Use competency models to drive development of all generations
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We’re often asked, “Is there an approach that will work to drive development for people in all generations?”

Recognize that all people are motivated to mastery

In our experience, using competency models to drive intrinsic motivation for professional development works for everyone. If you look at Dan Pink’s research in DRIVE, it is a human characteristic to be motivated to mastery. It’s why we work on our golf game or learn musical instruments for fun. It’s why open source software and Wikipedia exist.

Use a competency assessment to drive awareness and action about skill gaps

Once someone sees what they “should” be able to do (a role-based competency model), and they assess themselves against it and become aware of any skill gaps (a competency assessment/skills assessment), then young or old, they want to fix it. It is a totally different dynamic when YOU want to fix something yourself, versus when SOMEONE ELSE wants you to do it. Intrinsic motivation is the most effective driver of action and therefore creates the best environment for learning transfer to occur. You know you need it and you’re open to learning it. So the self-assessment benefits are huge!

Support generational nuances with self-directed learning (SDL)

The difference related to generations is about the patience they have in when that “fix” will occur. Older generations accepted experience as one way to develop over time. Spend 3-5 years in a role and you’ll learn how to be great and what you need to get to the next role. Younger generations want gaps to be closed immediately, and are driven to do whatever it takes to do it quickly. Especially for career development. If you have an influx of millennials or Gen Z in or coming into your organization, be ready to support letting people learn and gain experience at their own pace if you want to keep them. If they can’t do that with you, especially in this market, they’ll go somewhere they can.

  • That means, provide self-directed learning activities, especially informal activities that they can use to learn while working. Nothing supports both self-development and organizational capability development better.

  • Provide them with a way to create and maintain both a career development plan and an in-role professional development plan.

  • Most importantly, create a culture of lifelong learning that communicates the importance your organization places on perpetual skill development for employees of all generations.

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Help employees take ownership of their development
Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

The following are answers to frequently asked questions about how to engage employees in taking control of their learning.


Simple hacks to enable employees to be in charge of their learning from day 1

Imagine if you provided someone with the ability to self-assess against the competency model behaviors for their new job on the first day of work. They would know the organization’s specific expectations of them, what skill gaps they have, and would be able to create their first targeted professional development plan on day one. Plus, they would help their new manager know exactly how to help them.

In a tight labor market, with extended job vacancies, where you likely must hire someone who still needs to be upskilled or reskilled, this has never been more essential.

A role-based competency model is a roadmap for success in that job. Give them a playbook on day 1 they can immediately begin to execute.


How to get employees engaged in their development in the best interest of the company

A role-based competency model identifies what someone in a role needs to do to achieve their part of organizational strategy. So if you follow this approach, development and self-directed learning will be perfectly aligned with organizational goals.

 And this works for career planning too. You want to encourage people to prepare for other roles they may desire. When assessing against other role-based competency models, and pursuing related development opportunities, those too will be aligned to support organizational objectives.


How to train leaders and managers to allow employees to take charge of their development

You must start by providing them with “what’s in it for me”. They have to understand how much more efficient they can be, how much better their decisions can be, and how much more likely they will be to meet their objectives. They need to understand that skills analytics can drive accurate commitments to the market and their customers. So it’s a win-win that you need to make obvious.

We provide our customers with toolkits that are designed to help them communicate these messages and operationalize continuous learning. Give managers and leaders specific examples of how it will help them and what might need to change. For example, provide a “this is what it looks like today when you do X”, “this is what it will look like in the future”, so it’s not so scary. Give them tools and templates that make it easy for them to learn a new routine. Give them messaging they can use with their teams and guidelines on when/where to use it.

Success brings more success. As leaders and managers find themselves being more effective, because they will have more information available to them to make the right decisions, and people are more skilled requiring more strategic (and less tactical) coaching, they will continue to promote employees taking charge of their development.

I hope these help you engage employees in taking ownership of their learning.

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How do I ensure a results-oriented competency model?
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Build the model correctly

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 results-oriented, in fact, tied directly to corporate objectives and needs.

Follow the steps documented here to build a role-based competency model correctly.  


At a high level, the competency model tasks describe what someone must do.

The behavioral examples describe how someone must do the task.


Include skills of the future

With the pace of change and speed of business, including the incorporation of digitization and artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives, to be truly results-oriented, you need to be looking ahead. What tasks and skills will someone need not just to do their job today, but to make the people, and therefore the organization, competitive tomorrow? These are things like learning agility, critical thinking, data analysis, and influencing.


