The Do's and Don'ts of Competency Modeling

Realize that competencies are useful only when they are made measurable and observable.

September 18, 2003
  Here are some recommendations about how to get the most out of competencies:

What to Do

Establish a clear definition of the term competency that can be readily understood by decision-makers.
Make the business case: show decision-makers why they should care about competencies.
Identify the exemplary (best-in-class) performers in your organization by job category (such as supervisor), department (such as Marketing), or issue (such as "leader").
Set out to clarify what the competency model is intended to be used for. Will it be used for development only, for instance? Or will it have other, more comprehensive, uses?
Manage decision-maker expectations, emphasizing that "you get out of things what you put into them," "you get what you pay for," "there is no free lunch," and "garbage in will lead to garbage out."
Clarify the focus of the competency effort. Is the goal to discover the differences between exemplary and average performers at present? Is the goal to clarify minimum expectations upon entry? Is the goal to build a competency model for each department or job category in the future? Is the goal to clarify what individual characteristics are demonstrated by those who are "effective leaders," "outstanding customer-service workers," or something else?
Realize that what it takes to be a successful performer in the future may be different from what leads to exemplary performance now.
Help decision-makers reach some agreement on their vision of what characteristics a successful performer should possess.
Realize that competencies are useful only when they are made measurable and observable.

What Not to Do

Assume that everyone understands competency modeling.
Assume that everyone already knows why they should care about competencies. 
Avoid the politically charged question "who is best-in-class" when the organization has no objective measures of performance.
Assume that the purpose of the competency effort makes no difference. 
Assume that all decision-makers are on the same page from the start, wanting the same goals--or even knowing why competency modeling is done at all.
Assume that it is not important to have a focus.
Set no stock in differences between present and future.
Assume that all decision-makers agree with the results of a competency effort.
Use competencies by themselves with no behaviors linked to successful performance.

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