How to Create Competency Development Plans for a Stronger Workforce
"A company is only as good as the people it keeps" is a famous quote from American businesswoman Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. It highlights how a company's competitive advantage is its employees.
But a highly-skilled workforce doesn't happen by chance. It's a product of strategic competency development plans that foster skill enhancement and continuous learning.
This article will show you:
- How to create a competency development plan.
- Some concrete examples of what a competency development plan would look like.
- The many benefits that come with it.
We also included a competency development plan template to kickstart your process.
🌱 What is a competency development plan?
A competency development plan is a blueprint for bridging the gap between an employee's current abilities and the skills needed to perform in their role.
Competency development plans spell out the strategy for getting them from where they are to their maximum potential.
‼️ Having a group of employees take part in a workshop is not a competency development plan. It may be a step in the plan. Still, short-sighted training lacks the long-term benefits of a true competency and career development plan.
🆚 Check out our in-depth discussion of training vs development.
There is more to talent management than just hiring the best candidate. People operations pros know the difference between an employee's competencies and potential.
While one candidate might come to the table with more experience, another might have the building blocks to be a stronger choice in the long run.
Similarly, it is often wiser to hire from within, promoting current employees to fill higher positions, than simply hiring a senior candidate. This approach inspires your workforce and often saves money.
Knowing which employees have what it takes to rise above their station and how to support their growth is a powerful skill for talent management.
🪜 6 Steps to creating a competency development plan
An effective competency development plan defines what core competencies to focus on and how to improve them.
Below we will explain each of these steps you need to go through for strategic competency development planning and provide examples of how they might look in a real-world scenario.
Identifying core competencies
Before you can get started, you need to know where you are going. It is often easiest to decide what competencies to target first, then create a plan to get there.
Competency mapping is a great exercise to organize the skills your company needs.
For example, you may want to level up your middle management by focusing on communication, project management, and leadership skills (as broad examples).
Assessing current mastery levels
Once you know which employee skills and abilities you want to focus on, you need to conduct a competency-based performance appraisal to gauge each subject's current level of competence.
How you assess mastery will depend entirely upon the type of competencies being measured and the time and resources available.
📝 Download our free competency-based performance review template.
For example, you might have your middle managers take a multiple-choice quiz about how to respond to their subordinates during a confrontation to test communication.
You might have subordinates rate the target manager's leadership skills on a scale of 1-10.
Or you might look at how often a manager's team misses deadlines to gauge project management abilities.
📏 Check our analysis on evaluating manager performance: we included multiple performance metrics and leadership performance evaluation techniques.
Setting developmental goals
Once you understand the current status of the subject(s) and the competencies they will be mastering, you need to set a finish line. You don't need subjects to ace every competency you have chosen to focus on; The goal is realistic expectations that lead to meaningful improvement.
For example, you want your managers to demonstrate an acceptable level of communication skill that does not provoke further confrontation. You also want a manager's team to have faith in their leadership. Lastly, guidelines for an acceptable number of missed quarterly deadlines may be needed to keep managers on track and accountable.
➡️ Learn more about the benefits of competency-based learning.
Creating a timeline and milestones
Once you set the starting positions and finish line, you'll want to set some checkpoints along the way. Monitoring progress and milestones can be as simple as setting halfway points to see who you should offer additional assistance to ensure everyone reaches their goals.
For example, you might have managers retake a multiple-choice communication test after further training. Or have subordinates reevaluate their manager's leadership after a suitable amount of time to see if scores have improved.
Lastly, has the frequency of missed deadlines decreased since you began?
Setting the training and development budget
Depending on the competencies being developed, you may need little to no training (improving communication and attitude) or a massive budget (having employees certified or pursuing higher education).
It is crucial to define your training budget before you get started, lest you find yourself part-way invested and unable to reach the finish line.
In this example, there is virtually no budget save for a small amount of time spent during employee assessments and by HR to measure competency.
💡 To support the development of specific competencies, check out our guide on creating training materials.
Once your plan is set, and everything is in motion, reviewing progress at every milestone is vital. You want to ensure everyone is on track and matching pace with the timeline.
For example, if your managers scored better on the follow-up communication quiz, that's great!
But what if their leadership scores, as told by their subordinates, aren't improving? Then they may not be developing their skills in a practical way.
And what if every manager is now operating within the new deadline threshold? Then, it's time to congratulate them to encourage their continued success.
💡 Check out more employee development plan examples.
🧠 Note: Zavvy can centralize all this information in one place, saving you from managing hundreds of individual files about competencies, goals, budgets, etc.
🏆 5 Benefits of a competency development plan
Identifying skill gaps
A competency development plan starts by looking at an individual's current competencies. Only by understanding an employee's current abilities can you know what areas they will most benefit from improving.
Generic training delivered en masse may be wasting resources by teaching employees who already possess that knowledge or don't need it in their role. A skill gap analysis measures an individual's current capabilities as a starting point for their growth strategy.
When a senior member leaves the company, planned or unexpectedly, it is up to human resources to fill that position. A best practice is to look at internal options before external ones, but how do you know who would make a good candidate?
Competency development is vital for succession planning as it allows you to take a replacement candidate and groom them to be an ideal successor. This often includes training directly with their predecessor and improving key competencies to a suitable level.
Improving employee engagement
Believe it or not, most employees enjoy learning and want to be good at their job. Competency development plans can help employees grow personally and professionally, making them more invested in their careers.
By setting milestones through competency development planning, employees have goals to work toward and learn valuable new skills. This is a great way to engage your workforce, offer support, and combat imposter syndrome.
Especially in large organizations, employees sometimes don't see the big picture outside their cubicles. They focus on their responsibilities and lose sight of company goals.
