Why is your competency model sitting on a shelf?

Updated on December 17, 2023
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More than likely, if you’re reading this, your organization has at some point designed a competency model intended to identify the key skills, attributes, and behaviors required for effective leadership. These models answer the question, “what does leadership look like here?” When built well, these models are empirically based, considering the organization’s culture, what differentiates the organization from its competitors, and what kind of behaviors leaders need to demonstrate to effectively execute strategic goals. Sounds reasonable, right?

Oftentimes, organizations either do not have a leadership competency model, or if they do, they aren’t using it. We find that, while carefully developed, the models may sit unused until a new Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) comes on board or there becomes a pressing need to fill a senior leadership position as part of a succession plan.   Below we share goals of competency models and simple steps to reinvigorate your model (or design one) to align your talent strategy to meet your organization’s goals. 

What is a competency model? 

A competency model defines the skills, knowledge, abilities, and other attributes that are necessary to succeed in a particular role or organization. These models become a foundational element for identifying, assessing and acquiring talent for promotion or development, identifying successors for a particular position, and managing team member performance. Ideally, competency models become a framework for all things talent.   As your organization’s goals and desired results change, the competencies required to drive results will change, too. That means that an effective competency model will evolve just as your strategic objectives do. 

5 steps to reinvigorate your competency model:

1. Review your model and make sure it’s still relevant. First, ask yourself, “Are these competencies still relevant today? Is this model still aligned to the evolving needs and goals of my organization? Are the skills and abilities required to be a successful leader today, the same as the ones defined in our competency model?” If not, look for tips for building a relevant model, updating existing competencies, or adding new ones to address emerging challenges and priorities.

2. Engage stakeholders in a collaborative review. To breathe new life into your competency model, start by engaging stakeholders from various levels of the organization. This collaborative approach can provide fresh perspectives and ensure that the model reflects the current needs and strategic objectives of the company. By involving employees, managers, and HR professionals, you can tap into a wealth of knowledge and experiences to enhance the model’s accuracy and alignment with your organization’s goals.

3. Make competencies a part of your talent process.  Consider how you want to use your competency model. Will it be used for recruitment, assessment, development and/or performance assessments? Then, gather feedback from managers and employees on their needs and expectations. An effective competency model is integrated into all things talent in your organization including training and development and recruitment. Competency models serve as a valuable guide for designing training and development programs. Companies can tailor their training initiatives to address specific competency gaps within the organization. Whether it’s technical skills, leadership capabilities, or soft skills like communication and teamwork, a competency model can pinpoint areas that need improvement. 

We also suggest incorporating competency-based assessments or questions into your hiring process to ensure that potential candidates have the skills and behavioral competencies required for success in their role. By clearly defining the competencies needed for a particular role, companies can streamline their hiring process. Create job descriptions that align with these competencies, ensuring that candidates are not only a good fit for the role but also for the company’s culture. 

4. Provide ongoing support. To ensure that the competency model remains relevant and impactful, offer training and support to managers and employees. This training may include workshops, resources, or other tools to help users understand and implement competency-based processes in their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

5. Continue to monitor and adapt your competency model. Regularly review and update your competency model to guarantee that it remains aligned with your organization’s goals. Reinvigoration should not be a one-time effort. It’s essential to establish a process for regular review and updates to ensure your competency model remains dynamic and responsive to changing needs. This could involve annual or biannual assessments, with the flexibility to make adjustments as needed. Keeping your model fresh will help your organization stay agile and adaptable in the face of ongoing change.

Is your competency model integrated into your talent strategy? By directly aligning your competency model with your organization’s strategic goals, you can reap the rewards of the model, support team member development, make better hiring decisions, and identify potential leadership successors. 

Tracy Duberman
Tracy Duberman

About Tracy Duberman, PhD, President and CEO, The Leadership Development Group

With a background combining operations experience in various sectors of the health industry, three decades of leadership coaching and consulting, and innovative research on executive and physician leadership effectiveness, Tracy founded The Leadership Development Group and serves as its CEO.

Tracy is a recognized expert on leadership within, between, and across the various sectors of the health ecosystem. She is a published author of From Competition to Collaboration: How Leaders Cultivate Partnerships to Drive Value and Transform Health, a nationally recognized speaker, and a sought-after leadership coach. Before founding TLD Group, Tracy led the Healthcare Practice Leader at a leading boutique executive coaching firm and was a Senior Consultant with Hay Group (now Korn Ferry).