Reflect the organization’s business values

Created models should also reflect business values. The tasks and skills in the model define 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 internal or customer focus.

 These values might also be reflected in the behavioral examples of many tasks. That is, even a technical task such as “Create software functional specifications” might have examples that describe how to apply customer focus, for example, “Engage cross-functional stakeholders to ensure their needs are being met by the specifications.”

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3 ways to ensure you frustrate and disengage your employees

What’s the sure fire way to frustrate and disengage your employees?

  1. Don’t tell them what they need to do to be successful

  2. Don’t give them the ability to see if they have the skills to accomplish what they need to do

  3. Don’t give them the opportunity to close skill gaps 

In the Deloitte study on Human Capital Trends[1], skill gaps and employee engagement problems are at the top of mind of 87% of the leaders in HR and executive management. Only 14% of L&D leaders believe business leaders view them as strategic partners, with 52% seen as mediocre partners or worse. This is because the skills gap crisis and employee disengagement continue to grow, and leadership doesn’t see Learning & Development as the solution. (Read more in this white paper)

Want to ensure that your business leaders DON’T view you as a strategic partner? Follow these 3 steps.


1) Don’t tell them what they need to be successful

A role-based competency model describes what it looks like to be great in each role. It defines the skills required to execute their part of corporate strategy. It’s a roadmap to be great. And it’s never been more important than with the speed of change, the impact of digitization and artificial intelligence on jobs, and the scarcity of good talent. If you don’t want to tell your employees what they need to be successful, don’t create and use a competency model for each role.


2) Don’t give them the ability to see if they have the skills to accomplish what they need to do

To make competency modeling actionable, you need to enable people in that role to self-assess against it and identify skills gaps relative to their work. If you don’t want to give your employees the ability to see if they have the skills required for their role, and you don’t want to intrinsically motivate them to bridge their skill gaps, don’t enable them to perform a skills assessment with a skills assessment system/competency assessment system.


3) Don’t give them the opportunity to close skill gaps

After people have performed a skills assessment for their job and know what specific skill gaps they have, you need to automate the identification of competency-based learning relevant to their needs, known as personalized learning. This eliminates guesswork. It accelerates learning transfer. It drives behavior change. It creates a culture of learning and learning agility that experts say is the key to sustainable competitive advantage. If you don’t want to give your employees the opportunity to close their job skill gaps, don’t provide a personalized learning plan. Just hope that their managers can coach them up.


[1] Bersin by Deloitte. (2015).  Reimagining L&D Capabilities to Drive Continuous Learning

Also found on LInkedIn and ATD


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How do we motivate employees to take charge of their development?

This is an easier question than you might think.

Stop pushing!

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What I mean is, stop doing training TO them. Stop dragging people to what you think they should do.

They then have 2 choices:

1)      Own their development, focusing on what they want and need, with the tools they have for doing it.

2)      Or fall behind. Falling behind means they will not only get passed by for promotions, they will likely have trouble keeping their current job if they don’t have the skills (which are probably changing) and can’t keep up. And that job they have now? Well, it may simply cease to exist in its current form.

 According to Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle-Giulioni:

“Learning agility is the new job security. Employees who want to own their development and drive it in a desirable direction need to shift their attention toward enhancing employability with key skills, capabilities, and experiences. They must look around the corner to anticipate changing needs.”

An increasing number of employees in your organization already get it. They want to own their development and you need to make it easier for them to do so. More on that in a moment.

For those who don’t have motivation today, leverage the power of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, which research shows is more effective at driving action then sharing positive benefits.

The Institute for the Future says that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't yet been invented. Guess what? That means that jobs that do exist today will be replaced by those new jobs. And it won’t take until 2030 to happen. It’s happening now.

Employees either want to grow, or they don’t. But if they personally don’t take steps to continue to learn and grow, someone else will. And they will find themselves unemployable on the other side of the divide.

You can’t change the motivation of a complacent employee. Only they can do that. But if everyone around them becomes more engaged and learning new things, and having better conversations with their manager, and getting new challenges or even new positions, and they’re not… well, maybe that will change their intrinsic motivation.

If they are close to retirement, and they lack the motivation to learn something new, make them a lead player in knowledge transfer. Make them a task-based mentor to others. Have others shadow them. Have them shadow others and provide feedback.

