Competency Frameworks

by Julia Miller

Tips and pitfalls

This page serves as a brief checklist of Dos and Don’ts, to be used either when you are designing your own competency framework or when you are talking to your consultants about the competencies they are designing with you.

Top tips

  1. The best competencies are motivators. Make sure that your competencies are achievable.
  2. The competencies need to be outcome-based; in other words, they need to be behaviours that can be demonstrated and recognised. They also need to be relevant to your department and your organisation.
  3. They need to clearly differentiate between the levels you can reach.
  4. Work with your people, who will be using and being measured by your competencies.
  5. Make them future-focused. The best competencies concentrate on what you want your organisation to be doing in the future, not repeating what you have done in the past.
  6. Use their design as an opportunity to focus on the chosen objectives of your team, department or organisation. Make sure you align your competencies with these objectives. Remember you might need to think about wider objectives within your sector, the government or statutory requirements.
  7. Concentrate on identifying the core skills, competencies and behaviours which matter for your business. You can then more easily use them in the future for performance reviews and skills gap analysis.
  8. Keep them flexible and make sure you review them.

Potential pitfalls

  1. Think carefully before you use off-the-shelf competencies: they might not reflect your organisation’s needs or contain the best technical competencies for your staff.
  2. If you are bringing in external consultants, make sure they analyse the jobs effectively. Don’t accept any guesswork on their part.
  3. Make sure your competency frameworks aren’t time-consuming to administer or they won’t be used to best advantage.
  4. Keep them fairly simple; it can be easy to get sucked into making them too detailed and over-complex.
  5. Don’t write too many and don’t define too many elements of behaviour.
  6. Be prepared to allow sufficient time to get it right: the analysis alone can take months.
  7. Don’t make the process too bureaucratic. You don’t want people spending working time gathering evidence for the framework – anecdotal evidence, gathered by talking to people, is often enough.
  8. Be aware that some behaviours that make the difference might in fact be difficult or even impossible to measure. Exercising judgement, for example, can often only be recognised in hindsight. Behaviours of this nature might not be easy to develop.
  9. Keep it practical: make sure the behaviours don’t favour the employees who are good in theory, but fail to deliver in practice.
  10. Check any discrimination legislation, such as the Disability Discrimination Act, to make sure that none of your competencies discriminate against a particular group (see Disability and also Discrimination).

What to beware of

The real strength of competencies lies in their developmental use, as building blocks for improvement. There are some things they cannot helpfully evaluate.

  1. Competency frameworks do not necessarily allow for difference: some of your best performers might challenge the status quo and push the boundaries, but you wouldn’t want a team of them!
  2. They may only represent one view of success.
  3. The emphasis on observable behaviour can mean you overlook other aspects of an individual, such as personality, their emotional intelligence or the fact that their job is highly interactive.
  4. Behaviours can be outward manifestations of a preferred thinking style.
  5. It can be difficult to get a consistent rating valuation.