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Competency Model

How do we make competency model development less scary?

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How do we make competency model development less scary? By applying an agile methodology to do it.  If you make competency model a 6 month or year-long process, with the speed of change, the model could be outdated before you even release it.  Plus, you’ll have wasted months when you could be using it. 

So here’s a synopsis of how we streamline the process. 

1) 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.

2) Next, for each task, we create draft task/behavioral examples, provide them to the high performers for review/editing (about 2 hrs 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.  Where the task is the “what”, the example is 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.

3) We define the minimum proficiency required 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:  Approximately 10-11 hrs

Total duration of model creation:  Approximately 3 weeks

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

Learn more:  https://skilldirector.com/how-to-build-competency-models and https://webcasts.td.org/webinar/2644

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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

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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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How the competency model connects to the organization’s mission

Gayla asked, “You mentioned relating the competencies to the org mission. can you give examples of that?”  I want to start out by pointing you to a short ATD blog post that describes the answer more deeply.

https://www.td.org/insights/what-is-the-value-of-a-competency-model

In summary, in any organization, everyone has intermediate goals that, if accomplished (by everyone), would lead to the achievement of the organization goals and mission.  You might hear this referred to as cascading strategy.  The deeper in the organization you go from top to bottom, the more specialized the goals and the required skills, until you get to a specific person performing a specific role, such as an R&D engineer. 

That’s where you have a role-based competency model.  A person with competence in their role will achieve their part of corporate strategy. 

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How many competencies should be in a competency model?

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Well, there is no one answer.  It’s based on the role.  A competency describes what’s most critical to success in a role, not everything one must do. 

Once you’ve built your model, you may discover there are simply too many tasks for a reasonable assessment and resulting development focus.  E.g. if you’ve identified more than 40 tasks, the assessment will simply take too long, and you’ll lose the intrinsic motivation you’re trying to create.  While there is no hard rule, we recommend 20 – 25. 

Think about it logically.  If it takes about 1 minute to review behavioral examples and select a value (in a meaningful and thoughtful way), and you have 50 competencies, that’s 50 minutes.  Can you say “survey fatigue”?  On the other hand, if you select the 20-25 most critical, it should take ~20 minutes… a much more realistic request.  Plus, who can focus on that many skills and potential gaps?! 

Consider that you may not need assess technical and soft skills separately

Pick the most critical to success items now, and continue to iterate it 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 tasks and skills for that point in time.  It may be that your assessment includes 20 now, and next year, you remove 8 and add 10 new ones.

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Webcast: Use sales competencies to clone your top producers

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Want to learn to how use sales competencies to clone your top producers? Then join Cheryl Lasse and sales performance expert Mike Kunkle for a free Sales & Marketing Management webinar on April 17, 2019 from 2pm-3pm US ET.

Can’t make it? Register anyway and you’ll get a link to the recording after the event. Click here to register.

Here’s an overview:

 At a time in the sales profession when only 50-60% of reps make quota and over 20% of opportunities end in No Decision, there is massive room for performance improvement and growth in most sales forces.

What could it mean to your company if you could clone your top producers, fix those problems, and close these performance gaps?

Mike and Cheryl will share how you can use sales competencies to replicate the performance of your A Players and move your B and C Players up a notch.

  • Explore top-producer analysis techniques

  • Discuss the steps to develop an actionable sales competency model in weeks

  • Discover a competency development framework that produces personalized learning plans to close competency gaps

  • Foster a learning culture and create an environment that supports performance improvement

April 17, 2019 from 2pm-3pm US ET. Click here to register.

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How to create a competency model – should Directors and above participate?

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“Would it ever make sense to have someone above the manager position (such as a division head) participate in the job analysis workshop?” 

In our experience, this is not a good idea for several reasons. 

(1) When there is someone 2 levels higher or more in the workshop, it can be intimidating for some participants, which could mitigate their input.  

(2) The purpose of the workshop is to identify what the people doing the job need to be able to do to be good and great in their job.  A person who is 2 levels higher is not currently doing the job, and while they may have held that position at some time in the past, they will not have done so recently, and therefore be out of touch with the current realities of the position.