Let them pull

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 If you want employees to develop with the best activities, you need to make it easy for them to get those activities. Some people know their skill gaps or believe they do. Most do not. Even when they believe they do, there is no consistency in expectations from person to person, or a way of getting them to know what’s changing. 

Self-awareness drives intrinsic motivation to change

Start with a role-based competency assessment for their job (which includes new/changing skills) to let them identify the full scope of requirements for their role and compare themselves to it. Be sure you don’t stop at WHAT they need to do… you must also show them HOW they need to be able to do the WHAT.  That is, provide behavioral examples at each level of proficiency so people can consistency and objectively compare how they do things to best practices and find out where they really stand. Then present them with their results: their skill gaps and strengths. You need them to leverage both.

Keep in mind, skill gaps are not the same as weaknesses that you may choose to ignore.

In a role-based competency model, a skill gap is something you have to do in your job.

So if you can’t do it, you MUST learn. 

Personalized learning facilitates action

 As much as role-based content curation and Netflix style recommendations (“others like you watch this video”) are all the rage, it’s not necessarily the right content for a specific person. By connecting people’s skill gaps to specific learning options tailored to them in their role, you’re enabling them to self-direct efficiently.

“I don’t have time for learning” is the most common excuse for lack of action. Overcome it with informal learning so they can learn in the flow of work.

If the only learning options you offer are formal learning, including eLearning, you’re going to lose a lot of people who don’t respond to it. If you want to motivate employees to own their development, help them learn while doing the thing they need to do.

Sustain motivation

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Getting them motivated is not enough. You need to make learning a habit to create a culture of learning. That takes specific communication to ensure learning is operationalized, for example, a part of the regular employee/manager conversation. But that’s a deeper conversation for a different day.

In summary, to motivate employees to take charge of their development, stop pushing… get them pulling. Help everyone understand the learning imperative. And make it easy for them to know what to pull and why to pull it.

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How to convince leaders to use competency models to create a culture of learning

To convince leaders to use competency models to create a culture of learning, you need them to tell the story of skill gaps and engagement.  Today, it would be hard for a leader not to recognize that both are challenges they face.  Competency models can fix them both. 

Skill gaps

Ask leaders, “How do you know if people have the skills they need to do their jobs?  You know we have skill gaps.  How do you know where they are?”

In order to know what skill gaps exist and to be able to measure improvement, you need a baseline.  A competency assessment with a role-based competency model will give that to you.


Research from Deloitte shows there is a new social contract between employees and employers which you can summarize like this: 

  • You agree to develop me and help me grow

  • I agree to be engaged while I’m here, and put my mastery toward achieving your goals

 Don’t do the first, and I won’t do the second.

To successfully develop them and help them grow at scale, you need people to own their own development and career planning.  Competency models tied to personalized learning enable organizations to shift from training to learning.

  • Training is an event, something you do to people.

  • Learning is a continuous process, something people do for themselves.

 Similar to getting a skill gap baseline, you also need an engagement baseline in the form of engagement survey metrics, attrition rates, and exit interview results.

Next, you’ll need to identify the costs associated with not closing skill gaps, and not fixing the engagement problem.  What you want to do is show them that the cost of doing nothing, (e.g., the cost of replacing people, the impact on creativity and innovation, and what turnover does to competitive advantage), far outweighs the costs of trying something different.  This is the business case you’ll use to influence them.

Want to learn more about how to create a business case for influencing leaders to embrace a culture of learning?  Join us for a free ATD Webcast, “Create A Culture Of Learning That Supports The Speed Of Business” on August 21, at 1pm US ET.

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3 steps to ensure your competency model is flexible and adaptable
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Your competency model should always be in beta.  Competency models describe what someone in a particular role should be able to do to perform their part of corporate strategy.  They paint a picture of what it looks like to be great in a job.  If your strategy is changing regularly (and I believe that for your organization to continue to survive, it will), then your competency model has to change/adapt as well.  You need to communicate to the organization that your competency models will be changing over time.  Be sure that it doesn’t take an act of Congress for these changes to be made – it has to be part of the cultural understanding that models will adapt and are never “done”.

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

  1. Support changes easily.

    When you make the model accessible and assessable, your competency assessment system 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, and out of sync with the skills people need to be successful in their role.  That means the skill gaps you’re measuring won’t be the ones that are most important.

