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What Is a Competency Model: Complete Guide (& Free Templates)
Picture this: you're building a high-performing team. You need the right people with the right knowledge and skills.
But how do you know what "right" even means?
A competency model might be just what you need.
Competency models or competency frameworks are crucial in for hr professionals' toolkit. This powerful tool maps out the skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed for success in a role.
And we're giving you the complete guide to creating your competency model, plus a lot of examples and two free templates.
🧑 What is a competency?
Competencies are a combination of skills, knowledge, abilities, and other characteristics (commonly known as KSAOs) or personal attributes essential for success in a particular job, industry, or organization.
Competencies are observable, measurable, related to the workplace or academic environment, and are critical for a successful career.
The HR department and senior executives collectively decide and define the competencies required for each role within an organization.
Let’s suppose you’re a staffing manager at a renowned MNC.
A key competencies you need to master is workforce planning. Let's define it.
Definition: Workforce planning is the strategic process of analyzing current workforce capabilities, forecasting future workforce needs, and developing strategies to close the gap between the two.
- Collaborates with stakeholders to understand the organization's strategic objectives and workforce implications.
- Utilizes data-driven insights to make informed decisions and recommendations on workforce planning initiatives.
- Regularly reviews and adjusts workforce plans to account for changing business needs and market conditions.
Levels of mastery:
- Entry-level: Demonstrates a basic understanding of workforce planning concepts and contributes to the collection and analysis of workforce data. Supports talent acquisition and development initiatives under the guidance of more experienced team members.
- Mid-level: Independently conducts workforce planning analysis, identifies trends and gaps, and makes recommendations to address workforce needs. Leads talent acquisition and development initiatives and collaborates with cross-functional teams to implement workforce planning strategies.
- Senior: Oversees the organization's workforce planning efforts, ensuring alignment with strategic objectives and industry best practices. Develops and implements organization-wide talent acquisition, development, and retention strategies to support workforce planning goals.
🌟 What is a competency model?
A competency model is a framework that identifies and defines the key skills, knowledge, behaviors, and attributes required for effective job performance in a particular role or organization.
Your competency model can serve as a guide for various HR processes, such as:
- training and development;
- performance management (via competency-based performance reviews);
- succession planning.
The model will vary depending on the organization, industry, or career level.
A competency model defines:
- different types of competencies, such as role-specific (functional or technical), core competencies and leadership competencies.
- different levels of mastery that help employers determine how deep they need to go when looking into an individual's skills and abilities (e.g. intermediate, advanced or expert mastery of a specific competency).
- Organizational values: the shared principles and beliefs that unite all staff and guide them to make the right decisions.
A competency model helps organizations:
- Align their workforce with their strategic goals.
- Ensure that employees have the necessary competencies to achieve success.
- Everyone from entry-level to leadership is on the same page regarding expectations and career path expectations.
🕵️ What are the main components of effective competency models?
A competency model typically includes the following main components:
1. Competency categories
These are the broad categories of skills or behaviors that are being evaluated in the model.
The types of competencies that make up a competency model are: core, leadership, and technical/functional competencies.
Core competencies are the unique combination of skills, knowledge, and abilities that give an organization a competitive advantage in the market.
Core competencies are the fundamental strengths and capabilities that differentiate a company from its competitors and enable it to create value for its customers.
They are deeply ingrained in the organization's culture, processes, and operations and are difficult for competitors to replicate.
Some examples of core competencies are:
- ability to communicate clearly
- fostering diversity in the workplace
- critical thinking.
Managerial and leadership competencies
Managerial and leadership competencies are the skills, behaviors, and traits that individuals in managerial or leadership positions need to effectively lead teams and organizations.
Some common leadership competencies are:
- driving and managing change
- strategic thinking
- empowering others
- managing performance
2. Competency definitions
Each competency category is broken down into specific behaviors or skills that employees are expected to demonstrate.
These definitions provide managers and employees with a clear understanding of what is expected in each area.
3. Behavioral indicators
Behavioral indicators describe specific actions or behaviors that demonstrate that an employee has the desired competency. These indicators provide a clear and objective way to evaluate performance in each area.
This is an absolute must-have for your competency model.
4. Competency levels
Competency levels describe the different stages of mastery for each competency.
Typically, there are three to five levels, ranging from basic proficiency to expert proficiency.
This helps managers and employees understand where an employee falls on the spectrum and identify areas for improvement.
Discover Zavvy's core competencies matrix. For each of the 36 competencies, you will find 5 levels of mastery—basic, intermediate, advanced, proficient, expert
🤹 What are the different types of competency models?
- Job competency models define the specific skills and competencies necessary to perform a particular job or role within the organization.
- Core competency models identify the critical skills and competencies necessary for success in any job or role within the organization, such as innovation or adaptability.
