Identifying Success Factors

Building Competency Models


What is a Competency Model?

A competency model describes a cluster of related knowledge, skills and attitudes that correlate with excellent performance in a particular context such as job, function, group or the entire organization and is used as a resource tool for implementing a particular set of competencies.

A competency model refers to an individual’s level of learned skills, knowledge and motivation. Competencies are observable behavioral acts that require a combination of these attributes to execute. They are demonstrated in a job context, and are influenced by an organization’s culture and work environment.

Measuring day-to-day baseline skills such as finishing assigned work on time, or answering the telephone politely are not included in a competency model.

Competencies include behaviors that demonstrate excellent performance. They do not focus on knowledge, but rather how it is applied. Focus is on the application of skills that produce superior results. In all cases competencies can be observed and agreed upon by one or more people.








Text Box: Knowledge
Competency: Uses an understanding of production flows to establish efficient system. 
Knowledge: Has thorough understanding of production systems.



Text Box:



Text Box: Skills
Competency: Production line functioning at scheduled capacity.
Skill: knows how to assemble personnel, equipment and systems


Text Box: Motivation
Competency: On-time delivery of system 
Motivation: Desire to do an excellent job.


Typical Models Used in Human Resource Management

A competency model is context dependent within the larger framework of the organization and the nature and pace of changes taking place within it. In most organizations the model needs to be focused on existing conditions (i.e. behavioral events) by identifying precedents for measuring excellent performance and future trends (i.e. critical incidents) and other validation techniques such as surveys and focus groups.

A competency model includes the key behaviors required for excellent performance in a particular role. Excellent performers demonstrate these behaviors more consistently than average or poor performers and these are the behaviors that drive a larger portion of an organization’s effectiveness. (See example below)


Leadership and Managerial Practices

Informing: Disseminating relevant information about decisions, plans, and activities to people who need the information to do their work

Clarifying: Assigning work, providing direction on how to do the work, and communicating a clear understanding of job responsibilities, task objectives, priorities, deadlines, and performance expectations

Monitoring: Gathering information about work activities and external conditions affecting the work, checking on the progress and quality of the work, and evaluating the performance of individuals and the effectiveness of the organizational unit

Planning: Determining long-term objectives and strategies, allocating resources according to priorities, determining how to use personnel and resources efficiently to accomplish a task or project, and determining how to improve coordination, production and effectiveness

Problem solving: Identifying work-related problems, analyzing problems in a systematic but timely manner, and acting decisively to implement solutions and resolve crises

Consulting: Checking with people before making changes that affect them, encouraging participation in decision making, and allowing others to influence decisions

Delegating: Assigning responsibilities to direct reports and giving them discretion and authority to carry them out

Influencing: Using influence techniques that appeal to reason, values, or emotion to generate enthusiasm for work, commitment to task objectives, or compliance with orders and requests

Recognizing: Giving praise and showing appreciation to others for effective performance, significant achievements, and special contributions

Rewarding: Providing tangible rewards such as pay increases or promotion for effective performance and demonstrated competence

Supporting: Acting friendly and considerate, being patient and helpful, and showing sympathy and support when someone is upset and anxious

Mentoring: Providing career counseling and facilitating someone’s skill development and career advancement

Networking: Socializing informally, developing contacts with people who are a source of information and support, and maintaining contacts through periodic visits, telephone calls, correspondence, and attendance at meetings and social events

Team building: Facilitating the constructive resolution of conflict, and encouraging cooperation, teamwork, and identification with the organizational unit


Why Competencies are Useful

Competency models follow the 80/20 theory (i.e., top performers deliver disproportionate performance. The competency model identifies superior actions and behaviors and breaks them down into their component parts. It is useful to the extent that it helps detail the components of superior performance, and helps to predict future performance if the components are mastered.

Competencies are a useful concept to the extent that they can help explain why some people perform better than others do, and what it will require to help people to improve their performance. When used effectively, the competency paradigm is a vehicle for managers trying to improve their organization.

