3 Ways to address learning levels in competency models

(Question posted by participant in Accelerating Learning Transfer webinar)

Question: How do you address learning levels in competency models (novice vs. expert or front line leader vs. senior leader)?

There are actually 3 ways that this is reflected in a competency model.

First, the task examples/behavioral examples define what the task or skill looks like at various levels of proficiency.  So a novice may exhibit behaviors at level 2 where an expert would exhibit behaviors at level 4 or 5.  Second, you set the target proficiency for each role at different levels.

I’ll use a people management example to align with the question.  Let’s say that the task is communicating business strategy to the team. 

  • Level 1: Forward messages from the business to the team as I think they need them
  • Level 2: Forward messages from the business to the team with an overview that explains what I think they mean to them
  • Level 3: As strategy changes, translate it to team members in terms that relate to what they do
  • Level 4: Regularly discuss corporate strategy and how it translates to team activity
  • Level 5: Develop tools and/or templates that enable me to translate corporate strategy to the team level in a structured way

Someone who is a novice, (perhaps in their first management job), may be operating at a level 1.  The expectation (target proficiency) if they are a front line leader, is probably level 3.  The expectation of a senior leader would be a level 4 or 5.

In this way, even a novice becomes aware of the best practices, and next practices (see TD Magazine March 2016 issue) when they are accessing the competency model and assessing their skills.

Third, any skill gap between assessed proficiency and target proficiency would recommend a development opportunity at a learning level where its learning objective aligns to the behavior(s) they should exhibit.  So a front line leader would participate in an activity where they learn to translate strategy to team members in terms that relate to what they do.  And a senior leader would learn to develop tools for translating strategy in a structured way, and make them a part of regular communication.