  2. Solicit feedback naturally.

    Add a feedback mechanism within your competency assessment tool (and communicate actively that you want feedback) so that you put it out there, 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. Schedule regular reviews

    Have a rhythm for periodically re-examining the model for changes.  Maybe 2x/year, or after a transformation, merger or acquisition, or product launch.  Much like the process for creating the competency model, we recommend sending out the tasks and behavioral examples and targets 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.

If you want people to keep up with the speed of business, you need to be sure you provide them with accurate tools to help them do that.  Follow these steps to ensure your competency models remain current and you will ensure people always know what skills they need to be successful, and what that looks like. 

For more details on creating a competency model, go to

Also at

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How to make competency models more practical

Skill gaps are most organizations’ biggest issue today.  If your competency models can’t help quantify the size of the gaps so they can start taking action, then they are not practical.

Contain the “right” tasks

First, you need the model itself to contain the “right” tasks, those that are critical to success in the role so that each person can do their part of corporate strategy.

Leverage behavioral examples

Second, each task must contain behavioral examples of each level of proficiency.  This enables people to accurately and consistently assess their own capabilities and those of their team members.

Additionally, those behaviors should provide a roadmap to increasing proficiency.  By describing best practices, the details in the model itself provide a vision of what “great” looks like and how to get there.  You do this by including your high performers in the development of the model, rather than HR and L&D developing the model independently.  You can find examples in the ATD webinar (Develop an actionable competency model in weeks) and associated materials you can download from

Make the model actionable

Third, you need to make the model actionable.  It has to be accessible and assessable. That means getting it off the PowerPoint, out of the spreadsheets and into your employees’ hands.  Quickly. Easily. Elegantly.  If you create a song and dance around a “competency model” that isn’t easily accessible by those during the development process, and isn’t assessable such that one can measure their capabilities against it to identify and close gaps with personalized, competency-based learning, then to them, the people you serve, it’s worthless. 

If leadership can’t use your competency models to quantify the size of the organization’s skill gaps, then they won’t support the models or your efforts.

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GASP! I just created learning that doesn’t transfer and they can’t get up!

If you create learning that doesn’t transfer, then you too will keep your target audience from “getting up” in skills and business results. By that I mean, no addressing skill gaps, and no improving results.

Why employee disengagement occurs

In a Deloitte study[1], less than 25% of Line Managers believed their Learning & Development (L&D) departments were critical to achieving their business goals. That is not surprising given related findings on learner disengagement. It is cause and effect.

If the employee doesn’t believe that the content is relevant to their job and their needs, they will be disengaged in any learning.

--> If the employee is disengaged in the learning process, then L&D efforts are mitigated – any learning opportunities will have minimal effect.

--> If minimal effect occurs, then skill levels do not improve.

--> If there are no skill level improvements, then business results do not improve.

--> If employees participate in training programs, and positive business results do not follow, then Line Managers are likely to lose faith in the ability of L&D to contribute.

Why does this happen?  It’s a likely scenario when you don’t know what skills people need. You can know you have a skill gap crisis, but if you don’t know what job skills they need, how can you possibly help them develop the right skills?  How can you create content that is relevant to their job?

Even if you know what skills they need, but you can’t measure skill gaps (you don’t actually know where skill gaps exist and have no supporting data), then how can you measure whether skills and business results improve?  That is, how can you measure that the programs you’re providing are closing skills gaps and driving results?

Resolving learner disengagement step 1: Create competency models

First, you create a role-based competency model, which defines the skills required to execute their part of corporate strategy.  In other words, the competency modeling connects skills and strategy.  A competency model describes what it looks like to be great in that role.

Step 2: Create competency-based learning

Next, you develop competency-based learning to increase the likelihood that each person CAN accomplish their goals.  This is where the learning objectives of activities are tied to the specific competency model skills and behaviors. 

Creating competency-based learning ensures the content is relevant to their job.  But remember that if the employee doesn’t believe that the content is relevant to their job AND relevant to their needs, they will be disengaged.  We’ve solved the first problem, now we have to solve the second.

Step 3: Provide competency assessment tools

In order to make content relevant to each person’s needs, you need to enable them to perform a competency assessment in order to identify their specific skill gaps.  And you need to automate the identification of content relevant to their needs, known as personalized learning. 

If you develop competency-based learning and enable personalized learning, you will drive learner engagement and accelerate learning transfer.  And if you’ve got a good competency model, then it will positively impact skills and business results.

What’s more, the aggregated skills data combined with business results over time will let you measure the impact of learning.


