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Competency Model

How can I use competency models/capability frameworks?

There are so many places you can use competency models within the organization and throughout the employee lifecycle.

For example:

  • Job descriptions
  • Recruiting/interviewing - ensure you’re recruiting the right skills
  • Onboarding (for setting expectations & communicating culture) - help each person on day one in a role know exactly what is expected of them, how they compare, and what they should begin focusing on; the behaviors in the model can communicate corporate culture, especially for those new to the company or business unit, highlighting what’s important
  • In-role development – closing skill gaps and developing toward both proficiency and mastery
  • Career planning - helping people prepare for the job they want next
  • Opportunities for development and growth is both one of the top 3 reasons people take a job, and it’s the also in the top 3 reasons why people leave… when they don’t exist.
  • Mentoring (creating task-based mentors) - build bench strength more quickly
  • Coaching - ensure that managers can coach without guesswork
  • Learning opportunity development – identify what you need that you don’t have
  • Strategic workforce planning – Compare the skills people have today with what you need tomorrow, and upskill or hire to close the gaps
  • Real needs assessment - develop the optimal L&D action plan

Here's an article that digs into more detail.

Want even more? Click here for all the detail in a white paper.

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How does knowledge fit into a competency model?

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A competency model focuses on what tasks/skills are critical to success in the role, what it looks like to be great at those tasks/skills, and what people should be able to DO with the required knowledge.  While a skill could be “Demonstrate knowledge of [something]”, it’s even better to describe the purpose of demonstrating that knowledge.

Here are some examples:

You don’t have knowledge of export control. Rather, the skill is "Apply proper export control procedures to shipments", which requires knowledge of expert control procedures, regulations and documentation.

You don’t have knowledge of solution components.  Rather, the skill is "Serve as a customer’s solution consultant in order to maximize solution impact", which requires you demonstrate knowledge of the solution components.  Your level of proficiency is determined by your level of knowledge, along with other behaviors, such as the ability to communicate at the appropriate level.

You don’t have knowledge of a technology.  Rather, you “Write software code with [that technology]”, which requires you apply knowledge of that technology.  And the level of proficiency with which you write code depends on that knowledge – coding simple functions, writing complex functions, or troubleshooting the code of others.

You don’t have product knowledge.  Rather, you have “Knowledge of Product XYZ such that I can perform the appropriate sales activities”.  You can do that by properly articulating product configuration options, detailed business case development, proper competitive positioning, and explaining how the product will help customers adjust to future trends.

So in summary, knowledge is an enabler of skill in a competency model.  It’s not the knowledge itself that is important, it’s what you can do DO with that knowledge that counts.

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How can competency models be used to drive innovation?

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So the CEO says that the next 2 years are all about innovation.  Great!  How can you get the organization to change?  You add a skill to every role’s competency model that demonstrates what innovation looks like to them.  That is, you need to identify, specifically, what someone should do to be innovative in their role – whether they are in product development, engineering, marketing, or finance.  You might also update other skills in their competency model with behaviors that demonstrative innovation as one moves from good to great.

Translating strategy to every person in every level of the business so it can be executed is hard when it’s abstract.  But imagine how much more tangible it could be. 

  • Develop disruptive technologies that meet unmet/unknown market needs (product development)
  • Develop financial models that support disruptive product ideas while minimizing risk (finance)
  • Identify new product applications/market opportunities for our existing solutions (marketing)

Remember that for each person, a competency model describes what it looks like to be great in their role.  For the organization, a competency model describes what each person in their role needs to do to execute their part of corporate strategy.  Therefore, to get the employee to embrace innovation as corporate strategy, show them specifically what it looks like to them.  Let them assess themselves against it, and develop toward it.  Give managers the ability to easily assess and coach their team members against it.  And the organization will change.

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How can you design a competency model to be open to frequent change?

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A competency model describes what someone in their role needs to be able to do to achieve their part of corporate strategy.  Often the “what” people have to be able to do in the job doesn’t change much, but the “how” people do it successfully does. 

In our competency model process, we identify the big buckets of things people need to be able to do, we unpack what they need to be able to do within them (the “what”), then we get to “how” they do it, and what separates good from great (see http://webcasts.td.org/webinar/2235).

Let’s use a product manager as an example.  Part of their job is identifying products to build/enhance.  That category or competency is the highest level.  It’s unlikely to change very often. 

Within that category, they need to be able to do various tasks or skills, such as identifying customer problems to solve, and then identifying products to create or enhance that solve those problems.  This might change more often than the category, but still not that often.

Now you get down to the “how” people do it at various levels of proficiency.  We call these task examples or behavioral examples.  It is required to show people how to get from good to great, and helps people objectively and consistently see where they are.  The “how”, and the target level of proficiency someone should have in their role to be able to achieve their part of corporate strategy, are the most likely components to change. 

We recommend that at least once a year, or after any major event such as a merger/acquisition, product or system launch, you bring together a group of 4-6 high performers to review the model and the details independently, submit feedback in advance which is aggregated for discussion, then come together for an hour session to discuss proposed changes.  Most likely, the behaviors and the target levels will change.  But it is this competency model design and this process that makes them easy to change over time.

