assessment, managers will see exactly what gaps each person has.  This makes their job SO much easier.  No guesswork!  Plus, they can identify task-based mentors so team members can work together to build bench strength.  If a personalized learning plan for closing any gaps is automatically generated, it will be hard for a manager to say, “listen, I know you have gaps, and here’s a list of activities you can do to close them, but I’m not going to give you time to do that.”

News / Events / Blog Posts | SkillDirector

You don't know TRACK!

What’s that you say?  You don’t know TRACKs?

The Career Navigator, now known as Skill Tracker, has been an ATD staple for many years.  Not familiar with it?  It’s a tool designed to enable you to assess your skills for the Talent Development role you have now, or for the one you want next.  Simply put, Skill Tracker makes the ATD Competency Model actionable for you personally. 

The reason for the name change was simple:  Skill Tracker is designed to help you track your skills… and grow them.

Originally, the Career Navigator included 3 broad roles (Specialist, Manager and Executive) to enable you to assess your skills across the breadth of the talent development field.  With the evolution to Skill Tracker, ATD created five specialized tracks to allow you to assess your skills against a more focused set of competencies.  The new tracks include:

  • Instructional Designer
  • Training Specialist
  • Learning Manager
  • HR/OD Professional
  • Performance Consultant

The Advanced Practitioner track still allows you to assess your readiness across all areas of expertise.

Each of these TRACKs enables you to self-assess on a very focused set of skills.  Behavioral examples make it easy for you to assess consistently and accurately – this is just for you.

Once you’ve finished your assessment, you can see your skill gaps and strengths.  Most importantly, for each of your gaps, you’ll be presented with a personalized learning plan of targeted ATD learning opportunities to help you close them.  Now you know exactly what you can do to improve your proficiency in your current role.

But don’t stop there!  Hold yourself accountable for your own professional development.  Select which activity or activities you want to pursue first and add them to your Development Plan.  Add other activities across the 70-20-10 spectrum, including those offered by your organization, or others in the public domain.  Then work your plan and re-assess to see what gaps remain – your own continuous improvement process.  Skills are currency – and ATD is helping you get them.  The creation and execution of your Development Plan is actually the most important part.

You can also leverage TRACKs to prepare for your next role.  Use Career Planning to pick the TRACK or TRACKs you might want to pursue next, get a personalized learning plan for that TRACK, and add those activities to your Development Plan.  Now you’ve got a great story to tell if you’re interviewing for that job.

Over time, your Development Plan will be your professional development learning snapshot.  And you’ll have more skills… and more professional currency.

If you want to learn more about Skill Tracker, come to the ATD ICE session on Tuesday, May 23 at 10 am in the Career Center.

But don’t wait!  Check out new ATD Skill Tracker (td.org/skilltracker) because now, you know TRACKs!


News / Events / Blog Posts | SkillDirector

How can I use competency models to measure the impact of learning?

It's this Monday at the ATD International Conference in Atlanta!

This year, I’m teaming up with Jennifer Naughton from ATD, Dr. Bill Rothwell and Pat Macko from Penn State to discuss a question I’m asked all the time, “How can I use competency models to measure the impact of my learning programs?”  In this session, we’ll show you how 3 different organizations, including ATD, applied a blueprint to learning programs and the resulting learning impact they established. 

Be sure to come see it:  M314 - The Holy Grail: Using Competency Models to Establish Learning Program Impact.  Mon, May 22 | 4:30 PM - 5:30 PM | B406



News / Events / Blog Posts | SkillDirector

How do you get people bought into the idea that training is beneficial?

One person in a recent webinar asked, “How do you get people bought into the idea that training is beneficial? Our employees hate training and would rather not participate. “

THIS is exactly what competency-based, self-directed learning is designed to overcome.  Why do you think your employees hate training?  Most likely, it’s because they are told to do it – they are not identifying the need for training themselves.  This is adult learning theory, right?  If it’s not relevant to my job and relevant to my needs, I’m going to tune out. 

How do we make it relevant?  Have them self-assess against the competency model for their job, and recommend activities that are targeted to skill gaps, or areas in which they want to improve aspirationally.  Then, they buy into it.  Then, they will embrace training because they own it.


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How do I create competency models that address needs of different business units with shared development goals?

Think of this process as a many to many relationship.  On the one side, you have an inventory of skills, and on the other side you have an inventory of learning opportunities across the 70-20-10 spectrum.  One skill may be required by multiple roles across different business units.  One learning opportunity may close the gap of many skills across many different roles.  It is the competency model process that identifies which skills best define a job role.  And it is the competency-based learning mapping process which defines which of the learning opportunities are best suited to close a specific skill gap for a job role.