If you ensure that you only create competency-based learning for a role, you will never again create learning that doesn’t transfer.  If you use a competency assessment tool that personalizes learning for each person, you will maximize learner engagement, accelerate learning transfer, and you WILL be able to measure the positive impact on skills and business results.

[1] Bersin by Deloitte. (2015).  Reimagining L&D Capabilities to Drive Continuous Learning.

Also found on LinkedIn.



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How do you create a competency model that balances technical and leadership competency development?
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Apply leadership and soft skills to the behaviors of technical skills

In our experience, competence in a role, no matter how technical, is often characterized by leadership and soft skills.  That is, achieving the minimum level of proficiency may be mostly technical, but higher levels of proficiency require “more”. 

Here’s an example.  The role is an engineer.  One of the skills in which an engineer needs to have proficiency is troubleshooting product issues. 

  • At the target level of proficiency, that requires defining the problem, using problem solving tools, and fixing the issue. 

  • At higher levels of proficiency, the engineer is frequently engaged by others for support.  They are enlisted to participate in teams for systemic issues.  They capture and share best practices and lessons learned, monitor the industry/their field for new approaches, and find innovative ways to troubleshoot more quickly.  They utilize systems thinking – understanding the impact of the issue on the organization and enlisting the support of those affected when needed to create more holistic and innovative solutions. 

Use scope to separate proficiency levels

Often, increase in proficiency manifests itself in the scope. 

  • At the target level of proficiency, the focus is on the team. 

  • At higher levels of proficiency, the focus moves to the department, then to the organization. 

Incorporate 4th Industrial Revolution skills in behaviors

Importantly, it is the 4th Industrial Revolution skills such as collaboration, influencing, critical thinking, data analysis, and learning agility, that separate good from great. 

  • For example, at the target level of proficiency, you need to collaborate with and influence your team.  You apply critical thinking to understand interrelationships between what you and team members are working on.  You perform data analysis at a micro level, on a team data set.

  • At higher levels of proficiency, you need to collaborate with and influence your department and the organization.  You apply critical thinking to understand interrelationships between what your team or department is working on and the organization’s objectives, considering broader industry trends and how they will impact them.  You analyze data from a macro level, comparing your data with other teams’ data, the organization, the industry.

Blend leadership and soft skills with technical skills

We favor incorporating leadership and soft skills into the behavioral examples of technical skills because it helps those in the role to understand the connection.  You may also have a few leadership or other or soft skills independently as part of your model as well, such as learning agility.

If you develop your competencies with the use of high performers, include the question, “What separates how you do this from how others do it?” and you will naturally identify the blend of behaviors into each technical skill. 

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Build a culture of learning at the speed of business (ATD webcast)
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A culture of learning, powered by role-based competency models, can fix skill gaps and the negative impacts that result.

Want to convince leaders that a culture of learning solves the skill gap problem? Want to learn how to create a business case for influencing leaders to embrace a culture of learning? Join us for a free ATD Webcast, “Create A Culture Of Learning That Supports The Speed Of Business” on August 21, at 1pm US ET. Or watch the recording.

A culture of learning, powered by role-based competency models, can fix skill gaps and the negative impacts that result.

You must create a business case to highlight the cost of doing nothing

You’ll need to create a business case that shows leaders that the cost of doing nothing, (e.g., the cost of replacing people, the impact on creativity and innovation, and what turnover does to competitive advantage), far outweighs the costs of trying something different. We'll do this together in the ATD webcast, “Create A Culture Of Learning That Supports The Speed Of Business”.

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How to create a competency model that links individual needs to business goals
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I get asked this question, about how to create a competency model that links individual needs to business goals, quite often.

Start with corporate strategy

Imagine you’re a CEO of a company who has decided the business goal is to develop a flying car.

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Everyone in the company would have an intermediary goal that if accomplished, would lead to the accomplishment of the business goal.  As the goals get translated lower and lower, they become more specialized, until they get to a specific person performing a specific role, for example, an R&D engineer.  To ensure that each R&D engineer can help the company, the company has to define what tasks and skills this person must be able to do really well.  And this is the competency model for this job. 

The competency model describes what it looks like to be great in a role.

Not everything a person does in a role should be part of the competency model tasks or behaviors.  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.  What gets included in the competency model should change with strategy.  For the flying car, knowledge of aerodynamics and new propulsion systems may take precedence over other competencies previously in the model.

