Competency Modeling: An Introduction

Brighter Strategies believes that nonprofit success is holistic, the sum of the planning, process, people, and performance systems in an organization. The more integrated these systems, the more streamlined overall growth can be.

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This year via the Brighter Strategies Blog, we will examine each of these systems by explaining some theory behind our recommended improvement approaches, dissecting real-world case studies, and suggesting practical action steps you can begin to take today.

First, let’s look at what can be one of the most valuable people practices in your organization: competency modeling. We’ve all heard this term before, but do we truly understand what it is? Let’s break it down.

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. Brighter Strategies recognizes 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. They are typically core behaviors applicable to employees throughout an organization or particular job family, and they are often tied to organizational culture.
  • Technical competencies are underlying KSAs that are necessary for employees to perform a certain type or level of work activity. They typically reflect experience in a specific career or industry.

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.

Why Should I Care About Competency Modeling?

The practice of competency modeling is tied to an organization’s larger performance management process. It 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. These combined competencies are used to inform specific individual performance objectives, with metrics established 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 her performance objectives based on her role’s defined competencies can receive coaching and formal training, with the model serving as a value proposition and blueprint for such development investments.

In Part Two of this series, we will examine Brighter Strategies’s specific competency model approach in detail. Subsequent articles will illustrate this approach using a real-world case study. Stay tuned!

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