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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  If you make competency model a 6 month or year-long process, with the speed of change, the model could be outdated before you even release it.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 can I make a long competency model manageable?

Photo by  Matt Artz  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

Once you’ve built your competency model, perhaps by using the method we describe in this ATD webinar with these resources, you may discover there are simply too many tasks and competencies for a reasonable competency assessment.  An assessment typically a person 1 minute per task and keeping it less than 30 minutes is a best practice. Too long and you’ll lose the intrinsic motivation you’re trying to create.  There is no hard or fast rule, but most of our customers have between 15 – 30 tasks against which people assess. 

 During the model development process, we recommend that you ask the high performers to identify which of those things they do really separate good from great.  That’s the easiest way to identify the critical few.  However, there is another aspect that goes beyond what the high performers provide.  This has to do with strategic workforce planning and identifying those skills that the organization believes will differentiate it in the future, or those skills which are changing or becoming more critical.   

  • For example, there may be a particular technology that will drive competitive advantage, and 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”). 

  • Then there are the fourth industrial revolution (future of work) skills which are proving so important today.  Things like data analysis, critical thinking, dealing with ambiguity and change, learning agility, influencing, and collaboration.  You want to be sure that these are considered when creating the model, and that those identified as relevant remain a focus.

  • Consider that if there are things in the model that would have precluded them from getting them hired for this role, if they didn’t have that capability, perhaps they could be excluded.  Or frame what remains together with future of work skills.

 A hybrid approach works 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 (typically annually or biannually) 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 competencies for that point in time.

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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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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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How competency models can support a new system rollout

Change. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. These are the things that surround a new enterprise system rollout (e.g., ERP, CRM, HCM).  But what if you could help people in each role understand exactly what was expected of them, both during the rollout, and thereafter as processes change? That’s exactly what role-based competency models can do. 

If you don’t already have one task in your competency model dedicated to the new system, create one.  It could be as simple as “Demonstrate the ability to use the [XYZ] system.”  Then, it is the behavioral examples that differentiate the task from one role to another.  And the levels of proficiency identify exactly what functions people in that job need to be able to perform (with support, or independently).  This will provide you with an easy way to communicate the expectations. 

For example, let’s say you’re rolling out a new Customer Relationship Management system.

 

The task you add to a Sales Rep may be “Document accounts and opportunity pipeline activities sufficiently in the CRM system”.  The task you add for a Sales Manager/Director may be “Perform sales forecasting and manage the opportunity pipeline with our CRM system”.

And the Sales Director behaviors at each level of proficiency (low to high) might look like this:

1 – Locate opportunity details in the CRM

2 – Perform sales forecasting via a standard CRM report

3 – Effectively use a CRM dashboard for viewing and communicating the sales funnel

4 – Create a dashboard for easy access to opportunity intelligence

5 – Create a complex CRM dashboard to handle scenario planning/”what if” analyses

 

If you have your competency model in a competency assessment tool, have people assess themselves against it (and the newly added/revised task), to identify their baseline.  Be sure you have competency-based learning mapped to each role, so that as the gaps are identified, they will point to role-specific learning opportunities that provide each person with the ability to take action.  Your best strategy is to point to informal learning because (1) you probably have some mandatory formal learning already provided to everyone, and (2) the way to best develop proficiency is to support them WHILE they work… with workflow learning.  That means system-specific job aids/performance support tutorials, informal skill practices like step by step how to create a dashboard that they can follow and complete their work, and links to communities of practice and FAQs for rapid answers.

Periodically, maybe every couple of months, and as the resulting assessment data communicates the current level of proficiency, tweak the model to incorporate any process changes or your expectations for proficiency.  For example, in my role, the target proficiency may have been 2 at the start of the rollout, but 3 months later, the target is a 3.  Four months later, I’m expected to be a 4. 

Now you have an easy way to communicate expectations, by role, as well as provide the appropriate competency-based learning to support the changes.  And you will motivate each person to close their own skill gaps.

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What sequence of activities occur during the creation of a competency model?

During the competency model development process, you start by identifying the categories or big buckets of things that someone in a job role does, and then you unpack each category to identify the tasks within it.   This is “WHAT” someone in that role needs to do.  Once you have the tasks, you identify what it looks like to perform that task at various levels of proficiency.  This is “HOW” someone would do it.  Writing the behavioral examples is the longest part of the process.