Now, an R&D engineer assessing their own skills may identify skill gaps relative to the current business goals, so their personalized learning plan to upskill focuses on development that helps them achieve their part of the business goal.

The competency model links each role to organizational strategy

That is what the competency model does for you – it identifies what someone in a role needs to do to accomplish organizational strategy. So, if you follow this approach, each individual’s self-directed learning will be perfectly aligned with organizational goals.

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How to create a competency model people actually use
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A critical success factor in competency model/capability model development is the ability to have the model written in the language of those who will be using it.  It should NOT be in HR/Learning terms. 

1) Make it easy to consume

Take a step back and look at the model from a holistic approach.  Is it easy to consume?  By that I mean, when you read the competency model behaviors, do you have to read it, then re-read it to know what it means?  Or is it in “easy to read” language – the language of the people using it so they can know what great looks like?  Often we see a good capability model written in a way that is very academic.  The person who is writing it looks very smart, but the capability model itself cannot easily be consumed by the end user.  It should read as people in that role speak.  It should state clearly what someone should be able to do. 

2) Make it manageable

Look at the model from a volume check.  We used to see models between 25 and 40 skills.  Now they trend toward 15-25. 

  • That translates into about 15-25 minutes to perform an assessment. 

  • Keep in mind a manager’s participation when considering volume – if they average 10 direct reports and they are assessing team members, do the math. 

  • A competency model should describe what “great” looks like – what is critical to success in the role – not be a complete task analysis of everything they do. 

3) Keep it focused on what’s critical to success

Look at the model as a professional in that role.  Are there things in it that are extraneous?  For example, do they include tasks that people may do, but are not critical to success in that role or may not be done by some at all?  Sales Transformation and Enablement guru @Mike_Kunkle recommends focusing on what the top 20% do.  Ignore the things they don’t do, which is part of what sets them apart.

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How do you create a competency model that people buy into?
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Include high performers in the competency modeling process

To get people to buy into the competency model approach, you have to include people in that role (that others want to be like) in competency model creation. In this way, it is their model – by them, for their peers. 

We actually had this situation recently, where the leaders of a role where a competency model was going to be developed were really pushing back on our process for competency model development. They felt like they already had a great job description, detailed procedures for performing tasks, and a rich qualification program that everyone grasped and bought into.


Watch participants body language

After a little influencing, high performers were selected for inclusion in the Rapid Job Analysis Workshop (the first step in our competency model development process). And while you could see from some of the participants’ body language that initially there was some resistance, in less than an hour, the resistance was gone. Participants understood why this process was needed. This continued through their engagement in refining the required behavioral examples of each task and skill.


Embrace the new competency model nuances

The client partner who was leading this process summed it up best – while the technical and functional requirements of the job were known to an extent, they had never been documented to a sufficient level of granularity. The new competency model focus was on what could be performed with the knowledge acquired, rather than the knowledge itself. What’s more, while the roles were quite sophisticated technically, what separated good from great were the soft skills. 


In summary, by including high performers in competency model development, and communicating how it was created during the process of making it actionable, you can ensure that those who are in the role will buy in.  You don’t build the model – they do.

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How do we make competency model development less scary?
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Make competency model creation agile

By applying an agile methodology to competency model development, you make it less scary. If the competency modeling process takes 6 month or 1 year, with the speed of change, the competency model output could be outdated before you even release it. Plus, you’ll have wasted months when you could be using it.

Here’s a synopsis of our streamlined competency model development approach.


Step 1: Perform the Rapid Job Analysis Workshop

We start with a one day workshop (in person or virtual) with 4 - 6 high performers in a particular role. This is a brainstorming process. Together we identify those skills and tasks high performers do that are important and critical to success. This step provides us with input for the remaining steps in the process.


Step 2: Draft competency model behaviors

Next, for each task, we create draft task/behavioral examples, provide them to the high performers for review/editing (about 2 hours of pre-work), and conduct a virtual workshop (3 hours) to consolidate edits.

These examples provide each person in that role with a road map for how to be great and what "great" looks like. Each example identifies the behaviors that would be exhibited by someone performing that skill or task at various proficiency levels.

The task is the “what”, and the examples are the “how”.

 The examples communicate and iterate best practices. And they ensure consistent and objective assessment and self-awareness can occur. It is through self-awareness that a person becomes intrinsically motivated to change.