(3) The person who is 2 levels higher may know what kind of skills they want people to have in the future, which should be imparted to the person facilitating the workshop.  You can bring up those topics in line with the appropriate tasks and competencies (e.g., “how do you foresee data analysis impacting the role going forward?”).  This person, not being an expert in the process, could derail the workshop by bringing it up at the wrong time.

(4) One of the things that often presents itself in workshops is regional differences. A high performer describes how something is done in their region.Another person says, “that’s interesting because we do it differently in our region.”And you get these different perspectives that can be aggregated into the competency model appropriately.It will be less likely that someone tells a Director level person that what they said is not entirely true.The quality of your model may suffer.

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How do I create a few standard competencies or tasks that would address the needs of multiple business units?

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The most important thing to remember about competency models is that for them to be effective, they must be relevant. A competency model describes what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of corporate strategy. If they are too generic, they will no longer be effective.

Additionally, if you want to use them for career planning, they must be differentiated.  You need to be able to try on other jobs for size and see how they fit.  If all roles have the same competencies, and nothing is role-based, this is not possible.

That being said, there are some competencies or tasks that can be shared across roles and business units, including those required for the future of work. Examples include: data analysis, dealing with ambiguity and change, learning agility, influencing, and collaboration.

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How to create a competency model when participants are global

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In a webinar we conducted, someone asked, “How can you create competency models with the rapid job analysis process when bringing people together isn’t an option, and multiple time zones are in play? Can you do multiple meetings and then merge the information?”

It’s possible, but not the best option. The best option is to try to find a time that works for all virtual participants, though depending on those locations, it may not be feasible. (I’ve often done 6am – 10am ET to accommodate global participants.) Doing separate workshops mitigates the creativity generated during the workshop across regions with culturally diverse participants and doesn’t immediately highlight regional differences.

If you have to do it, here’s what you need to expect. There are 2 basic alternatives.

  1. You can either do completely separate Rapid Job Analysis and Task Example Workshops with the 2 groups, and have to merge the 2 finished products

  2. Or you do separate Rapid Job Analysis workshops, 1 set of shared Task Examples, and separate Task Example Workshops to review

Alternative 1 Pros:

Will be easiest for the participants who will be familiar with all the tasks as they are written.

Alternative 1 Cons:

  • Will take the most time

  • You’ll be making the process much longer and more cumbersome for yourself

Alternative 2 Pros:

It will be less of an additional effort (writing the task examples is the hardest/longest part).

Alternative 2 Cons:

May not create the same level of buy in to the model or be as easy to review since they will have to get their arms around something they’ve not seen before. For example, if 3 groups came up with the same thing, and it’s all written in a slightly different way, you have to synthesize into one task statement that will not be “exactly” what they saw the first time. And if 1 group came up with something unique, it will take longer to digest. 

 In my opinion, if you have to do separate workshops, alternative 2 is the best option.

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3 Steps to simplify an existing Competency Model / Capability Framework

If you have a competency model or capability framework, and you’re ready to make it actionable, use these 3 steps to see if it needs to be simplified.  

  1. Is it easy to consume?  Do you have to read then re-read each statement to know what it means?  Or is it easy to read in the language of the people using it?  Too often, competency models are too academic.  It looks impressive, but the model itself cannot easily be consumed by the end user.  It should read as they speak. 

  2. Is it too much?  The most successful capability models have between 15 – 30 tasks, a reasonable number to assess against.  A competency model should describe what “great” looks like focused on what is most critical to success – not be a complete list of everything they do. 

  3. Are they really tasks?  Once you remove those not critical to success, see if you have some tasks that are really behavioral examples of other tasks.  If you can’t come up with behavioral examples (what it looks like to do that task at various levels of proficiency), then it’s a behavioral example of something else. (E.g., you don’t attend meetings well, rather actively participating in meetings might be an example of “Collaborate within and across functional teams”).  That is, tasks should list WHAT you do, and the examples describe HOW you do it.