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Does experience = competence?

I hate to answer a question with a question, but do you know anyone who has done something for a long time, like 15 years, and is still not someone you’d call a subject matter expert?  So experience does not equal competence.  And in fact, it’s one of the questions of our time.  Millennials want to come into a company and be able to move up quickly.  They are generally willing to put in the work it takes to learn the skills, assuming they are provided with a competency model for that job that shows them what they are.  So they want competence without much experience.  And I believe they can get it. If you don’t believe me, I’m sure you can talk to Mark Zuckerberg, or one of the other wildly successful entrepreneurs who were barely 21. 

For more on these trends, check out the webinar “Why Employees Taking Charge Of Their Learning Is Good For You.” http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/1808 or read a white paper on that topic:  http://skilldirector.com/employees-take-charge-paper

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How do you address the concern of a competency assessment being used for performance management?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

We strongly recommend that you do not mix a competency assessment for self-directed learning and career planning with TRADITIONAL performance management. 

If your organization is still doing traditional annual performance appraisals, and you try to use competency assessment data against people, you will eliminate all future honesty, and any data you get will be flawed.  There will be no hope for doing this right in the future.  You must keep this process for growth and development – NOT for keeping score. 

Therefore, don’t do a competency assessment right before your annual review.  Do it AFTERWARDS, which enables people to get granular about what their actual skill gaps are and what their first development plan should be… specifically.  Then they will be working their plan, re-assessing, and creating a new plan, iteratively closing their gaps all year long.  By the time they get to the next annual review, they actually WILL be better, because they will have been actively taking charge of their learning throughout the year.

However, if you’ve dumped the annual performance appraisal and your organization’s performance management is based on regular touch points related to coaching and development, then the competency assessment can provide information and structure for those conversations.


News / Events / Blog Posts | SkillDirector

How do I make my competency model more results-oriented? How do I ensure the competency model reflects what the business actually needs and values?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

A competency model defines what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of corporate strategy.  If your competency model does that, without extraneous detail, then your competency model will be result-oriented, in fact, tied directly to corporate objectives and needs. 

And it should also reflect business values – because you are selecting skills that identify what that individual needs to do to be successful.  If your organization values customer focus above all else, then it is likely that every job in the company will have some skill in their model that reflects customer focus – internal or external.


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Can we get too detailed in a competency model?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

Of course.  It's easy to get too detailed in a competency model.  If you look at a list of soft skills, I’m sure they would apply to almost every job (written communication, problem solving, teamwork, etc.).  A competency model is what best defines success in this role.  That’s why with a standard competency model, you might start with 40 or 50 skills and you select 20 that are appropriate for this role in your organization. 

Remember that the competency model needs to be actionable.  If you have 50 skills in a model and I have 10 skill gaps, where do I focus?  Narrowing to those tasks/skills that are most critical to success ensures that you can help people focus on where it will make the biggest impact on the organization’s strategy and objectives.

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What’s the value of a competency model and how can you create one in weeks?

Join us for the webinar “How To Build A Competency Model In Record Time” Tuesday, April 25 at noon EDT.

To answer these questions, consider a CEO starting a new company.  The CEO creates a three-five year vision of goals to accomplish.  The COO identifies how to accomplish these goals, one year at a time.  The COO must translate this plan to determine which employees must perform what tasks in order to achieve each goal. 

By way of an example, if this were a company who was going to make a flying car, the CEO’s long term goals might be to (1) establish a flying car as a viable transportation vehicle, (2) achieve sales of 100,000 units in 3 years, and (3) drive the price down from an introductory early adopter price, to an end purchase price of $50,000. The COO would need to hire:

  • An R&D department to develop it
  • A manufacturing department to build it
  • A distribution department to get the cars to market
  • A sales and marketing department to sell it
  • A service department to service the cars once on the market

Everyone would have an intermediary goal that if accomplished, would lead to the accomplishment of the company goals – and the long term strategy.

As the goals get translated lower in the organization, they become more specialized, until they get to a specific person performing a specific role such as an R&D engineer.  To ensure that each R&D engineer can help the company, it has to define what skills this role must be able to do really well.  This is the competency model for this job. 

The value of a competency model

A competency model paints a picture for what it looks like to be great in a role and provides a roadmap to get there. Not everything a person does in a role should be part of the competency model.  The competency model defines what separates “good” from “great”.  For example, any engineer must be able to perform engineering design functions, but a great engineer can work with other R&D engineers to troubleshoot design issues before they reach manufacturing. 

In essence, the value of a competency model is that it identifies what skills each person in the company must be able to do to be “great.” And if everyone performs at the “great” level, then company strategy is achieved, and a company is likely to have a competitive advantage. 

