Competency Model: The Ultimate Guide

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Last updated:
January 14, 2022
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Learn everything you need to know about competency models, how to create them, and how other companies are doing it.

Competency models or competency frameworks are crucial in your toolkit if you're an HR professional. But if you're not familiar with them, you may be wondering what competency models are, why they matter, and how to get started yourself.

In short, the competency model is a framework used by HR professionals and organizations to list and plan the competencies needed by employees to succeed in a specific job or industry. It helps identify and articulate employees' knowledge, skills, and behaviors to thrive in a particular role. 

HR can use a competency model for hiring, performance management, and learning & development (L&D). 

And the benefits of using a competency framework don’t end here.

It empowers L&D managers to create a clear roadmap for employees looking to develop their skills and advance their careers by identifying and documenting these competencies.

This article will explain what competency models are and how it makes the life of HR professionals easy and help organizations function smoothly.

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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.

Here are some common competencies:

  • Ability to communicate clearly. 
  • Respecting diversity in the workplace
  • Fostering teamwork
  • Empathy for others
  • Analytical thinking
  • Persuasion and influencing
  • Decision making

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. 

Some of the competencies you would need to succeed as a staffing manager are: Identifying resources, workforce planning, accurately identifying required skills, and fair assessment of candidates. 

Competencies might be a lot to take in right now, but don’t stop reading. By the time you reach the end of this article, you’ll have a strong understanding of competency models and how they can help with your career growth. 

What is the difference between competency and skill?

The difference between skills and competencies

Skills are developed through specific training or practice and, in contrast to competencies, can be learned much faster. 
Typing quickly or image editing 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?

The difference

Competency and capability are two terms that people often use interchangeably. However, these two terms refer to two different aspects of an individual or a team.

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 being good at time management. An example of capability would be an individual who can drive change and adapt to new environments and situations.

Businesses need to identify both the competencies and the capabilities of their employees. 

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. Capability evaluations also help understand how an individual will progress from one role to another in a defined period.

What is a competency model?

A competency model or a competency framework is a tool that HR professionals or organizations use to identify, measure, and develop employees' competencies

It is a framework that outlines the specific competencies a person needs to succeed in a particular role, industry, or within a company.

The model will vary depending on the organization, industry, or career level.

Competency models can be complex and very in-depth. They often include different levels, such as core and leadership competencies, that help employers determine how deep they need to go when looking into an individual's skills and abilities.

Companies can create an organizational structure by developing competency models that ensure everyone from entry-level to leadership is on the same page regarding expectations and career path expectations.

Competency models can include competencies related to different areas of expertise within an organization. For example, many organizations have a set of functions and skills that each employee must possess to do their job well at their core. These competencies make up the first layer or tier of their model.

But most competency models are created to help the human resource functions like:

  • Recruitment and Staffing
  • Learning & Development
  • Performance Management

Many organizations use industry-specific competency models based on specific requirements.

However, some competencies are more complex and require an employee to possess skills on a deeper level. For example, competencies like creativity or initiative fall under this category.

What are the main components of a competency model?

There is no standard list of components in a competency model. 

For example, a university or an international non-for-profit organization may have different expectations from its staff compared to the employees of a multinational company. 

Hence, the components of a competency model differ based on job requirements, organizations, industries, or career level.

Let's talk more about the components of a competency model based on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) competency framework.

The competency model has three components: Core Values, Core Competencies, and Managerial Competencies.

Let's briefly talk about each.

Core Values

They are the shared principles and beliefs that unite all staff and guide them to make the right decisions.

The following competencies fall under core values:

  • Commitment to the Organization
  • Integrity
  • Respect for Diversity 
  • Professionalism

Core Competencies

 It is a set of related knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for anyone working within the organization.

Some of the core competencies are:

  • Accountability
  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Innovation
  • Results focus
  • Planning and organizing
  • Knowledge sharing and continuous improvement

Managerial Competencies

These are applicable for employees assigned managerial work or have minimum work experience of seven years (P-4 level in United Nations).

