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Are Competency Models Dead?

Competency models have been around for a long time; I was lucky enough to start my career studying and working with David McClelland, and then later my first job in this industry working at the Hay Group, which is well known for their expertise in competency model building. While there, I helped build several models for leading organizations and got to see best practices in implementation and integration with human capital processes and systems. Also, as part of several organizations, within learning and organization development departments, I’ve built a few more and I’ve gotten to see a variety of methods that others use to build and implement them. The lessons I’ve learned:

Be really clear on your end goal. What outcome are you are looking to enable (e.g., general leadership, or the ability to be successful within the company culture)?

Don’t try to have the model do too many things. People leadership, general leadership, functional capability, global leadership, transformational leadership, etc. This is highly related to the first point above.

The closer to actual role performance the better. For example I recently built one for Sales professionals. Because it was intimately connected to the actual selling model they were looking to embed, it was received as highly credible.

Based on credible stories. Have competencies come from real stories; anchor them to those stories and use them to internally market their value.

Simplicity over thoroughness. The fewer competencies and models the better. We don’t want to have multiple models, but in order to avoid the dreaded and common problem of under-utilization, be sure to balance specificity with the ability to scale.

They are not dead, but I am seeing greater expectations for their value. Similar to recent trends calling for the dismantling of performance management processes, business leaders are under increased pressure to create core business value and thereby questioning everything that does not directly do that.

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