Competency Models: What Are They & Why Does Every Company Need One?

Competency models have gained enormous attention in the talent management space – and rightfully so. They often serve as a holistic framework that guides all HR functions and aligns talent efforts with organizational goals. When designed and deployed well, competency models provide a common language and strategy for selecting, developing, and managing employees.


Many organizations underestimate the value of competency models as an HR tool because they simply don’t recognize their full potential. To highlight how impactful this tool can be, let’s discuss the basics of competency modeling and their wide-ranging applications and benefits.

What is a Competency Model?

For starters, a competency is different than a skill. Competencies are broader, in that they encompass knowledge, skills, abilities, and aptitudes that equip an employee for success in their role. Some commonly valued competencies are problem solving, strategic planning, and collaboration. On the other hand, skills are more specific, learned abilities that are required to perform a job in the first place, such as coding, taking vitals, or writing contracts.


Thus, a competency model is a framework that organizes all competencies necessary for success in all roles and functions across an organization. Typically, they include clear definitions of each competency as well as job-specific behavioral indicators (see the Sample Competency Model below for an example). These behavioral indicators describe precisely how employees can demonstrate their proficiency in each competency and how supervisors can observe them. Because this framework ties day-to-day individual behaviors to organizational success, it can be seamlessly integrated into recruitment and selection, training and development, and performance management.


Applications and Benefits


Recruitment and Selection

Given that competency models clearly articulate the knowledge, skills, and abilities that promote effective performance in a given role, they are a great resource to enhance your selection processes.

  • Knowing exactly what a candidate needs to be successful will help you craft better job descriptions and ask the right questions during interviews. For tips on how to ensure you are gathering relevant and job-related information during the hiring process, check out our previous blog on How to Design and Effective Job Interview.

  • The transparency and standardization of a competency models supports you in attracting the right candidates and avoiding the common hiring pitfalls, like relying on unstructured interviews or succumbing to personal biases. These models allow for the candidate and hiring manager to share a mutual understanding of what the role requires.


Training and Development

When it comes to talent development, competency models help you identify knowledge/skill gaps in areas that matter. It’s important to aim for growth in all areas, but limited resources often require us to focus efforts on only the most pressing and impactful development needs.

  • Competency models provide guidance on how to tailor trainings and coaching opportunities to highly relevant knowledge/skills that map onto business objectives.

  • Stakeholder buy-in and employee engagement with trainings will improve because the connection between training and measurable outcomes is made more clear through the lens of a competency model.


Performance Management

In regard to evaluations, competency models provide a simplified framework and shared language around performance expectations.

  • When competency models are integrated into performance management, it should come as no surprise – to employees or managers – what knowledge/skills will be discussed in terms of strengths and areas for improvement.

  • Managers can leverage competency models to provide more targeted feedback. By referencing the behavioral indicators for each required competency, they can provide specific and actionable direction to guide employees towards excellence.

  • Don’t forget about rewards and recognition – observing desirable employee behaviors that have been strategically memorialized in a competency model is cause for celebration!

Closing Thoughts

The broad applicability of competency models across the entire talent lifecycle makes them extremely valuable to organizations. With a common language and guiding framework, employees and leaders alike can recognize the link between everyday contributions and organizational success. To learn more about competency modeling, or how Apex can help you develop your own company-specific competency model, please contact us here!


Sample Competency Model
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