Competency Frameworks

by Julia Miller

In a nutshell

1. What is a competency?

A competency refers to how a task is achieved. It is measured by observing behaviour at work, using examples of how effective individuals behave to achieve their high levels of performance.

  • Competencies focus on behaviour, attitude, skills and knowledge.
  • They are composed of behavioural statements that are measurable.
  • They are not innate, but can develop and be developed over time.
  • There are usually between six and twenty competencies in a framework.


2. Designing a competency framework

Competency frameworks are groupings of behavioural statements. They can either be within a particular area of competence, such as leadership, or be specific to a role, such as nurse. The design process involves:

  • Scoping the work and defining a structure
  • Identifying the competencies through interview and focus groups or using more sophisticated techniques
  • Writing the statements, keeping them clear and behaviour focused
  • Piloting the framework with those who will be using it
  • Reviewing to keep them focused on the future needs of the organisation


3. Using a competency framework

The principal benefit of having a competency framework is that it helps spread the concept of best practice across your organisation. Over time it becomes integrated into your HR function to inform:

  • Career development
  • Pay for competencies
  • Selection and recruitment
  • Assessment/development centres evaluation/description
  • Job evaluation/description
  • Succession planning
  • Training needs for the organisation in the short and longer term
  • Performance management and appraisals.
  • You can also design and use your own personal competency framework.


4. Tips and pitfalls

This page gives you some tips, some of the common pitfalls and some key points you should be aware of when you are intending to use competencies for the first time.

  • Concentrate on the core skills
  • Keep your competency statements relevant
  • Make your competencies achievable
  • Don’t make them too complex or time-consuming
  • Make sure they don’t discriminate against particular groups of people
  • There will always be elements that competencies do not measure: remember personality will also have an impact


5. Examples

It is always easier when you have seen examples that other organisations have already used successfully. Some examples provided include:

  • Leadership competencies in the public sector
  • The use of domains to reflect different aspects of the framework, either regarding values or job roles
  • The five levels within a medical practice
  • A competency framework for technical managers
  • Some different ratings scales that can be used


6. Design your own competency framework

If you want to design your own competency framework, use the Examples as a basis, if you need some ideas to get started.

  • Remember to talk to your people about what they see as the behaviours that really make the difference at work.
  • What key core skills does your team need in order for it to be successful?
  • What kinds of behaviours might your team need to demonstrate to show that it has these core skills?
  • Are there any role models or other teams you could use as a benchmark for your own team to be successful?
  • What development areas might you need to think about to help your team achieve these behaviours on a consistent basis?
  • Keep focusing on behaviours, but remember competency statements also relate to skills, knowledge and attitude.
  • Make your statements outcome-based so that they are easier to measure.
  • Remember that it is likely that there will be some common leadership and business competencies.
  • Make sure you design your ratings scale so that you can get a variation in response, you don’t want everyone to get a middle score all the time.