Here is the list of common managerial competencies:

  • Driving and managing change
  • Strategic thinking
  • Making quality decisions 
  • Building partnerships 
  • Leading and empowering others
  • Managing performance 

Aforementioned, the competency model is created based on specific requirements of an organization or an industry. Even though the above model lists the commonly used competencies, it may differ across organizations.

Certain industries or roles that need specific functional and technical competencies may need a more detailed model.

Note: Each competency is elaborated in a competency model and includes the ideal behavior and skills the organization expects from the staff. You can check the detailed explanation of every competency listed above here.

What are the benefits of using a competency model?

The benefits of competency models

Helps recruiters create apt job descriptions

It is vital to create a clear, concrete list of required skills that a job aspirant should have before hiring. This ensures that candidates are hired based on their ability to complete specific tasks rather than how much time they have spent at previous jobs. 

Using a competency model gives HR and recruiters a strong understanding of skills, abilities, and knowledge employers and managers want in an ideal candidate.

A job description -- created based on a competency model --clearly outlines the employer's expectations. It filters out candidates who might "seem to have" the necessary competencies and work experience but turn out to be a misfit in later hiring stages.

Competency models set standards for performance across the organization.

A competency model lists the ideal competencies needed for each role, industry, or seniority level.

It highlights the employer's expectations from each employee - ranging from an associate starting his career to a C-Suite executive. 

For example, World Health Organization’s (WHO) competency model lists and explains the following leadership competencies: 

  • Driving WHO To A Successful Future
  • Promoting Innovation And Organizational Learning
  • Promoting WHO’s Position In Health Leadership

As you can see, these leadership competencies are specific to WHO. 

The competency model provides an objective, standardized way of looking at the competencies needed for success within an organization. It makes employees aware of what they need to do to achieve excellence, which helps organizations work towards their mission.

Competency frameworks give 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.

Take the example of the University of Pennsylvania’s performance appraisal program

The university uses the following competencies to assess its staff:

  • Accountability
  • Adaptability
  • Clear Communication
  • Initiative
  • Managing Resources
  • Organization/Project Management
  • Problem Solving
  • Service Orientation
  • Technology/Specialized Knowledge
  • Valuing Diversity
  • Working Collaboratively

Employees can make focused efforts to improve when they know the employer's parameters to assess their performance.

Competency models make recruitment efficient

Having a competency model empowers recruiters to make hiring decisions with greater accuracy. It provides a framework against which companies assess candidates. It allows for a deeper understanding of the competencies a particular role or industry requires to be successful. 

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.

Recruiters can also use competency models to match candidates' experience with the requirements of a role. For instance, an experienced candidate applying for a senior-level position will need to demonstrate they have developed more sophisticated competencies than those required at a junior level.

Competency models allow employers to identify patterns in successful employees' behaviors and use these patterns to assess candidates.

Performance Management

A competency model can help employers identify the skills and abilities that make an individual a good fit for a promotion. The competency model defines the skills and knowledge that are most important for a particular position. Using this competency model, managers can select the best people for the roles.

When an organization promotes employees to a higher level in management, there is an increased need for good communication and decision-making skills. Businesses that consider what it takes to be successful at every step of the promotions ladder can develop talent within their organization.

The competency model benefits the organization by promoting individuals who possess the skills required for the position. 

The model also tells employees what “outstanding” performance is.

Furthermore, it can help identify areas where employees need development to prepare for future promotions.

Helps in identifying skill gaps and plan employee learning & development 

Once an organization understands which competencies are necessary for specific roles, it can create tailor-made training programs.

Competency models provide a solid foundation for designing these types of training initiatives. 

Additionally, this information helps employees self-assess and understand their strengths and weaknesses. When employees know the competencies required for a specific position, they can better identify why they might be a good or bad fit for it.

An organization can also use competency models to understand the potential gaps in its workforce. Identifying gaps will help identify areas where employees need development to prepare them for future promotions or other roles.

Improves succession planning

Many organizations struggle to build a talent retention strategy that retains individuals at all levels. 

A competency model can help improve the organization's talent retention by increasing employees' awareness of what it takes to be successful in their role. It tells the workers how their work would look at the next career level if they stay with the company.

The 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.

Competency models help in 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. 

