Brighter Strategies’s Approach to Competency Modeling

In Part One of this series, we introduced the concept of competency modeling. In this article, we will unpack the process that Brighter Strategies takes when working with organizations to build a competency model from the ground up.

Brighter Strategies’s approach to every facet of organization development is holistic—competency modeling is no different. Since the purpose of a competency model is to inform employee goals and organization outcomes, we integrate it within a nonprofit’s larger performance management system.

A performance management system is an ongoing appraisal, coaching, and feedback process that helps employees understand the nature and quality of their performance, identify what they need to do to improve, and motivate them to do it. Creating a system for effective performance management starts with the identification of critical positions and agreement on the knowledge, skills, and attributes (KSAs) required for those positions—in essence, competency modeling. Our approach is as follows:

Step One: Project kick-off. First, we work with key staff to determine if the competencies to be developed will apply to the entire organization, or to a specific job family. The chosen employee population should be based on similar work characteristics and shared behaviors.

Step Two: Gather data. We analyze available background materials such as work profiles, job descriptions, task flow charts, project assignments, and prior goal statements to identify possible competencies. We conduct individual interviews, focus groups, and online employee surveys to discover behaviors used by high-level performers within the organization or occupational family.

Step Three: Identify key competencies. From the data gathered in Step Two, we identify common themes—or competencies. Examples include building consensus, fostering commitment, and focusing on customer service.

Step Four: Develop competency indicators. Next, we write specific action statements that describe in observable terms the behaviors and skills that demonstrate possession of the competencies identified in Step Three. Behavioral indicators may be written in progressive stages based on strength or impact. Technical indicators may range from a beginning level to a proficient performance level to the highest level of expertise.

Step Five: Validate competency models. We work with the organization’s or group’s leaders to validate behavioral competencies and with functional managers to validate technical competencies. The full set of competencies are then presented for final validation with the function’s managers and associated employees.

Some questions to consider during this step:

  • Does each competency describe the KSAs needed to perform the work?
  • Are there any indicators written as task or activity statements that do not identify technical and/or behavioral requirements?
  • Are there any KSA requirements that have not been adequately captured in the competency model? Are there any redundancies?
  • Are all indicators free from wording that reflects age, gender, race, and cultural bias?
  • Does each competency use clear and concise wording understandable to employees working in this capacity?

Step Six: Incorporate competencies into the performance appraisal system. We incorporate the validated competencies into the organization’s performance appraisal system, while keeping approximately 60 percent focused on results and the remaining 40 percent focused on competencies.

Step Seven: Integrating the models and deliverables into the culture. The final step in our approach focuses on using the now-established competencies to meet the needs of the specific organization. Beyond incorporating them within the performance management system, we also can use the competencies to inform staff training and development, succession planning, and even strategic planning—customized for the organization’s unique culture.

The next article in this blog series will begin to apply this step-by-step competency modeling approach to a real-world client, to bring the process to life. Stay tuned!

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