Lastly, you identify the target level of proficiency, which is how you know whether a skill gap exists.  

If you are performing the process for a job family, you may have some jobs that don't perform a particular task at all, and others that overlap with varying levels of proficiency.

For example, a senior software developer and an entry level developer may share the need to “program in some language”.  However, the entry level person needs to be a Level 3 and the senior person needs to be a Level 4. Additionally, the senior software developer may have some team management responsibilities that an entry level person wouldn't have.

Here's a link to a free ATD webinar next month (October 18) with all the detail on that process.

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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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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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What is the difference between a competency model, skills matrix and competency-based learning?

A competency model is a list of all the skills that someone in a particular role needs to do at a target level in order to be successful in that role.  And success means that they are achieving their part of corporate strategy – what the organization needs them to do, very specifically.  Some people call a competency model as a “capability framework” or “skills rubric”.

A skills matrix or skills inventory is the output of a competency assessment, where people assess themselves against the competency model.  So 100 field services technicians assess their skills in their role, and a skills matrix or inventory results – you know who meets or exceeds the requirements for specific skills.  And you can then leverage that information to put the right people on the right projects, and form the best and most successful teams.   

The competency assessment will also identify who does not meet the requirements for specific skills – that is, it identifies skill gaps.  It is extremely common for each person, no matter how tenured or how experienced, to have one or more skill gaps in their role. You want to be able to provide each person with a personalized learning plan to help them close their gap.  This requires that you identify which learning activities can close which skill gaps… that’s competency-based learning.

Essentially, you are mapping the behaviors of the target level of proficiency to the learning objectives of the activities.  And in many cases, you create a skill practice, job aid, or checklist that will help someone be able to learn the right skills while they are doing their work.  We call this embedded or workflow learning (the “70” in the 70-20-10 model).  It’s effective because it’s not separate from the work that needs to be done.

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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 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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TD Magazine: Know the Gap

Copyright ATD

Copyright ATD

Check out the new issue of @ATD's TD Magazine.

Read how to use competency models and assessments to know what skill gaps exist by Cheryl Lasse.  Learn how to get started, why it works, and do's and don'ts of skills assessments.

Or download the podcast.

 

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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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The Holy Grail: Using competency models to establish learning program impact

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It’s long been the holy grail in learning to be able to measure its impact.  There are many variables that impact business results and the process often seems daunting.

What if you could break it down into components that would make this easier?  What would that look like?

First, you’d need to know what skills someone needs to be able to perform to be successful.  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.  So let’s say you have a competency model.

Next, you need a baseline.  This is where employees in a role assess themselves against the competency model the first time. 

To each person, a competency model paints a picture for what it looks like to be great in their role, and provides a roadmap to get there. As a result, it drives intrinsic motivation to mastery, so long as that model is actionable.  That means that each person must be able to easily access and assess themselves against their own model, and be provided with targeted recommendations for action. 

Therefore, the results of the assessment need to drive people to competency-based learning.  Once someone knows they have a gap, they are motivated to close it.  When they are presented with learning options that are specifically targeted to closing that gap, you are creating the best environment for learning transfer and impact to take place.  Each person will embrace the learning opportunity, because they believe it is relevant to them, their role, and their needs.  Sounds like adult learning theory, right?

Once they participate in these development opportunities (which they buy into, because they selected them based on gaps they themselves identified), they will re-assess against the competency model.  In a perfect world, this is quarterly, so that they are always thinking about their own development.

When you look at the assessment data over time, and you correlate that data with business metrics, you can measure improvement in both skills and results over time.  What’s more, you’ll know which skills are drivers of business results.  That is, if skills improve, but results do not, you may want to alter your competency model to focus on other skills that are more important to success.

This blueprint for measuring learning program impact may sound simplistic, but simplicity is what we as learning professionals need.  This will make it easy to both justify the business value of what we do, and also identify what changes we should make to our programs that aren’t producing the results we expect.

Learn how 3 different organizations, including ATD, applied this blueprint to learning programs and the resulting learning impact they established.  Join us in San Diego at ATD ICE on Sunday, May 6, at 11:45am EDT for the session called “7 Steps to Measure the Impact of Learning With a Competency Model”. 

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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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