How to Develop a Competency Framework

By 
Akshit Dangi
Published on 
April 28, 2023

Place the right people in the right position, and your organization shall prosper. It’s a common saying when people discuss how an organization can increase its lifespan. Soon enough, tools and processes such as performance reviews, talent reviews, goal setting, and succession planning join the fray too.

But here’s a question that is seldom brought up—how do we identify the right people in the first place?

Well, it all begins with understanding what a particular role in the organization entails, the skills required, and the responsibilities that a person needs to take up. To achieve this, we develop a competency framework—a set of defined competencies that are required for successful job performance.

Do you think that developing such a framework is one of those tougher things like playing a video game on the highest difficulty level? Or is it as scary as watching a horror flick in a pitch-dark room at night? 

Nope, it’s actually a cakewalk if you know what you’re doing. So let’s get to that point—here’s everything you need to know about building a competency framework for your workplace.

What is a competency framework?

As mentioned before, a competency framework is a set of defined competencies that provides a structure for understanding how to fulfill a particular role effectively and efficiently. It helps develop and assess the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and abilities required for successful job performance.

As such, a competency framework contains a combination of the following:

  1. Core competencies: These competencies support the organization’s culture, values, and overall objectives and usually apply to all positions in the organization.
  2. Common competencies: These competencies are present in a few specific organizational roles. For example, management roles would have certain common competencies such as decision-making, problem-solving, etc.
  3. Technical competencies: These competencies cater to a specific job or function and usually encompass the technical prowess required to perform the job.
  4. Behavioral competencies: These are the expected behaviors an individual must adhere to when taking on a certain job or function. It can also include all the necessary interpersonal skills to maintain decorum within the organization.
  5. Future competencies: While not as prevalent as others, these competencies include all the skills, knowledge, and behaviors required to take on a particular role in the future.

With all that covered, it is important to understand why we need such a framework in the first place. We’ve obviously covered one key aspect initially, but let’s go a little deeper into the rabbit hole, shall we?

Why do we need a competency framework?

Precisely, a competency framework defines a role accurately so that the one assigning it knows what to expect and the one assigned to knows what to deliver. To expand on it further, we’ve listed down five clear benefits of developing a competency framework:

1. Clearer job expectations

By developing a competency framework for every role in an organization, your people will have a clear idea of the skills and behaviors required to perform their job well and will be well-informed on what level of performance is expected from them.

2. Streamlines recruitments and appraisals

By establishing the exact responsibilities, skills, and behaviors expected from each role, your organization will be much better prepared with recruitments and appraisals as they’ll know exactly what to look for in each individual. 

Not to mention, your recruiters would be in a much better position to determine all transferable skills and expected behaviors from an individual regardless of their professional background.

3. Guides all your performance management processes

A competency framework also serves as a baseline for you to carry out all your performance management processes. Whether it be reviews, feedback, 1:1s, check-ins, or anything else—it all begins by understanding what a role is about and what are its expected behaviors and performance indicators. Additionally, all your performance management processes become measurable and standardized, improving their overall efficiency.

4. Builds ownership and accountability

By linking individual inputs to organizational performance, competency frameworks help develop a greater sense of ownership and accountability. 

The framework serves as a guide for performance management, career development, and succession planning, and it can be used to align individual performance with organizational objectives. There's a link between effective individual inputs to work, organizational performance, and the processes becoming measurable and systematic.

5. Encourages self-awareness

With the help of a competency framework, your people become aware of the skills and behaviors necessary for success in their roles. It provides a basis for assessing employee performance and identifying areas for development, helping them acquire the appropriate skills and pursue the career path of their choice.

How to develop a competency framework?

1. Develop the fundamentals

Before you start building out your competency framework for a role, begin by working on the critical principles of each framework. 

You can do so by initiating dialogue with the people who’ll be taking up the selected role, letting them know why and how you’re developing the competency model, and working together with them to single out relevant competencies

2. Create a structure

Once you’ve developed the fundamentals of your framework, bring structure to it by including all the aforementioned competencies. You may also combine the competencies as per your organization’s needs. Not to mention, it is here that you must ensure that the organization’s leaders are on the same page about the fundamentals and the structure.

