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.