That’s nothing new.  Companies have always needed to create competitive advantage.  What’s different is that: 

  • The pace of change has accelerated – and with it, the skills required to be successful continue to change – those in technology roles are especially affected
  • To survive today, companies must continuously innovate, which only increases the changing skills required
  • People stay in the same job for less time, and therefore people need to be able to become “great” without as much experience as they had in the past
  • New workers entering the workforce want to be able to make an impact more quickly – they want to know how to be “great” right away and are motivated to get there; if you can’t do that, they won’t come work for you, and they won’t stay

If you don’t know what skills are required to be “great”, that is, you don’t have a competency model for each job, how can you innovate, keep up with a changing global environment, maximize your human capital, and make employees motivated to stay? 

Most importantly, for each individual, a competency model defines what success looks like and how to contribute to the organization’s mission.  As a result, it drives each person’s intrinsic motivation to mastery.  Research shows that the desire for competence makes people want to own their development.  You need only show them what it looks like to be competent in their role… and that’s a granular, actionable competency model.

Why creating them rapidly is so important

So let’s say you now believe that you need competency models for your jobs.  Why is “rapidly” so important?  Why not create competency models the way they have always been done, with interviews and questionnaires and lots of analysis?

If it takes you 6 months to create a competency model, by the time you’re done, it’s out of date!  The pace of change means we need to take a different approach – an agile approach. 

So how can you do that?

Here’s a process that works for us.  Start with a four-hour workshop with high performers during which you gather all the requisite information including how they learned to do what is most important for success in their roles, and what tools support them today.  Next, massage that information and redistribute quickly to participants for validation.  Then, you use what they provided to get to the next level of detail.  And you validate that with participants.  Now you’ve got your model.

If you’re interested in learning about how to build your own competency models rapidly, including making it actionable and driving innovation at your organization, join us for the webinar “How To Build A Competency Model In Record Time” Tuesday, April 25 at noon EDT.

If you want to see how to run a competency model workshop (through a mock session with conference participants), join us in Atlanta at ATD ICE on Tuesday, May 23, at 3pm EDT. 


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What are some best practices for keeping success profiles (competency models/capability models) flexible and updated (and not forgotten on the shelf)?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

There are 3 steps to ensure you can adapt your competency model easily. 

  1. When you make the model accessible and assessable, whatever competency assessment tool you choose must support making these changes easily.  If it’s too difficult, it won’t happen, and then your competency model will be out of sync with strategy.
  2. Add a feedback mechanism within your competency assessment tool so you get feedback, and you continue to iterate the model and the behaviors to capture changes in tools, in technology, and in the environment in which you operate.  Have a defined process to do something with the feedback in a timely manner.
  3. Have a rhythm for periodically re-examining the model for changes.  Maybe 2x/year, or after a merger or acquisition, or product launch.  Much like the process for customizing behaviors in your model, we recommend sending out the model in a Word document (track changes on) to 4 - 6 high performers, and a manager of people in that role.  Give them a few days to review and edit.  Consolidate edits and conduct a 1-2 hour virtual workshop to discuss and finalize updates.  Then make the updates within the competency assessment tool immediately.
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How do you measure success with a competency model?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

To measure success with a competency model, you need a baseline.  This is where employees in a role assess themselves against the competency model the first time.  Then, they need to do some development – optimally self-directed, personalized learning that they own.  Once they participate in these development opportunities (which they buy into, because they selected them based on gaps they themselves identified), they will re-assess.  In a perfect world, this is quarterly, so that they are always thinking about their own development.

When you look at the assessment data over time, and you correlate that with business metrics, you can hopefully show improvement in both skills and results over time.  What’s more, you’ll know which skills are drivers of business results.

For more, check out an ATD conference session:  M314 - The Holy Grail: Using Competency Models to Establish Learning Program Impact.  Mon, May 22 | 4:30 PM - 5:30 PM | B406

That's where we're teaming up with Jennifer Naughton from ATD, and Dr. Bill Rothwell from Penn State to show you how 3 different organizations, including ATD, applied this blueprint to measure success via competency models. 


News / Events / Blog Posts | SkillDirector

3 Traits That Will Make You A Learning & Development Rock Star In 2020… START NOW!

A friend asked me to visualize the learning organization in 3 years and what their Learning & Development (L&D) department should do to get ready.  As I thought about the answer, I realized there are 3 traits that will make you and your department a Rock Star in 2020.

Be Customer-Focused/Learner-Focused

The learning department will be 100% customer-focused and the “customers” are the employees (not the departments).

