How to design an effective competency framework

Insight shared by:

Kiddy & Partners

It’s claimed that 89% of organisations defined as ‘best-in-class’ have core competencies defined for all roles (versus 48% for all other companies) . A competency framework is ‘a structure that sets out and defines each individual competency (such as problem-solving or people management) required by individuals working in an organisation or part of an organisation’. In other words, what constitutes effective performance.

It is a key tool for selection, development, and performance management which helps to translate your organisation’s strategy and values into expected employee behaviours. Since research shows that two of the top five challenges facing organisations today are aligning people strategies to business objectives and driving culture change , competency frameworks offer the much needed ‘glue’ to bind people and strategy together.

As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done; measurement of behaviours against a well-designed competency framework helps to align focus and motivation to the attitudes, skills, and behaviours needed to achieve an organisation’s strategy. It provides employees with greater clarity over what’s expected from them, reduces subjectivity in performance ratings, and provides transparency in the performance management process.

The down-side is that designing an effective competency framework is harder than it might seem. In our experience, over several decades and reviewing hundreds of our competency frameworks, here are our top ten tips for ensuring that your competency framework delivers value.

Top tips to ensure that your competency framework delivers value

  1. User-friendly: Make it short, concise, and easy to understand. Avoid language that is too ‘HR-like’, which doesn’t reflect the commercial challenges seen by those in the business.
  2. Specific: Avoid descriptors that are generic or too broad. The framework must capture the essence of what makes your organisation distinct from other organisations and even other parts of your organisation.
  3. Differentiating: A good competency framework should clearly delineate between levels for each competency.
  4. Objective: When designing your framework, ensure it balances behaviours and deliverables so that using it to rate and measure people becomes and easier and less subjective.
  5. Future-looking: Describe the skill set necessary for success now but also in the future.
  6. Stretching: Ensure that the described competencies are appropriately challenging at each level.
  7. Comprehensive: Cover all of the key behaviours and deliverables necessary for success.
  8. Independent: Limit the overlap between competencies so they can be used to assess an individual’s performance across the different competencies.
  9. Intuitive: Ensure the indicators reflect their competency headings or labels; that they seem to ‘make sense’.
  10. Inclusive: Ensure the content and language avoid discrimination – both explicit and implicit – and promote inclusivity.

Once created, give thought to how the competencies are going to be used, consistently, across talent management systems, and implement a process to evaluate what is working and not working, then revise and re-evaluate. Although these basic principles sound obvious, they’re often overlooked in practice, compromising their potential value.