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

What about you?

Does your company still use competency models? Leave a comment below.