Developing Competencies for All Positions Throughout the Organization

POSTED: May. 03, 2017

Today we hear a great deal about including job competencies in our job descriptions. One question I hear often from students and practitioners in my SHRM certification course is: “exactly what are job competencies and how do they differ from job skills?” This is a great question and the confusion lies in the fact that competencies are, in fact, skills. The difference is that competencies are viewed as a set of skills that go beyond the day-to-day skills needed to complete the tasks associated with a job. Jobs of the past were generally static with a limited number of associated tasks. Good job descriptions focused on a narrowly defined set of tasks, duties and responsibilities needed to be performed on a regular basis. However, in today’s environment, positions are more fluid and dynamic and the set of skills required needs to be more flexible and include broader responsibilities.

By definition, competencies are a set of integrated knowledge, skills, abilities and attributes that translate into behaviors and help define, in greater detail, what is needed to successfully perform the job. They also speak to the types of behaviors an organization values. Defining a set of competencies for positions in your organization demonstrates to your employees the kinds of behaviors you feel are required to achieve the overarching goals supporting the organizations’ strategy. They can help your employees work more effectively individually and as a team, which will improve individual and team performance.

Well defined competencies that are aligned to the organization’s mission, vision and values can help your organization improve the effectiveness of your overall talent acquisition and management processes. Developing well-defined competencies should begin with the development of a comprehensive competency framework for your organization. Building a comprehensive competency framework can take a considerable amount of time and resources but the return on investment is worth it.

Steps for Building a Comprehensive Competency Framework

Competency sets can include two groups of competency types:

1) Core Competencies that define capabilities that are important across the organization and will be included as part of all jobs; or

2) Specific Job Competencies that define capabilities for specific roles within the organization and can be used to support many HR functions such as filling job vacancies, managing performance or evaluating compensation.

There are generally 5 steps in the competency development process.

STEP 1 – Understand Your Purpose

So, to begin, you need to define what your organization is trying to accomplish by incorporating competencies into your job descriptions. How you wish to use the competencies will determine how the framework should be structured, who should be involved in preparing it and how to determine its scope. Do you want to develop a framework that will incorporate all roles and functions or a specific group of employees? Will it cover all levels or exclude target groups such as executives? A framework that is exclusive to a specific group will focus exclusively on the roles and functions of that group while a framework that will be used across multiple functions will have a more general focus and include all roles and functions.

Step 2 – Determine Your Approach and Project Team

Next, you will need to determine the approach you would like to embrace. Whether you are going to develop a set of Core Competencies, Specific Job Competencies or both the process of developing the framework requires you to collect, define and assemble behaviors that reflect the values of your organization. This can be a tedious task and may require expertise outside of your own organization. Here are a few different approaches you can leverage to accomplish this activity.

  • Create your own general organizational framework, if you have in-house expertise, and leverage it across all sectors of your organization.
  • Acquire a pre-defined list of common, standard competencies and customize it to reflect the specific needs of your organization. These lists can be acquired from professional or industry associations.
  • Tap outside consulting group with expertise in competency development to work with you to develop your framework.

Once you have determined your approach and how you are going to use the competencies, you can create the competency framework team and begin to work toward developing your competency framework.

STEP 3 – Gather Competency Data

The main part of your competency framework will be collecting, evaluating and analyzing competency and job data. The focus of this step is two-fold;

1) to gather specific examples of behaviors you would like your employees to exhibit across the organization (i.e., leadership, team work, critical thinking, business acumen) and,

2) specific tasks and responsibilities related to each role.

The overall objective is to gather examples of competencies and behaviors that will lead to improved performance across the organization.

The process of gathering data for the specific tasks and responsibilities related to each role during this step follows a traditional job analysis process where you gather information from a sample of the workforce across all functions and levels of the organization you are including in the scope of your project.

STEP 4 – Build the Framework

During this stage, you will create a framework structure that identifies the competency by name and defines the behaviors that are associated with it. You can accomplish this by:

  • Grouping and categorizing competencies – read through the behavior statements you have collected and group them into categories. The goal is to have groups of general competencies such as decision-making and judgment, business acumen, interpersonal communication, etc.
  • Creating definitions to describe behaviors associated with each of the competencies surfaced. In some instances, organizations will create measurement scales to delineate accepted behaviors ranging from highly accepted to unacceptable.
  • Validate and revise the competencies as necessary – ask questions related to the behavior you have defined such as “Is this the type of behavior demonstrated by incumbents who are most successful in this role?”
  • Select those competencies that are most effective and align to the mission, vision and values of the organization.
  • Establish the metrics that will be used to determine whether the competencies are effective.

STEP 5 - Implement Your Competency Model

Once you have completed building your framework, add the competencies to the job descriptions of the roles you selected to be part of your competency initiative. Develop a communication plan to inform your employees about the new competency model, why it was developed, how it aligned to the mission, vision and values of the organization, and what is expected of them as you move forward. Discuss how the framework will be evaluated and updated, and the procedures you have established to accommodate changes.