Step 3: Define the target proficiency

We define the minimum proficiency required, that is the target proficiency level, for each skill or task. This is usually performed independently of the high performers, though you may get their validation through a one hour meeting.


Total stakeholder time required for competency model development: Approximately 9-11 hrs

Total duration of competency model creation process: Approximately 3 weeks

Can you see how that feels less scary, and really achievable to stakeholders?


To learn more visit: and

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How can I make a long competency model manageable?
Photo by  Matt Artz  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

Analyze the time for assessment

Once you’ve completed competency model development, perhaps by using the method we describe in this ATD webinar with these resources, you may discover there are simply too many tasks and competencies for a reasonable competency assessment. The assessment process typically takes a person 1 minute per task and keeping it less than 30 minutes is a competency assessment best practice. Too long and you’ll lose the intrinsic motivation you’re trying to create. There is no hard or fast rule, but most of our customers have between 15 – 30 tasks against which people assess.


Ask what’s critical to success during the competency model workshop

During the competency modeling process, we recommend that you ask the high performers to identify which of those things they do that really separates good from great. That’s the easiest way to identify the critical few.


Consider the skills of the future for that role

However, there is another aspect that goes beyond what the high performers provide. This has to do with strategic workforce planning and identifying those skills that the organization believes will differentiate it in the future, or those skills which are changing or becoming more critical.

  • For example, there may be a particular technology that will drive competitive advantage, and you want to be sure to call out that technology separately, so you can easily identify organizational experts.

  • Or you know that many people with a particular expertise are retiring, and you need to know which experts remain, so you can leverage them to create new experts (“nexperts”).

  • Then there are the fourth industrial revolution (future of work) skills which are proving so important today. Things like data analysis, critical thinking, dealing with ambiguity and change, learning agility, influencing, and collaboration. You want to be sure that these are considered during the competency modeling process, and that those identified as relevant remain a focus.

A hybrid approach between what you get from high performers and critical skills of the future works best.


Competency model iteration over time

Then you iterate. Launch the competency assessment, but remember, it’s always in beta. Your competency models are not fixed in stone. You put them out there, get feedback, get ratings data, and you continue to iterate it (typically annually or biannually) to capture changes in strategy, in tools, in technology, and in the environment in which you operate, so you can always focus on the critical competencies for that point in time.

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How do I quickly create competency models using rapid job analysis for roles that exist across multiple business units?
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When the competency model roles are similar across business units, (e.g., sales, engineers, finance, risk analysts), there are 2 ways you can choose to build the model.

1)      You could include people across business units in the competency modeling workshops.

2)      Or you could perform the competency modeling process with one business unit, and then validate it with the other business units, providing them with the opportunity to customize the tasks and/or behavioral examples.

We’ve done it both ways.


If time is of the essence, competency modeling approach 2 (build and validate) may be faster and easier. If the company culture has business units at odds, then being more inclusive at the front end is the way to go (competency model approach 1). A middle ground is to have the other business units validate the output of the Competency Model Rapid Job Analysis workshop, and then participate in the Competency Model Task Example editing and workshop.


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Access ATD Conference 2019 session downloads

Thank you for coming to the ATD Conference sessions: "How to Accelerate Learning Transfer Through Competency-Based Learning" and “No Time For Learning? Use Informal Learning Instead”.

Click here for Competency-Based Learning materials  

Click here for Informal Learning materials

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How associations can use a competency model to drive professional development
Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Is it possible for an association to use a competency model to drive professional development for members?  Yes!

A competency model describes what it looks like to be great in your role. Isn't that part of the value proposition of industry associations, to help people get to great? When it comes to innovation, helping people be more strategic about where to upskill is often the place to innovate.

 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 to help members themselves innovate.

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.

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, generate even MORE member value, and make their competency model actionable.

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How to create a competency model rapidly when there are no high performers
What if there are no high performers.png

What if the organization does not have high performers to use in our rapid competency model creation process, where you can build a model in a few weeks by creating a blueprint from your high performers.

It can happen when it’s a relatively new company, or a new role. 

What you want to find are high performers who do similar things.  If you’re taking an existing role, and splitting it into more specialized roles, might you have people who are high performers in those other roles that can focus on only the nuances of the new role. 

Or you may want to consider standard competency models.  These are industry standard roles that define what the role looks like at a typical organization.  And you can then customize the model based on what this role must do or not do in your organization.  It’s a rapid “quick start” to a role-based competency model.

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