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How could I use a competency model? Let me count the ways!

Use a competency model to acquire skills/close skill gaps

Use a competency model to acquire skills/close skill gaps

I’m often asked, “How could I use competency models?  I think I need one, but what can I do with it?”  Let's explore all the ways competency models can impact your business.

There are 2 daunting trends plaguing organizations today:  increasing skill gaps, and lack of employee engagement, both of which lead to lack of retention.  Competency models have the ability to address all 3 issues.

Recruiting & Retention

Competency models enable better recruiting to take place.  With a competency model, a hiring manager can ask, “Give me an example of how you facilitate career development in your team.” And they can have a description of what that skill looks like at various levels of proficiency, along with what the required level of proficiency is for that skill.  The hiring manager, therefore, can identify what skill gaps exist among the candidates being interviewed, compare them, and determine the risk, training and duration required to close them.  Competency models help ensure that the best candidates are selected, and are most likely to stay.

Onboarding & Retention

Competency models provide the ability for a new hire to become familiar with the nuances of the job that will make them successful.  They identify what’s important in corporate culture, as they are reflected in desired behaviors.  When you enable people to self-assess against the competency model, they provide the ability for the new hire to know their baseline skill set, and what gaps they have to close to be successful.  When mapped to learning opportunities, competency models provide the ability for the new hire to own closing those gaps, so they can immediately begin their journey toward competency.  And the ability to do that makes them more engaged and more likely they will stay.

Closing Skill Gaps, Individual Skill Development & Retention

Competency models provide each person with a road map for how to be great.  They communicate what someone in a particular job role needs to do to achieve corporate strategy.  When embedded into a competency assessment tool, after self-assessment, a competency model provides each person with a baseline that tells them what skill gaps exist and what development activities are needed.   In that way, the model can intrinsically drive achievement motivation.  That is, competency models enable autonomy/self-direction, mastery, and purpose.[i]  Research shows that the more competent people become, the more engaged and satisfied they become and that leads to retention.  And when individuals own closing their skill gaps, the organization’s skill gaps will close.

Career Planning & Retention

Just like competency models enable people to self-assess against the skill requirements for their current job, they also enable people to assess their skills against the role or roles they might want next, so they can start closing skill gaps for that next role.  The inability to own development and career development is cited as one of the primary reasons people leave an organization.  So competency models enable people to own their career development, which leads to retention.

Coaching & Retention

Competency models, when used in conjunction with a competency assessment tool, enable managers to be more effective coaches, regardless of coaching experience, because they eliminate coaching guesswork.  It makes every 1:1 conversation more productive, so a manager can leverage strengths, take action to close skill gaps, discuss perceptual differences, and help people prepare for their next roles. 

The quality of one’s manager, and their ability to have great conversations and develop them is one of the reasons people stay in a job and remain engaged.  And conversely, when a manager can’t do this well, it’s why they leave. When you give a manager a roadmap to do this well, you drive skill gap closure, engagement and retention.

Mentoring & Retention

If you enable people to assess themselves against competency models, you can uncover pockets of skill-based strengths across the organization.  How does that help?  Well, imagine if instead of having 10 people who can serve as mentors, you identify that almost every person has at least one skill in which they excel.  If you have the ability to identify these people, and pair them temporarily with others who have skill gaps in those same areas, then you can literally apply mentors at scale across the organization.   For people who serve as both mentors and mentees, the process is highly engaging, increasing the likelihood that each will stay in the organization.

Communicating Culture

There are 2 places where we can weave culture into competency models:  the description of the task or skill, and the behavioral examples.  You must use language and examples that demonstrate what is important in your organization.  And you next need to make those models accessible.  People must be able to assess their skills against them, so they become self-aware of any gaps in both skill and behavior.  And they must re-assess their skills quarterly, as part of a routine, so they can continue to refine their behaviors against the skills and behaviors that are important to the organization, and changes can be easily operationalized.

Developing a Learning & Development Action Plan

When people assess their skills against a competency model, you get real needs analysis.  And that tells you what learning opportunities should be developed and/or delivered.  (You can develop competency based learning.) So budgets, schedules and development plans can be based upon fact, and you eliminate waste that typically exists using traditional methods of interviewing leaders and history.


Competency models have the opportunity to be used throughout the organization and throughout the employee lifecycle to close skill gaps, increase employee engagement and increase retention.  Discover how they might be able to work for you!

[i] Pink, Daniel.  Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Hardcover, 2009.

Also at: https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Career-Development-Blog/2015/12/How-Can-My-Company-Use-Competency-Models? and https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-could-i-use-competency-model-let-me-count-ways-cheryl-lasse?trk=mp-author-card 


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