3. Assemble a framework development team

Next, it is time to assemble a team to actually develop the framework. The team should consist of people with broad knowledge of the organization’s workings and who are well-informed in creating competencies for every role—this would generally include the functional managers, C-suite and operations executives, your organization’s recruiters, along with all the learning and development managers.

With these people gathered up, draw observations of how people are currently doing their work, especially those with some technical skill involved, and conduct 1:1 interviews or hold group conversations to get insights on how to make each role successful. Once enough data has been gathered, you may move on to putting your framework together.  

4. Draft the competency framework

To begin drafting the competency framework, you need to simmer down the number of competencies to a smaller, pre-determined number and categorize them as per the jobs or skill groups. Also, make sure to provide a small description of each competency to provide context to everyone.

Once done, have the entire team revise the framework again to ensure it is relevant and well-representative of the role’s expectations. The next thing to do is to test the framework within the team and make changes as per the feedback. With this, your competency framework is ready to go.

5. Implementing a competency framework

The next, arguably most important part of the process is implementing the competency framework for each job profile. To do this:

  • Use a top-down approach: Before you go ahead with implementing the competency framework throughout the workplace, have your organization’s leaders try it out first and then cascade it down to the rest of the functions.
  • Communicate the purpose: Your people must understand why expected performance and behaviors are imperative to the organization’s success. That is why it is important to communicate the reasoning and purpose behind each framework.
  • Tackle the root causes: Certain skills can affect adherence to multiple expected behaviors such as communication, problem-solving, etc. Ensure that your framework breaks things down to the root causes and sets the standard for them.
  • Realign and refocus: If certain conditions for expected behaviors and performance are not being met, or if the framework does not align well with the organization’s goals, work together to realign and make changes to the framework or the conditions as soon as possible.
  • Update the framework: A workplace is highly dynamic and forever evolving. As such, keeping track of any major organizational changes and updating your competency frameworks to match the new requirements accordingly is important.

With all that, you are finally done developing your organization’s competency framework. The thing, however, is that developing such a framework doesn’t come without its fair bit of challenges.

Although easy to circumvent, these challenges must still be handled when developing the framework. Here are a few key challenges you may encounter when developing a competency framework with tips on overcoming them.

Challenges in developing a competency framework

1. Developing a framework is considered an HR process

More often than not, developing a competency framework is delegated to the organization’s HR function. This shouldn’t be the case, as HR alone is not well-equipped to identify competencies for every job profile and create a framework for the same. So when developing a framework, make sure to assemble a proper team that encompasses everyone capable of identifying the competencies.

2. Identifying critical competencies can be tricky

Often times, it is difficult to identify competencies that are critical to an organization’s success. Whether it be difficulty finding competencies that align with the organization’s objectives and values or simply settling down with basic competencies that represent the workplace poorly, it is important to involve your organization’s leaders, work together with them, and prioritize finding these competencies first.

3. The competency frameworks are seldom updated

One of the biggest problems with competency frameworks is that people tend to treat them as a “one and done” kind of a process, seldom updating it and letting it go obsolete. This shouldn’t be the case, as updating the competency frameworks alongside organizational changes is critical for the respective job profile’s successful performance.

4. Competency frameworks exclude technical competencies

While this challenge is not as prevalent now as it used to be, some competency frameworks still tend to exclude technical competencies and focus solely on other competencies and expected behaviors. This is obviously a big no-no, as technical competencies are just as important and play an important role in helping your people acquire the right skills required for the job.

5. Frameworks can cause undue stress and pressure to people

One major downside to having a competency framework is that if it sets even a bit of unrealistic expectations for your people and they are not able to perform up to it, it can create an environment full of stress and cause undue pressure to them. To overcome this, stay in touch with your team members, work with them to identify roadblocks, and make changes to the framework as required.

Summing up

That’s all there is on how to develop a competency framework. Remember, while building one for every job profile in the organization can be challenging, managing it would bring tremendous benefits to organizational performance. 

It would also help your people acquire skills to pursue their desired career paths and perform well at their job. In a nutshell, develop a good framework, and the framework will shower your organization with success and prosperity.

About Author

Akshit is a valued contributor to our guides, with a passion for sharing insights and expertise from top leaders in the art of creating high performance. As an author, Akshit is dedicated to fostering a deeper understanding of performance management principles, offering readers the guidance needed to navigate today's ever-evolving business landscape.
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Akshit Dangi
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