- Leadership competency models focus on the competencies necessary for effective leadership, such as communication, strategic thinking, and decision-making.
- Functional competency models focus on competencies required for specific functions within an organization, such as sales or customer service.
- Technical competency models focus specifically on employees' technical skills and knowledge, such as proficiency in programming languages or software.
🏢 10 Competency model examples
One of the most important things while creating a competency model is finding examples of how renowned organizations use them. This will help you better understand how competency models work and how you can implement them in your organization.
Here are ten examples of competency models and resources that you can use as inspiration:
- World Health Organization (WHO) GLOBAL COMPETENCY MODEL
- The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Competency Framework
- IBM -The Data Science Skills Competency Model
- Yale - Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners
- Information Technology Competency Model
- UNESCO Competency Framework
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Competency Framework
- Deloitte - What key competencies are needed in the digital age?
- Deloitte - Leadership capability modeling Introducing the next-generation competency model (talks about moving from leadership "competency model" to "capability model")
- University of Pennsylvania - Competencies Used in the Performance Appraisal Program
🏆 What are the benefits of using a competency model?
Making recruitment more efficient
Competency models provide the basis for creating accurate and comprehensive job descriptions that outline the essential skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed for each role.
As a result, competency models enable HR teams and hiring managers to identify the right prospective employees during the recruitment process, ensuring that new hires possess the required competencies for their positions.
For example, a startup might expect a manager to find clients for the business. In contrast, a giant corporation only expects a manager to run a project successfully and supervise the employees.
A manager who has primarily worked with industry behemoths and has no prior experience in business development or acquiring clients might find it hard to adjust in that startup.
🏆 Learn how to write meaningful job descriptions as a foundation for role clarity and people development.
Setting standards for performance across the organization
Competency models provide a clear and objective framework for assessing employee performance. They enable:
- A clear and consistent set of expectations and specific skills for each employee for performing their job successfully.
- Managers to set performance goals that are aligned with organizational goals and needs.
- Reviewers (peers, managers, direct reports) to evaluate employees based on their ability to demonstrate the required competencies.
- Fair and consistent performance appraisals across the organization.
- Standard evaluation processes across levels ranging from an associate starting his career to a C-Suite executive.
- Your people's understanding of what “outstanding” performance is related to key competencies and mastery levels.
Giving employees a direction to achieve career growth
Each employee must understand the competencies required for their current position and be aware of the competencies needed for promotion.
Competency models help people identify areas for improvement. It helps ensure an organization's employees are all on the same page regarding their job expectations.
Once an organization understands which competencies are necessary for specific roles, it can create tailor-made training programs enabling career development.
Identifying gaps will help identify areas where employees need development to prepare them for future promotions or other roles.
Enabling better workforce planning
Identifying which competencies are required to succeed in a particular role is the first step towards projecting future staffing needs based on internal openings or planned retirements and growth.
Having a competency framework helps employers make better decisions regarding workforce planning.
Competency models act as a repository for all the competencies an organization has across multiple departments, seniority levels. It highlights the emerging and declining skills within the company.
It provides a blueprint for planning the availability of talent for future projects.
Improving succession planning
A competency framework makes it easier to promote people who have the skills required for the position, which leads to better succession planning. The model provides a guideline for employees on what the company expects from them.
It also helps identify skill gaps that need to be filled before being promoted.
🧰 How to create a competency model?
Developing a competency framework can be confusing, lengthy, and challenging.
Your struggle ends now.
1. Define the purpose of creating the competency model
Before you start creating a competency model, ask yourself:
- Who will use it? Only a specific department? Only leadership? The whole company?
- What are their needs? Assess performance? Develop specific competencies? Address competency gaps?
The purpose of your model will determine what information and specific competencies you should include in the competency model.
2. Research: Collect information from industry experts
An HR professional cannot have the intricate details and in-depth knowledge about every assigned industry and project.
That's why talking to industry experts is vital for creating practical competency frameworks and defining the critical competencies for your organization.
Some ways you can conduct research:
- Interviews: Have one-on-one interviews with industry experts and ask them about their work, responsibilities, attitude.
Tip #1: If you create a company-wide model, ensure that you interview people with varied skills, seniority levels and roles.
- Questionnaires: Creating a survey is one of the easiest ways to collect information. Questionnaires will also empower you to have more employee input than an interview. Your goal is to use your existing resources as much as possible.
Tip #2: Ask your highest performant employees what it takes to succeed in their role or industry.
- Take feedback from supervisors and management: If you're creating a competency model for a specific career level or industry, ask the expectations of respective supervisors.
Tip #3: For levelling, ask a team lead what he expects from an entry-level employee vs a senior employee.
- Observe: Sometimes, the best way to gather real-world insights is to observe from a distance. Make notes about the common competencies you notice in top employees.
