people meeting

Editor’s Note: This post about competency modeling was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.

Nonprofit success is holistic. Success is the sum of the planning, process, people, and performance systems in an organization. It seems clear, the more integrated these systems are, the greater overall growth can be.

Competency modeling is at the core of understanding who are people are, and how they can grow.

What Is Competency Modeling?

A competency is an identified knowledge, skill, or attribute (KSA) that directly and positively affects the success of employees and the organization. There are two types of competencies—behavioral and technical.

  • Behavioral competencies are a set of behaviors that make employees particularly effective in their work when applied in appropriate situations. Currently, the ability to work remotely might be a valuable behavioral competency. Behavioral competencies are typically core behaviors applicable to employees throughout an organization or particular job family. These behaviors often vary between cultures. For example, the ability to speak up in meetings is highly valued in some organizations and not valued in others.
  • Technical competencies are underlying KSAs that are necessary for employees to perform a certain type or level of work. They typically reflect experience in a specific career or industry. For a grant writer, the ability to write well would be a necessary technical competency. On the other hand, this skill might be less needed for an accountant.

A competency model is a collection of competencies that together define successful performance in a work setting. It is the foundation for important human capital functions such as recruitment and hiring, training and development, and performance management. Competency modeling is the activity of determining the specific competencies that are characteristic of high performance and success in a given job.

Developing a Performance System

The practice of competency modeling is tied to an organization’s larger performance management process. Competency modeling serves as a first step to developing a performance system that is strategic, integrated, and aligned with business outcomes. While a variety of competency modeling approaches exist, most share some common ground.

All competency models identify the competencies required for employees in specific job roles to be successful. Many do so by first analyzing the KSAs exhibited by the highest performing employees in an organization or work group. Combined competencies inform specific individual performance objectives. One can establish metrics to determine the extent to which employees meet these goals. Competency modeling also ensures that employee performance objectives are connected to larger organizational goals. Thus, the integration of planning, process, people, and performance is complete.

Additionally, competency models form a launching point for necessary employee development. An individual who is not adequately meeting performance objectives based on a role’s defined competencies can receive coaching and formal training. The model serves as a value proposition and blueprint for development investments.

Here, we provide a more detailed look at our approach to competency modeling.