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How many competency models can be completed within a 3 week period?

In the webinar on How To Create A Competency Model In Weeks, we talk about the fact that you can build a competency model in 3 weeks.  Someone asked, "How many positions can be completed within a 3 week period?  Only one?"

While the whole process takes 3 weeks, it is not linear.  If you look at the summary of events, you’ll see that there are days when you’re waiting for feedback that you could be doing other things.  It depends on how long it takes you to do each step, and your preference for work/life balance.  When we need to (and are willing to live with no work/life balance), we’ve done 8 models in 3 weeks.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone just starting with this process to do any more than 1.  Then as you get experience and you know what it will take, you can take on 3 in 3 weeks.

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Restructuring and new expectations relative to the timing of competency model development

Question from recent ATD webinar: If an organization has just gone through a restructure and client delivery expectations are being discovered, what would you recommend in terms of timing for conducting a JTA Workshop and building of a Competency Model?

There is no better time to develop a competency model so you can re-set the expectation of each person in their new role relative to client delivery requirements.  What’s unique is that you need to ensure everyone has foresight into new responsibilities, and you may need a leader of the new area to “oversee” the meeting to ensure the new strategy (for which the restructure took place) is being properly cascaded/interpreted. 

We’ve actually done this several times for customers for this exact purpose.  It’s definitely more often felt as pain by large companies than small.

 

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How often should competency models be reviewed and updated?

In a recent webinar, I was asked, “How often should competency models be reviewed and updated?”

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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Can competency models drive organizational agility? YES!

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Organizational agility is one of the hottest topics today.  I’m talking about moving people regularly from team to team, moving people where the work is (as demand changes), and moving people among projects or business units.  Competency models make organizational agility possible. 

In fact, one of my customers is doing something really innovative in the area of organizational agility – they are taking their employees and having them assess their skills “early in their careers” against the competencies for multiple departmental areas so that they can help guide them into the next roles where they can best be successful, or assign them temporarily where they can easily and quickly support increased demand.  Another customer is taking a similar approach from a workforce planning perspective, and identifying how many people could be easily moved from one role to another where they are most needed, and what gaps would have to be closed to do so.

If organizational agility is taking center stage in your company, explore how competency models can support that effort.

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What’s the difference between a low performer and a good performer who is simply not in the right role?

How do you interpret the difference between a low performer and someone who is simply not in the right spot for them.  How many of you have seen a good person in the wrong role?

Imagine if that person, or the organization, could use competency models to identify what skills people have and where they do best fit?  So instead of losing potentially really good people, you simply move them to where their skills and the competencies required best align. 

This is the power of competency models and a competency assessment (because you have to have the honest skills data).  If you know what people have to do to be great in their roles, and you know what skills people have, then you can perform that alignment seamlessly as those openings become available.  Think about how many good people could be saved, the amount of turnover savings you could achieve, and how much more engagement would grow naturally when people are in the right role.

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How do you manage competency models for roles that cut across a variety of functions?

In a recent webinar, I was asked, “How do you manage roles that cut across a variety of functions where some skills should be reflective in models cutting across different functions?  (e.g., Analyst in Finance and Analyst in HR)”

We actually just did something really similar about 6 months ago – 3 analyst roles.  We did each of the 3 roles independently using the normal process.  When we polished output from the first Task Workshop, we realized we had some skills (e.g., Use data visualization tools), that would span all roles.  When we got to workshop 2 and 3, we could ask, “Do you do these things too?” and leverage the first group’s work, while asking group 2 and then group 3 for specifics and what they believe separates good from great.  Then we synthesized the examples into one shared task.

 

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Using role language to create relevance

In a recent webinar, I was asked, "If everyone is using their own language to make the model relevant to a role, how do you create categories / competencies that transcend roles?"

If you’re building multiple models at one time (e.g., we sometimes do 6-8 models over a 4-5 wk period), you can leverage aggregated data sets to tweak categories before finalizing them.  But honestly, at the end of the day, your competency model should never be done.  If one group comes up with Administration and Reporting, and another group later comes up with Administration and Systems, then you likely recommend changing the Category to “Administration/Reporting/Systems” so it is consistent, and there is no impact to the users of the models. 

What’s important is communicating to users that they will always be evolving over time.

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4 Steps to increase usage of a capability/competency model

1)      Make it consumable.  By that I mean, do you have to read it, then re-read it to know what it means?  Or is it easy to read and in the language of the people using it so they can know what great looks like?  Often, we see a model that’s too academic.  It should read as people in the role speak.  It should state clearly what someone should be able to do.  When high performers are involved in building it, this happens naturally.  If not, this is when you need to bring them in for revisions.

2)      Right size it.  The most successful capability models have between 15 – 30 tasks. A capability model should describe what “great” looks like in the role – it’s not a complete task analysis of everything they do.  If your model includes tasks that are not critical to success in that role, eliminate them.

3)      Make it actionable.  That means getting the model off the PowerPoint, out of the spreadsheets and into people’s hands.  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 competency-based learning is pretty worthless.  One of my customers calls this “operationalizing the blueprint”.

