The One Thing You Need to Know: Competency Models

“Do competencies have a place in HR, beyond using them for performance ratings?” Dan, in Atlanta

Many companies define jobs according to a list of qualities or capabilities that they call “competencies.” Some companies will rate you on the specific competencies they require for your position, and some have a competency model, which lists the competencies that you need to possess or gain in order to move forward in your career at that organization. If your scores are low in certain areas, some companies will use those low scores in conjunction with a learning management system, so you can learn more “people skills” or “business acumen” or “resilience” if it’s determined that you need those gaps filled. And some companies will only promote you if your scores reflect that you possess all of the competencies they’ve decided are necessary for your next job.

Now, hopefully alarm bells are going off in your head right now. There are many problems with this system – all of which I address at length in my next book. Here’s the cliff’s notes version:

#1 Competencies can’t be measured. So your scores (or the scores you give your team) and all the data around how much of a certain competency a person possesses are completely made up.

#2 No single person possesses all competencies. When you study people who excel at a certain job, although as a group they may have all of the competencies that are supposedly required, no one person has all of them.

#3 There is no data that shows that people who acquire the competencies they supposedly lack outperform the people who don’t. So even if we could accurately determine that you are lacking a specific competency, having you take a learning and development course to plug that gap will have no effect on your performance. Well-roundedness does not predict higher performance, and it’s better to be sharp in one or two key areas instead of well-rounded. Well-roundedness does not predict higher performance. It’s better to be sharp in one or two key areas. Click To Tweet

So, is there any place for competencies? I would strongly suggest that competencies are simply values. They should be written on a wall, not attempted to be measured and learned. If you want your team to be goal-oriented and customer service-focused; express them as values, create stories around them, celebrate the heroes who demonstrate them – bring these values to life. But what companies shouldn’t do is take those values and put them into a performance management system. Leave competencies on the wall as examples of things you deem valuable. Keep competencies on the wall as expressed values, but leave them out of your performance management systems. Click To Tweet



  1. Julie June 19, 2018 at 10:34 AM - Reply

    Preach it Marcus!! I’ve been thinking for years there’s something inherently wrong with the tradition of competency ratings, but did not have the credible research background like you to be able to enumerate why. Thank you for speaking to this important issue! Far too many great employees have been hindered, mislabeled, and held down at the bottom of the org chart due to managers/companies who think the answers are within competency ratings. I look forward to your video episodes, Marcus. Thanks for all the hard work you and your team are doing to ignite change in the world, one workplace and one person at a time.

  2. Nabahan October 19, 2018 at 10:23 PM - Reply

    Thanks Mercus. Always great to learn from you.

    May you please explain further why values shouldn’t be evaluated and be embedded in performance management?. Isn’t what get recognized get repeated? If we keep the values only in the walls and website, the values will have no value :).

    How about we identify the values that we want to be known for(brand) by our customers and stakeholders and then recognize or discourage employees who possess or don’t possess them?. If we say ” quality” for example as a value , then we will evaluate employees against their quality behavior. We can clearly define what quality means for every job and assign behavior indicators so that we can assess quality behavior. Makes sense?.

    If we neglect competency model for development purpose, how are we going to inform our learning and career development plans?. Shouldn’t we help employees to close competency gaps to advance to the next level?


  3. Zac May 15, 2019 at 12:47 PM - Reply

    How do you define competencies?

  4. Amanda September 30, 2019 at 7:47 PM - Reply

    How you define competencies is so important. I see values as different than competencies. Knowledge, skills, abilities are all important to measure in selection and performance management. They are measurable where as values like diversity can depend on the person.

  5. Boniswa tweyi January 26, 2021 at 3:27 AM - Reply

    It’s important is values know ledge skills and performance and ability to all management they measurable where as vsluesl like diversity can depend on the person

  6. Boniswa tweyi January 26, 2021 at 3:42 AM - Reply

    The enjoyable I learn a lot and experience how management and supervision commucate at work and how your daily basis u must know

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