Through the training and meetings that come with competency development planning, people operations can align the duties of an individual with organizational goals. Knowing how to do one's job is essential, but understanding why it is important elevates your workforce's ability to contribute to big-picture objectives.
Improving employee performance
Obviously, the goal of competency development planning is to make employees more competent. It can be easy to get caught up in the people operations side of things, chasing numbers and hitting milestones.
Still, at the end of the day, the result of a competency development program is to teach employees new skills and boost their performance.
Improving employee performance is one of the most effective ways people operations can add value to their organization. Competency development planning is the means to that end.
📝 Free competency development plan template
Now that you better understand what a competency development plan is and how they are instrumental to upskilling your workforce, you're ready to start creating your own!
Competency development plans can vary significantly for companies and even employees within a single organization. Still, they tend to follow a similar framework.
They all have to address the following:
- Identify the employee.
- List the competencies to improve.
- Set goals and milestones.
- Define a time frame.
- Lay the path to achieving those goals.
- List the resources required to get closer to the destination.
- Progress and follow-up.
➡️ Feel free to use our competency development plan to get started. It breaks down each category into an easy-to-follow list for people operations.
You can adjust it to suit your organization's unique needs.
🌟 3 Competency development plan examples
The ideas behind competency development planning all sound great in theory (you might even think it sounds like common sense). Still, the real challenge is turning these ideas into a concrete action plan that earns meaningful results.
Below are three examples that show a competency development plan in action.
Example 1: Middle management core skills
For example 1, we will use middle managers as a target group. Leadership development plans help a company run smoothly by strengthening those responsible for leading others.
Here's what a leadership competency development plan might look like.
Target subjects: Middle managers
Competencies to develop: 1) Communication, 2) Leadership, 3) Project Management
💼 For more ideas of key leadership competencies, explore our leadership competency matrix.
Timeline and milestones: HR would like to see a marked improvement in all three categories for Manager A. Manager B should focus on reducing missed deadlines. In contrast, Manager C should focus on leadership ratings from their subordinates. Scores will be reassessed after 3 months to measure progress, with target scores expected to be reached after 6 months.
In this simplified example, people operations can easily measure progress at the halfway mark to analyze improvement. For example, Manager A needs to score 22% better on his communication score, so his reassessment at the halfway mark should be at least 11% higher. If it isn't, extra support should be provided by people ops.
Likewise, Managers A and C need a leadership rating improvement of 2.5 points. Their reassessment at the halfway mark will hopefully be 1.25 points or better.
Note that the target scores for Manager B's leadership score and Manager C's deadlines missed are not the same as for the other managers. This encourages them to maintain high performance without setting unrealistic expectations for the other managers.
Example 2: Freelance content marketers
In example 2, we will look at a very different category of employees: freelancers.
Contract workers are different than standard employees in a lot of ways. However, they often still need the support of people operations to perform their best. In the event of remote content marketers, competency assessment is one of the best ways to manage such a team. Here's how:
Target Subjects: Freelance content writers
Competencies to develop: Meeting our content quality standards
Goals and expectations: Each article should meet the following requirements:
- A frase score of 80+ (for SEO)
- A Grammarly score of 90+ with a plagiarism score of <5%
- An AI detection score of 80+ from Contest at Scale
Notes: These basic metrics ensure that our content contributors submit quality work without relying on AI.
Content writers whose submissions do not consistently meet these requirements should receive your in-house guides.
Schedule a 1-on-1 call to discuss and offer support if they struggle. You might need to consider letting them go if they still cannot meet your standards.
In this example, freelancers are held to higher expectations and seen more as replaceable assets than long-term investments. By setting goals and monitoring progress, people operations can offer limited support to those whose quality falls below the company's expectations.
Example 3: Company-wide soft skills workshop
In example 3, we will look at a set of virtually universal soft skills and a program for improving them company-wide. A formulaic approach will be much more efficient for a large-scale look at generic competencies. Our competency development plan template is perfect for such a scenario.
Name: Bob Smith
Competency 1: Communication
Current level: Intermediate (2)
Goal: Advanced (3)
Competency 2: Teamwork
Current level: Beginner (1)
Goal: Advanced (3)
Time frame: Quarterly improvement
Start Date: July 1st
End Date: October 1st
Start Date: July 1st
End Date: January 1st
Competency 1: Email etiquette workshop
Competency 2: Team bonding exercises and after-work social events
Competency 1: Email etiquette class
Competency 2: Sponsored after work outings such as food and bowling
Monitoring progress: Reassess quarterly
As you can see in this slightly modified template, people operations would like to improve the soft skills of communication and teamwork across the entire company. In this example, Bob from accounting could use a little help in his communication skills and a lot of support in collaboration!
Meanwhile, here is a look at his coworker Barb who has proven very competent in these categories:
Name: Barb Johnson
Competency 1: Communication
Current level: Advanced (3)
Goal: Advanced (3)
Competency 2: Teamwork
Current level: Expert (4)
Goal: Advanced (3)
Time Frame: No assistance needed (welcome at workshops and social outings!)
➡️ Prioritize people over papers with Zavvy
We call Zavvy the people enablement platform because it helps everyone be their best.
While the tools are primarily aimed at human resources departments, they aim to empower employees at every level to reach their full potential.
Our employee development software uses AI breakthroughs to recommend optimal growth paths with minimal oversight.
Simply activate growth plans with Zavvy AI to receive automatic recommendations for each employee based on their career path, competency framework, and feedback results.
ZAVVY gif - development plans + AI
Employees can also ask Zavvy AI for help. They input their development goal and timeframe, and the AI will give them a growth plan with specific recommendations (a mix of formal, on-the-job, and social learning).
📅 To learn more about how Zavvy's people enablement platform can help your organization, contact us to schedule a free demo.