Follow these simplification steps and you’ll maximum use and adoption of your competency model.

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How can we use competency models to develop a competency-based training program for supervisors?

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This question has 2 parts.  First relates to how to develop supervisor’s own skills, and the other is how to coach more effectively.  I’m breaking this into 2 parts.

1) How To Develop Supervisor’s Own Skills

Like any other role, a competency model for supervisors will focus on those tasks they need to perform to achieve their part of corporate strategy.  This likely includes a combination of people management and technical/functional tasks/skills.  Competency-based learning is where you map learning activities to the entire competency model.  You want to do this including activities across the 70-20-10 model (experiential-collaborative-formal).  Your Training Program will contain elements of these activities, but should enable people to consume ONLY the activities they need to close their skill gaps.  For example, if you build a traditional training program, maybe a 1-2 week formal course, and someone is capable in 80% of the tasks/skills being taught, that’s a huge waste of time and money, not to mention the supervisor’s own frustration of being stuck.  But if you create a training program across the 70-20-10 model that is sufficiently granular, so that people can do only the activities they NEED (to close their skill gaps), you will create not only the best training program, but you’ll make it very MANAGEABLE – you can update any element more easily over time without re-doing the entire program.

2) How To Coach More Effectively

If you are using competency models with the people that the supervisors are supervising, then through active participation in their team’s competency assessment, supervisors will see exactly what skill gaps each team member has.  This makes their job SO much easier.  No guesswork!  They know exactly where (the skill gap) and how to coach (the behaviors in the model).  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 supervisor 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.”  Rather, it reinforces a culture of learning, and creates an environment that makes it easy to execute.

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How do we keep the competency models current and in use by the organization?

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To keep competency models current, 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.

To keep competency models in use by the organization, you must make your models actionable.  That means getting each 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”.  Further, ensure whatever competency assessment and competency-based learning tool you choose supports making changes easily.  If it’s too difficult, it won’t happen, and then your competency model will be out of sync with strategy.

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How do you deal with “one-off” competency models?

Someone told me that they are about to begin competency modeling, but have a number of “one-off” roles – those with only one person in the role – and wanted to know how to handle them?

Well, people in those roles need competency models too.  There are 2 approaches we recommend.

If this role is fairly common, (e.g., an Accounts Receivable Specialist) it is easiest to use a standard competency model.  A good standard competency model will cover the tasks well, provide you with applicable behavioral examples, and a target level of proficiency.  While you may require a different level in your organization, or even slightly altered behaviors, it’s easy to make those small modifications.  We provide the model (tasks/skills, behavioral examples, target level) to customers in a template, and the individual and their manager spend about 1-2 hours reviewing and tailoring the model.  Their completed model then gets uploaded into the competency assessment system.  The cool part about this process is that if you have a bunch of one-off roles, all the reviewing and tailoring can be done concurrently without you.  So if you have 2 one-off roles or 20 one-off roles, it takes the same number of calendar days.

If this role is not common, then you need to determine if it’s worth building a model from scratch, using the process described in the ATD webinar and materials (here, participants include only that individual and their manager), OR you may find that there are tasks they do that are in other models, and you can piece together a new model from other models.  This is a similar approach that you’d do if it were a new role and there are no high performers.  That is, you determine what a role SHOULD be doing, and see if you have those tasks (with behaviors) in your competency inventory.  Then, similar to the standard model process, the individual and their manager would pick the target level of proficiency.

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How do you incorporate soft skills into a competency model that revolves around hard skills?

Remember that the competency model describes what people need to do in the job to execute their part of corporate strategy.  Usually that’s the hard skills.  But it’s the soft skills that determine how WELL you do the hard skills.

Therefore, we generally use the soft skills to differentiate levels of proficiency for a hard skill. 

For example, instead of having 3 skills in the model on analyzing and reporting out data, tailoring communication, and influencing, we have one skill “Analyze data and report findings”, where the behavioral examples are:

  • Level 3: Analyze data and generate a report

  • Level 4: Tailor communication of the analysis to the needs of the stakeholder to whom you’re presenting

  • Level 5: Make a recommendation based on the analysis and successfully influence leaders to adopt it

And these higher level examples might be reflected in many hard skills, perhaps without much change, since these are what separate good from great. 