Building a Competency Model

There are three widely used sources of data for competency models.

• Focus groups

• Critical behavior event interviews with superior performers

• Generic competency terminologies and definitions.

Focus Groups follow a structured process to get particulars about the job and personal skills, attributes, knowledge, experience needed for effectiveness. They pose series of questions and capture the ideas and scan them through emerging changes in the organization, market and technology. They provide a forum for input about jobs and allow it to absorb inputs from different organizational constituencies with stakeholders.

Behavioral event interviews involve in-dept probing of a significant number of broad events. It requires mastering a sophisticated probing strategy. They tape the conversations and transcribe so that it can be read and analyzed. Of course these steps significantly increase time and cost.

Generic Competency terminologies are available which are developed after expensive experience in competency modeling. They encounter the conceptual framework of generic competencies and behavioral indicators. Each competency could have 5-10 behavioral indicators.

A hybrid method involves an intuitive approach to developing a model and then collecting data and revising it based on the data analysis.

Regardless of the approach, it is important to focus on concrete, specific behaviors that can be taught or altered through training, coaching and other developmental approaches. Use interviews with outstanding performers to validate the behaviors contained in the model. Do they accurately describe the way these individuals carry out their work?

Behaviors necessary for effective performance vary from one business to another and within organizations from one role to another. Competency models help identify essential skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics needed for successful performance in a job and to insure that human resource systems focus on developing them.

Criteria for Developing Competency Models

• Identify the skills, knowledge, and characteristics employees need and to ensure that they understand what it takes to move up or over in the organization.

• Demonstrate that the identified behaviors and skills are proven predictors of success. You do this by identifying the traits that contribute to the organization’s top performers. It must not only define the competencies necessary for effective performance but also provide examples to illustrate when a particular competency is being demonstrated in a job.

• Competencies must be relevant to all members and levels of the workforce as related to the business objectives. For example: Customer Focus – to customer representative this may mean ability to establish rapport quickly with the customer, listening effectively, etc. To a sales manager, it might mean resolving customer problems, coordinating new product introductions, etc. Core competencies that apply to all functions can also relate to a function such as production, sales, customer service, administration, etc.

360 Degree Feedback

There is a growing trend toward the use of 360 feedback tools for development, appraisal, and compensation. The 360-feedback process involves collecting perceptions about a person’s behavior and its impact from the person’s boss, direct reports, colleagues, and fellow members of project teams, internal customers, and external customers.

360-degree feedback process is useful for describing how people actually carry out their work, but it is made more meaningful when focused on the behaviors necessary to perform the most effectively. Competency models help ensure that such feedback relates specifically to the competencies crucial to individual and organizational success.


In era of rapid change, the nature of people’s jobs change is fluid and dynamic. The need for acquiring and mastering new skills is constant. The only constant is change itself. Competency models provide a tool for determining exactly what skills are required to meet the different needs of today and the probable needs tomorrow.

Development Steps

  1. Identify design criteria for individuals and work units
  2. Interview job incumbents and informed observers.
  3. Develop interim competency model-analyze data for themes and patterns.
  4. Administer a validation survey to include a wider population and analyze results.
  5. Set up model for measuring impact and for refining and updating models over time, and administer a 360 Degree Feedback questionnaire to identify competencies that correlate with exceptional performance.
  6. Develop personal development plan that matches the opportunities available with the required competencies. Personal development plans need to be highly specific, starting with what improvements are needed and the action to be taken to in order to get there.
  7. At the end or at critical points, participants need to re-asses their competencies to discover whether or not they have improved. This can be done by repeating the 360 assessments or by providing a further mini-assessment.



Company Benefits

Management Benefits

Employee Benefits


A model is important because it provides a road map for the range of behaviors that produces excellent performance. It helps companies to "raise the bar" of performance expectations. Teams and individuals can align their behaviors with key organizational strategies and employees understand how to achieve expectations.