Competency Model

HR people talk endlessly about skills, but success at work covers a lot of additional territories. A competency model is a way of organizing all of the elements that contribute to productivity, engagement, and retention for a specific role–or even for an entire company. 

What Is a Competency Model?

First, let’s define “competency.” Competency in the workplace is a combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other individual characteristics (known as “KSAO”) that enable an employee to be successful in their role. Naturally, employees come with part of their KSAO already set. This includes their personality, beliefs, motivation, experience, and education. Once employed, their KSAO changes as the worker gains more knowledge of the job, learns skills to increase proficiency and becomes a veteran who can be relied upon for expertise. For this reason, competency changes over time. 

A competency model is a tool used by HR to figure out if an employee’s KSAO is a match for their current or future role. In addition, models can also be used to assess an entire company. Competency models can be based on a template, but many organizations create their own. This is because each company has a different set of roles as well as different ideas about the skills and abilities that are important for success.

What Can You Analyze with a Competency Model?

Models can be built for any function that has a human element. Common applications include performance assessment, employee recruitment, and career management programs. On a macro level, competency models are applied in four areas: 


In keeping with ideas like organizational culture, most companies have a specific way of doing business. Such methods are often related to a set of skills and attitudes that both develop over time and are added over the short term as the organization updates its strategy. Models are used to determine these competencies, check to what level employees have them, and track their development over time. 


Most roles in a company are connected with a certain function. For example, programmers need to know certain languages, while bookkeepers must have good organizational and time management skills. Competency models, in this respect, are similar to a skills gap analysis by showing the details of every position and how each employee fits.  


Success at a job goes beyond skills. Personality and motivation are also critical factors. For example, a person with a high level of agreeableness and conscientiousness is probably a good match for a customer service position, while technically-oriented and introverted people often do well at programming jobs. Competency frameworks list these traits for respective roles. 


It’s often the leaders within a company that are holding it together, and they need a special set of abilities. A competency model can be based on the traits of the most successful leaders in an organization as a template for similar skills and personalities. 

How Do You Create a Competency Model?

There are many ways of building a model; it all depends on the goals. Let’s take a high-level look at guidelines from the US Department of Labor, which supplies both templates and DIY setups. One of their frameworks is meant to analyze employee workplace functionality. This model assumes that competency can be assessed on three levels:

  • Foundational: education, personality
  • Industry-related: general characteristics and those specific to the industrial sector
  • Occupational: managerial, technical, and knowledge skills

In comparison, SHRM has a different model that is used to predict the success of an HR professional. It lists nine competencies, such as business acumen, communication, and ethics. 

Although there is a considerable variety of elements for each framework, they all tend to have the following characteristics:

  • Name of a specific competency, such as leadership
  • Descriptions of activities, skills, and behavior – in this example, those associated with leadership, such as communication skills, empathy, and critical thinking
  • Layout in a visual form

Managing Competency Models

Once the goal has been determined, the framework is developed through a number of steps:

Research – Start by looking through general templates, industry-specific models, and perhaps at a consultant’s advice to understand best practices, layouts, and application processes.

Construction – Through interviews with stakeholders, and by examining HR records and job profiles, list the competencies connected to the goal. For example, if you are building a framework around a sales position, detail the related KSAO. 

Application – HR begins collecting information about the entity that is being assessed, and how much it meets competency standards. Information can be gathered through meetings, surveys, and by reporting on key performance indicators related to each competency factor. 

Results – Chances are that employees and organizations will not meet every standard. At that point, it’s up to HR and management to implement whatever steps are needed to improve. This could include employee development programs, a change management initiative, or a new leadership strategy.  

Show HR Competency with GrowthSpace

One of the attributes of a great HR department is the ability to provide L&D courses for specific skills and employees. But for large organizations, that’s a tall order.

GrowthSpace is the answer for companies with complex development needs and a long list of vital competencies. With GrowthSpace, organizations can build capabilities ranging from technical skills to empathetic leadership. Just as importantly, GrowthSpace is scalable and automates the entire L&D experience for both employees and HR practitioners.  

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