A person could be able to influence others related to one hard skill, but struggle with influencing others related to a different hard skill.  This is not because they have a problem with influencing per se, (though it could) but rather because they don’t have the same credibility in that hard skill.

For more on how to do build these levels of behavior, see the free ATD webinar on creating a competency model in weeks.

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How can we keep the number of tasks to assess in our competency assessment manageable?

Once you’ve built your model, you may discover there are simply too many tasks for a reasonable assessment.  E.g. if you’ve identified more than 40 tasks, the assessment will simply take too long, and you’ll lose the intrinsic motivation you’re trying to create.  There is no hard or fast rule, 20 – 25 tasks is the max.

Think about it logically.  If it takes about 1 - 1.5 minutes to review behavioral examples and select a value (in a meaningful and thoughtful way), and you have 50 competencies, that’s 50-75 minutes.  Can you say “survey fatigue”?  On the other hand, if you select the 20-25 most critical, it should take ~30 minutes… a much more realistic request.  Plus, who can focus on that many skills and potential gaps?! 

During the model development process, we recommend the high performers identify which tasks are most critical to success to narrow the list.  But there’s also the aspect of strategic workforce planning – identifying skills the organization believes will differentiate it in the future… for example, some technology that will drive competitive advantage.  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”).  So a hybrid approach is best.

Then you iterate.  Launch the competency assessment, but remember, it’s always in beta.  Your competency models are not fixed in stone.  You put it out there, you get feedback, you get data, and you continue to iterate it 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 tasks and skills for that point in time.  It may be that your assessment includes 20 now, and next year, you remove 8 and add 10 new ones.

For more on creating a competency model quickly, see the free ATD webinar.

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How to differentiate between a job description and a competency model

There seems to be accelerated activity around redefining job descriptions and aligning job families, which is great.  The reason for this accelerated activity is that jobs have changed.  A job defined in the HR system 10 years ago probably doesn’t describe the job very well today.  So this seems to be a good opportunity to differentiate between job descriptions and role-based competency models.

  • A typical job description lists responsibilities, educational and experience requirements, as well as a list of the knowledge they should have, and which important interpersonal and technical skills they need. In other words, it is more of a responsibility narrative and a skills list.

  • 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 knowledge acquired. In other words, it helps someone become self-aware and be able to DO their job.

  • A job description helps you screen resumes. A competency model helps you hire the right person.

  • A job description provides new employees with a general guideline on the things they will do. A competency model shows them how to be GREAT at the things they will do, and where they are now.

  • A job description helps create salary ranges and compare roles across organizations. A competency model describes what each person in their role needs to be able to do, specifically, in order to perform their part of YOUR corporate strategy.

You can pretty easily create a job description from a competency model, but it’s quite difficult to create a competency model from most job descriptions because they lack the granularity required. 

While your organization needs both, if you don’t have a role-based competency model, how can you motivate them to be great at the things you need them to do and upskill them when they can’t do it?

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Why changes in performance management benefit competency models

If you haven’t noticed, there is a major shift away from traditional performance management (looking back) to new growth mindset approaches for looking forward.  And the elimination of the performance appraisal is the best thing that ever happened to competency models! Why? Because now they can be used for professional development without implication.

If you are assessing yourself against a competency model in a performance management system, like it or no, it can be "used against you" for keeping score. Therefore, it is human nature to inflate your assessment given that the data is co-mingled in a system used for pay and promotion, resulting in a development plan that is not representative of what you need, and won't help you close your gaps.

When performance appraisals are replaced with regular real-time coaching and feedback, competency models can be used in a safe environment, without bias, to accurately assess skills and identify competency-based learning for closing any gaps.  They make it easier for managers to coach.  They drive agility – change in strategy and priorities can be quickly communicated and supported.  The more regularly competency models are used, the greater the likelihood that there are clear expectations, and regular progress being made for skill development and career planning.

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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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