- Internet: You can also collect information online or gather data from job advertisements. Please note that these sources might not provide you with a comprehensive and accurate view.
Create a draft competency model
After you've gathered all this information, it's time to put your findings together into an organized list that makes sense for everyone involved.
- Analyze the results of the research to determine if any patterns emerge.
For example, if most of the top performers acknowledge having "strong analytical thinking," then you can start with "Analytical Thinking" as an essential competency.
- Define the core competencies for your industry and its roles.
Tip: You can use the list of 325 competencies defined by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for reference.
- Start adding functional/role-specific competencies for the various departments, teams and roles.
- Draft a detailed description for each competency in the framework, including examples of using the competencies in action (i.e., what a person would do).
Additionally, you can look at the list of competency models given in the Competency Model Examples section.
Get the draft competency model reviewed
After the HR department has created the competency model, it's necessary to get it gather feedback from the leadership, industry experts, and employees who will be evaluated based on the model.
- Involve people from different demographics, genders, experiences, and career level in the review process.
- Start by reminding the participants about the primary goal behind creating the model.
- Ensure the employees and the leadership have the same understanding of different competencies.
- Evaluate whether any competency needs to be added or removed.
Implement the changes based on feedback
Based on the feedback received by all the stakeholders, make the changes that will result in the highest probability of achieving the purpose defined earlier.
- Add the missing competencies.
- Remove anything which has been marked as redundant.
- If suitable, edit the competency definitions, names that had different meanings for different stakeholders.
Are you looking for a shortcut?
Use Zavvy's role-based competency models. Our learning scientists already took care of the research for you!
You can easily delete competencies that do not match your needs and add any critical competencies that our template did not include. You can also tag each competency with your specific company values.
➡️ Zavvy: Your one-stop-shop for everything competency
Creating and using a competency model can be priceless for your organization.
But we know how much time and effort it takes to develop competency models, especially a comprehensive company-wide competency model.
Zavvy will help you build crystal-clear requirements for every role and level. You'll be able to move people from A to B with meaningful pathways based on unbiased data and motivate them along the way.
With Zavvy you will get:
- Role-based competency models, leadership competency models and core competency models to create structure and transparency in your company.
- Competency-based performance evaluations that inspire reflection and a growth mindset.
- Competency-based career progression frameworks showing employees what they need to get to the next level.
- Competency-based trainings: Zavvy provides hundreds of learning resources with competency tags, so your people will find the right training materials for their roles and needs. You'll enable them to grow and perform successfully at their specific jobs.
📅 Talk to our experts about creating a custom competency model for your organization.
What is the difference between competency and skill?
Skills are developed through specific training or practice and, in contrast to competencies, can be learned much faster.
Typing quickly or image editing (for example, cleaning up pictures) is a skill you can promptly learn after training or attending a course. But competencies, like analytical thinking or empathy, take time to develop.
At the same time, competency encompasses the skill set, knowledge, and abilities required to succeed in a particular role or industry. For example, a skill could be creating complex formulas in Excel, while a competency might be understanding complex data.
Competency = Knowledge + Skills + Abilities
What is the difference between competency and capability?
Competency refers to the skills, knowledge, and ability needed to fulfill current needs; capability focuses on developing and flexing to meet future needs.
An example of competency is time management. An example of capability is driving change and adapt to new environments and situations.
Evaluating competencies can help employers determine the most suitable job for an individual. On the other hand, capability evaluations will help organizations prepare and build a workforce that will adapt and grow with the company into the future. It focuses on the insight into an individual's career level and potential.
What are the 5 core competencies?
The five essential core competencies that are often cited for professional success are:
- Communication: The ability to convey information and ideas effectively, both verbally and in writing, and to listen actively to others.
- Problem-solving: The ability to analyze problems, identify root causes, and generate creative, practical, and effective solutions.
- Teamwork and collaboration: The ability to work effectively with others, contributing to group decision-making, sharing knowledge and expertise, and resolving conflicts constructively.
- Adaptability: The capacity to adjust to new situations, embrace change, and learn from experiences.
- Emotional intelligence: The ability to recognize, understand, and manage one's own emotions and those of others.
What are the three characteristics of core competencies?
The three must-have characteristics of core competencies are:
- Value creation: Core competencies provide a unique and significant value to customers, differentiating the organization from its competitors. They contribute to the development of products, services, or processes that are superior in quality, innovation, or cost-effectiveness.
- Difficult for competitors to imitate: Core competencies are deeply ingrained in the organization's culture, processes, and operations, making them challenging for competitors to copy or duplicate.
- Relevance to multiple products or services: Core competencies are those skills or capabilities that are central to an organization's ability to deliver multiple products or services successfully. They are broad and transferable skills that can be applied across different projects and services.