How to create a competency model?

Creating a competency model can be a long and frustrating process for the HR department. 

You can scour the internet for your competitors' models – most of which are a little outdated – and turn the pages of countless books full of theoretical knowledge. But it doesn’t make much difference.

Developing a competency framework can be confusing, lengthy, and challenging.

Your struggle ends now.

This section will talk about how you can create a competency model to simplify your recruiting process, assess employees effectively, and improve overall productivity throughout your organization.

The five main steps of creating a competency model are:

  1. Define the purpose of developing the competency model.
  2. Research: Collect information from industry experts.
  3. Create a draft competency model. 
  4. Get the draft competency model reviewed.
  5. Implement the changes based on feedback. 

Define the purpose of creating the competency model

Before you start creating a competency model, ask yourself:

  • Who will use it? 
  • What are their needs? 
  • Are they looking to develop leaders, or do they want to improve employee performance? 

The organization must decide if the model will be used for performance management, professional development, career advancement, or other goals. 

Suppose you want to improve communication between departments. Then, it would be wise to add "Effective Communication" as a competency. 

If improving sales is your goal, listening and understanding customer feedback would be an essential competency in your model. 

The purpose of your model will determine what information and specific competencies you should include in the competency model.

Research: Collect information from industry experts.

An HR professional cannot have the intricate details and in-depth knowledge about every assigned industry and project.

It's not the job of an HR, for example, to know coding, finance, or anything that doesn't involve the subdomains of Human Resource Management.  

That's why talking to industry experts is vital for creating practical competency frameworks. 

Ask the employees with top ratings what it takes to succeed in their role or industry, know their day-to-day jobs, how they feel about their work, and what they hope to achieve in the future.

Some ways you can conduct research:

  1. Interviews: Have one-on-one interviews with industry experts and ask them about their work, responsibilities, attitude.
    If you create a company-wide model, ensure that you interview people with varied skills and experience. 
  1. 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. 
  1. 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.
    For example, if you're creating a competence model for fresh college graduates, ask a team lead what he expects from an entry-level employee. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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. 

  1. Analyze the results of the research to determine if any patterns emerge.
  1. Specify which competencies are most important for your industry and its roles. You may also want to consider adding additional competencies that you believe will help your employees and organization succeed.

For example, if most of the top performers in your survey acknowledge having "strong analytical thinking," then you can start with "Analytical Thinking" as an essential competency. 

  1. 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).

You can use the list of 325 competencies defined by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for reference. 

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 reviewed by the leadership, industry experts, and employees who will be evaluated based on the model. 

  • Involve people from different demographics, gender, 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. 
  • Ascertain 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. For example: 

  • 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. 

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:

  1. World Health Organization (WHO) GLOBAL COMPETENCY MODEL  
  2. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Competency Framework
  3. IBM -The Data Science Skills Competency Model
  4. Yale - Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners
  5. Information Technology Competency Model
  6. UNESCO Competency Framework
  7. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Competency Framework
  8. Deloitte - What key competencies are needed in the digital age?
  9. Deloitte - Leadership capability modeling Introducing the next-generation competency model (talks about moving from leadership "competency model" to "capability model")
  10. University of Pennsylvania - Competencies Used in the Performance Appraisal Program

We have added already referenced competency models for your convenience. 

There are many different examples of competency models out there, so be sure to explore and find the one that is best suited for your organization.


Creating and using a competency model can be valuable for every organization. They provide a clear understanding of what is required for success in specific roles and identify the areas employees need to develop to progress in their careers. 

As an employer, you can use competency models to create custom training programs that meet the needs of your workforce. Meanwhile, employees can use competency frameworks to identify their strengths and weaknesses and understand which competencies they need to focus on to achieve their goals.

By following these general steps, you can create a model to help your people achieve their specific goals and improve overall performance. Once you implement it, your employees will be empowered to periodically assess whether the model is working and needs to be adjusted.

One of the secrets to a successful and faster employee development is: streamlining your processes. From customizing your own plan, to tracking its progress – centralize your entire development program with Zavvy. Talk to our experts about how you can grow and develop your people in the right direction


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