When competency models are needed in an organization with many different jobs, there are two basic strategies for model building: “one-size-fits-all” approaches and multiple model approaches. I will describe these two approaches as well as intermediate approaches.
The first basic strategy, one-size-fits-all, involves creating a single competency model with one set of competencies applicable to all jobs. Like most other competency models, a one-size-fits-all model usually comprises eight to fifteen competencies needed for effectiveness in a broad job category, such as all management positions. The competencies in such a model must be general skills, traits, and values, not job-specific skills.
The one-size-fits-all approach
This approach is often used when upper management wants to drive organizational change by sending a strong message about the values and skills needed for the future. This approach is also used when upper management or HR prefers simple solutions, or when the HR staff want to quickly implement a program that will have broad impact.
The one-size-fits-all approach has several advantages. First, it provides a simple, clear message to everyone about what is important. Second, once developed, the model and applications based on the model are applicable to many employees. For example, one “360 feedback” instrument can be used with everyone whose job is included in the model. Finally, the competency model promotes the development of a common language for describing important skills and characteristics.
But the one-size-fits-all approach also has significant disadvantages. One-size-fits-all models often describe values that are espoused or wished for, rather than describing what it truly takes to be effective in a job. I have seen many organizations with a conspicuous lack of teamwork include a “Teamwork” competency in a one-size-fits-all model, even though superior performers are more likely to need political savvy and a “thick skin.” Another disadvantage is that employees may believe that the model does not really apply to their own job. They may become skeptical or even cynical about the model. Finally, one-size fits-all models are not as useful as job-specific models in guiding selection and development for a particular job.
The other strategy for developing models for people in a range of jobs is to plan to build multiple competency models from a common set of generic competencies. The first step is to identify a set of 25 to 35 “building block” competencies to be used for constructing all job models. In applying this strategy, I try to meet with senior management and HR staff to customize a generic competency dictionary for use in this organization. Customization often involves changing some of the generic competency names and the language used in the definitions and behavioral descriptors, so that the language is consistent with concepts and terminology that are already used in the organization.
The next step is to hold a resource panel or a meeting with subject matter experts, to gather data to guide the decision about which generic competencies to include in the model for a particular job. Once the competencies for that job are identified, the panel can help select and modify behavioral descriptors from the generic dictionary, to customize the description of how each competency needs to be demonstrated in that job. This process is repeated for each job requiring a competency model. Each competency model includes a subset of the generic competencies and may also include unique, job-specific technical competencies.
The multiple model approach
is most likely to be used when competency models are needed for many different jobs and when jobs have few features in common. This approach is especially useful when the planned applications include careful matching of individuals to jobs, for selection, career planning, and succession planning.
The multiple model approach has several advantages. First, because of its flexibility, the approach facilitates development of a set of competency models that encompass the jobs of all or most employees. Second, because the approach generates competency models tailored for each job, the models have high face validity and credibility. A third advantage of this approach is that it facilitates comparison of the requirements for different jobs – to design a compensation program or to plan career paths. When the organization needs to select staff, the multiple model approach helps identify which competencies are essential and desirable for a particular position.
The primary disadvantage of the multiple model approach is its complexity. For each job there is a different competency model, and the different models may generate a corresponding need for different competency assessment forms, selection interview guides, performance appraisal forms, and so on. The multiple model approach is likely to create administrative work for HR staff. To deal with this complexity, some organizations use software programs that help identify the competencies for a job and manage assessments and other HR applications based on the models. Another disadvantage of the multiple model approach is that because no competencies are common to all jobs, top management cannot use this approach to send a strong message about values and skills that are essential for the future.
Some organizations have adopted approaches that combine elements of the one-size-fits-all approach with the multiple model approach. These organizations typically identify a small set of core competencies, such as “Customer Focus” and “Initiative,” that apply to all jobs but supplement the core set with additional, job-specific competencies. The core competencies send a message about shared values for the future, while the additional competencies ensure that each competency model truly describes the requirements for that job. The main disadvantage of intermediate approaches is that they tend to result in competency models with larger numbers of competencies than would be the case using either the one-size-fits-all approach or the multiple model approach.
The bottom line about job competency models
Planning the development of competency models is an exercise in practical problem solving. There are alternative methods for collecting and analyzing data, for deciding what to include in the model, and for formatting the model and its behavioral descriptors. The choices among the alternatives should depend on goals of key stakeholders, the needs of key users, the budget and time available to develop the model, and the preferred styles of the model building team.
What makes a good competency model? The model must meet the needs of its key users. Each competency should be conceptually coherent and different from the other competencies. The behavioral descriptors should be clearly and crisply worded. The model should also be parsimonious; including too many competencies and behavioral descriptors makes a model ponderous to read and use. Finally, a good model is often supplemented with components that will add value for an intended HR application.
When planning the development of a competency model or models, there are practical considerations that affect the design of the project, the format and content of the competency model, and the success of the project’s implementation. The following seven questions may be useful to Human Resouces professionals responsible for planning and implementation:
1. What HR application should be included in the initial model building project?
2. What will the key users of the model need from it?
3. How should key stakeholders be involved?
4. How extensive should the data collection be?
5. How should research be balanced with intuitive approaches?
6. What format of behavioral descriptors will best suit the application?
7. How can additional, future competency models be accomodated?
This blog addresses question #7. Each question is addressed in Key Questions to Answer before Building Competency Models, Adapted From Practical Questions for HR Professionals Who Are Building Competency Models—a Consultant’s Experience By Dr. Richard S. Mansfield.
Choosing the correct model type is covered in the Building Competency Models workshop
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