Are You Wasting Time On Competency Models?

Building A Capability ModelDo You Really Need A Competency Model?

I’ve had a lot of conversations about competency models and I’ve built a lot of them but frankly, I’m not sure I have seen the value-add. When I asked our clients why they are considering investing the time to build a competency model, here are the responses I have heard. 

  • ‘We need a consistent list of things employees are expected to work on’
  • ‘We need to be consistent at what we’re measuring our people on’
  • ‘We need to figure out what to focus on from a development standpoint’
  • ‘We need to make our job descriptions consistent’
  • ‘We need a way to evaluate our people’

You may have noticed a theme: consistency. Companies are seeking ways of identifying what employees should be working on and measured them in a consistent way. 

The question I have is: How do you know if you are being consistent about the right things? If we are consistent, but we still aren’t focused on what is really needed to drive the strategy, what good is that? We haven’t accomplished anything.

Most competency models are so general that you could argue things like leadership, communication, and presentation skills are needed everywhere. So when you think about the work involved in building something that encompasses motherhood and apple pie, do you really need to invest in a competency model?

Start With A Capability Model Instead

I believe the desire for a competency model is hiding a much bigger issue: employees don’t know what capabilities they should be building and HR doesn’t know how to help them figure it out. What I’ve discovered is that without a clear understanding of the capabilities the organization must deliver to drive its strategy, this question is very difficult to answer; with or without a competency model. I would also argue that a competency model that is NOT focused on driving the right organizational capabilities will actually do more harm than good because it takes the focus away from what’s really important and directs time and resources away from business strategy.

How To Build A Capability Model To Drive Strategy

So if you are asking any of the questions above, I recommend taking a step back. Invest your time, first in building a capability model. 

  1. Identify Key Capabilities

    Focus on what the organization needs to be able to do to drive the strategy. If you are in HR, this will challenge your business clients and it will sound strange coming from HR if HR has not been particularly strategic or business-focused. It will also ensure that both you and the business are focused on driving the capabilities required to execute your strategy

  2. Assess Capabilities

    Once you have the capabilities identified, assess them. Not all capabilities contribute the same amount of value to strategy. Some are enabling but not strategic. Some are a ‘ticket to entry’ and some are strategic differentiators. Consider how effective and efficient you are at each of them.

  3. Prioritize Capabilities

    Once you understand which capabilities need work and what is most meaningful, build your priorities to focus on the ones that are high value adds or major strategic differentiators. These capabilities should also provide insight into the competencies people should be focused on. Anything that doesn’t drive your strategy is at best a low priority, at worse, a distraction. 

Once you have identified which capabilities to prioritize, you are then ready to build a capability model that drives strategy. Only then does your competency model comes into play. An effective competency model is one that aligns with your capability model to ensure that employee development and measurement are aligned to your strategy. Now that’s strategic!  

If your team can use help identifying organizational and functional capabilities required to deliver your strategy, call us. It’s what we do.

1 Comment

  1. Rocki-Lee DeWitt on December 3, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Start with an inventory of what resources you have, ask if they are valuable, rare, hard to copy, etc. From that you understand the “risks” associated with your capabilities.

    Competencies are complex combination of capabilities. As both capabilities and competencies depend upon the resources, “count your chickens and decide whether they will lay eggs or fly the coop.”