4)      Communicate the WIIFM!  Ensure learners and their managers understand what’s in it for them.  We provide our customers with toolkits containing messaging for change management.  They span getting started with the model, driving a culture of learning and continuous development, tips for maximum use, recognition messages, and competition drivers between teams.  Managers need to understand that NOT developing people is a risk. If people aren’t given the opportunity to grow, they’ll go somewhere they can.  So give your audience tools and templates that make it easy for them to learn a new routine. 

Follow these steps and you’ll increase both the usage and value of your capability model.

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ATD Spotlight Member Brigitte Hyler Richerson on Competency Modeling and the SDLE

This is a reprint from the SEWI ATD Member Spotlight

Authored by ATD SEWI.

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Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a Milwaukee native and I have 3 dogs, 2 daughters and 1 husband. The dogs are Mr. Coconut, Oreo and Butchy. My eldest daughter just graduated Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia and my youngest daughter will be entering 8th grade. I love Zumba and simply enjoying life. I like to spend as much time as I can with my family and very close friends. I have a natural thirst for learning and helping others be their best.

What is your hidden talent?
Being a consultant my hidden talent has to be the ability to make people comfortable and build trust. Another hidden talent, which sometimes works for me and other times it gets me in trouble, is being intuitive and strategic; being the person that’s always thinking ahead and looking down the road, rather than the person who is in the day-to-day. It can be a pro or con, but definitely a talent.

What attracted you to the field of Talent Development?
I was always the person, even at age 16 working at McDonald’s, who had the patience to train others, and also the one who could take complex information and make it easy to understand. Maybe because of that trust factor, people just liked learning from me. So I never went into it thinking I wanted to be in talent development. Originally I thought I was going to be an elementary classroom teacher. I’ve always had a passion for teaching, but then I found it was more at the adult level in a work setting, rather than pure academia, where I can help others succeed. I think as a consultant it’s my job to help everyone else look good. In the perfect world, I’m invisible - you don’t even know I’m there. I’m there to help my business partners and clients look great and reach their goals.

What is your favorite theory, tool, or process?
Right now, I’m in love with competency modeling. I developed this passion about a couple of years ago, when we were investing in new technology. I started to research working with business partners, trying to figure out where the skill deficits and skill gaps are, to make sure we are securing the best learning solutions. Technology training is extremely expensive, so you want to make sure you are getting the return on your investment. And that original concern has really turned into so much more now. We have been partnering with the company Skill Director, leveraging their tool, “The Self-directed Learning Engine”. Partnering with Skill Director allows me to take our learning strategies and build them around competency modeling. There are assessments for individuals, leaders, and peers. From these assessments they can see their skill gaps and create the right learning path to help them fill them. They have choices. They only take what they want to; they take what they need when they need it. I have seen positive results from it. I’ve actually seen the improvement. That has been what I’ve really been honing in on. What we are investing in and learning is supporting our overall corporate strategy.

How did you first learn about SEWI-ATD?
I’ve been a member since college as a student member at Alverno. It is one of those things I always stay close to. Even if I’m not necessarily engaged and going to meetings, I am still periodically checking out the website. I’m also a national member. In fact, I just bought a book, Learning for the Long Run. ATD is sort of the Holy Grail of learning and development. I’m impressed with how they stay current with how learning is changing. They do a very good job of looking at how the learning is reaching the various generations, how that looks, and learning more innovatively.

Just for fun, what are your top 3 most played songs on your iPod / iPhone?
Prince – “1999”, Bruno Mars – “24K Magic” and anything Zumba (I’m also a Zumba instructor)

Is there a question you wished you were asked during this interview?
If I could do it all over again and do something other than training, would I? And the answer is…No, I absolutely wouldn’t. I truly, truly love the space and love what I’m doing. It does take a while to get to a point in your career where you’re doing higher level work. It’s one of those jobs you gotta kiss a lot of frogs, but it’s so rewarding. It doesn’t feel like work for me, I absolutely love it. I think for anyone who really wants to get into this space, that’s the kind of passion you have to have.

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How can competency models be used in higher education institutions?

There are a number of ways in which competency models can be used in higher education institutions. 

The first is by creating and using them to increase the skill proficiency for those who work in higher education:  development roles, purchasing, operations, and for professors. 

The second is for students participating in the education.  In this area, there is a tremendous opportunity to help better prepare students for post-education job roles.  One of the biggest criticisms of higher education is the perceived gap in readiness between graduates and the needs of business.  Imagine how that could change if students could assess their skills against the business role(s) they seek post-graduation.  They could then identify any skill gaps, and take steps to take classes or engage in activities to close those gaps while they are in school.  At the same time, the institution could view aggregated skill gaps and use them to (1) offer non-traditional activities designed to close gaps, (2) add activities to existing courses that close gaps, (3) identify demand for new classes (then develop and deliver them). 

The measure of success for an institution of higher education is the number of people they can put into jobs post-graduation. Using competency models tied to post-graduation roles to drive a successful person-job match can significantly improve success and close the gap in preparedness.

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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

http://atd2017.mapyourshow.com/7_0/sessions/session-details.cfm?ScheduleID=240

 

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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.

 

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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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