Competency Frameworks

by Julia Miller

What is a competency?

Competencies emerged in the 1980s as a way of modelling effective performance and are now an accepted part of HR practice. Originally used mainly with senior levels within an organisation, they are now being introduced into clerical and administrative roles and, more recently, into non-office based staff.

What does ‘competency’ mean?

The terms competence, competency and being competent are commonly confused.

In everyday language, being competent means having sufficient skill and being capable. It is related to what people have to do. It is measured by output and is therefore very task-focused.

A competency, however, 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.


Competency: An ability based on an individual’s behaviour

A competency is, therefore, an action or behaviour that an individual demonstrates in their job role. It doesn’t just measure someone’s ability to carry out a particular task. It assesses how an individual combines their knowledge, skills and motivation within their organisation to become a high performer.

  • Competencies are identified by the means of behavioural statements.
  • The competency-based approach focuses on the individual’s skills, knowledge and behaviours rather than on their qualifications and experience.
  • Competencies are built up over time and are not innate. They involve a multiplicity of skills that are needed for jobs up to senior level.

Developing a competency for playing golf

To help you understand this a little better, let us look at how we could develop a competency for playing golf, using the best players as role models.

Let us list some of the knowledge, skills and abilities you might need to be able to play golf consistently to a good standard (if you are a golfer you might well be able to add some of your own!):

  • Knowledge of the proper grip
  • Knowledge of the proper stance
  • Knowledge of which clubs to select
  • General hand-arm dexterity
  • General locomotor skills, such as walking, twisting, swinging.

However, none of the above help define how the high performer uses these in practice to become an excellent player.

How can these skills be usefully turned into behavioural statements that can be measured – that is, a competency? Here are some possibilities, though again you might have some ideas of your own:

  • Scores less than 100 on a regular basis through the proper use of woods, irons and putter
  • Plays a wide variety of shots with skill
  • Can adapt to different conditions on a given course and play effectively on different types of courses
  • Demonstrates the proper technique and club selection.

All these statements are behaviourally based. They concern how the knowledge, skills and abilities are put into practice. They are evidenced through behaviour and results:

  1. To a particular standard (less than 100)
  2. At a particular frequency (regularly)
  3. In the appropriate way (proper use of...)
  4. Including reference, when appropriate, to attitude (use of the word adaptability).

Key features of competencies

There are usually between six and twenty competencies in a framework, with statements against each one identifying what is required for the job in terms of

  • Key behaviours
  • Key attitudes
  • Key knowledge
  • Key skills.

Each competency is modelled on how the people involved think the best performers actually do their work. The Examples page gives examples of business competencies which demonstrate the principles of behaviourally-based statements.

Using the principles

You can apply the golfing example within your own team or business, regardless of its size, without having to follow the entire design process and without involving consultants. The Designing a competency framework page takes you through the process of identifying what the behaviours are that would make the difference in your team or business.