  • Each person will get exactly (and only) what they need and want.  There will no longer be role-based “learning plans”.  There will only be a personalized learning plan – 1-size-fits-one.
  • End users will own their learning and hold themselves accountable – the learning organization will exist to make this possible.
  • Learning will not tell customers what to do – the customer will tell Learning what they need.  All pull, no push.
  • To support this customer-focused approach, the learning organization will have an agile, customer-focused mindset – rather than creating content that may be quickly obsolete. L&D will be highly responsive and can pivot quickly. (More on “Agility” shortly.)

This customer-focused approach can only exist when L&D can provide customers with the organization’s expectations for their role in terms of, “how do I do the job?”  The expectations are the tasks they must perform, the behaviors that make the tasks executable, and the required levels of proficiency.  That’s a competency model.

Be Curious

 The Learning organization will get curious and start to explore the industry of the company they are in and the audience they serve – not because they have a course to create, but rather to be intimately familiar with customer (learner) needs, maybe even before the customer knows the need exists. 

This will facilitate responsiveness and customer-focus… all in the context of what L&D knows their customers need to be able to do (the competency model).  Competency models help L&D know how to serve their customers.  They will become aware of what materials exist or need to be created for competency-based learning.  They can pivot quickly to meet changing needs.

Embrace Diversity

The Learning organization will provide materials that reflect true customer needs: ~70% will be activity-based, there will be support for the ~20% collaborative, and ~10% will be formal.

  • Learning will identify activities and experiences, along with tools, templates, checklists, and the like to support learning on the job; in fact, when a new need is identified, an L&D Rock Star will first ask, “What activity could this person perform to learn this skill?”
  • Learning will provide technology that supports identification of task-based mentors; everyone in the organization is likely to be both a mentor and a mentee on a regular basis – it will simply become a part of the organizational culture.
  • Learning may still create content, but more will be microlearning – short content that can be easily consumed in bite size pieces.  The course as we know it today may still exist, but be used sparsely, mostly for large complex topics or for those who are new to the industry/field/equipment.

Part of embracing diversity is recognizing that you don’t have to own everything your audience needs.  As an L&D Rock Star, you can become Master Of The Universe.  L&D Rock Stars will think of themselves as brokers – curating the best content and resources (tools, templates, job aids, ideas for activities), internally and externally.  When a need arises because of a change in the environment, (see “Agility” above) the Learning team will be so responsive that they can provide some resources within days to meet the new need.  Maybe it’s as simple as a link to a YouTube video, industry article, and blog post.

So if you want to be a Learning & Development Rock Star in 2020, start now.

  • Identify what people need to be able to do (provide a competency model)
  • Let them identify and own what they can and can’t do
  • Let them be accountable for closing their own gaps, achieving aspirational goals, and preparing for the next step in their career
  • Use that information, and deep awareness of their competency models, to provide competency-based learning with flexible options that reflect the way people learn (70-20-10) and make sure it’s easily consumable (microlearning)
  • Make it fast and easy by providing one click access to everything they need, recognizing that you can better serve the audience by becoming the Master Of The Universe, linking to options throughout the learning ecosystem, rather than creating it all
News / Events / Blog Posts | SkillDirector

Beyond the frequency of a post training event follow up, what are tips to make learning stick?

(Question posted by participants in recent webinars)

If you are mapping the skills in your competency model across the 70-20-10 spectrum, and you conduct a formal learning event in the “10”, then at the end of that activity, you can recommend items in the “70” to help them practice on the job. 

If their manager was involved in assessing them against the competency model, and the learner elected to participate in this event because of a skill gap, then the manager has details – the behaviors of the mapped skill – to discuss and help ensure the learning is being applied.  Manager involvement is a key contributor to learning transfer.  The manager can also identify a task-based mentor to work with (“20”) – perhaps to review the activities.

Remember also that the motivation is significantly different if this method is followed.  If I identify my own skill gap, and I participate in a formal learning activity to close that gap, I will be far more likely to try to apply it because I said I needed it.

Here’s an example.  I do my self-assessment and find that I have a skill gap in Negotiating Skills.  I talk to my manager and we agree I should take a 2 day class on it.  I’m engaged and look forward to practicing what I learned.  At the class end, we were provided with activities using templates that I can use on the job.  One of them is a negotiation planner and the activity is to use it to prepare for my next contract negotiation, then review it with a peer mentor.  I fill out the planner with the details.  Then my manager finds a task-based mentor, a high performer in my role, who reviews and challenges me on how I completed it and makes suggestions.  I update the planner.  Then I share it with my manager and we role-play how I’ll use it.  Can you see how that works to make learning “stick” more effectively?

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