What makes for a great competency framework?

Competency frameworks should be useful tools to help managers and their teams ensure they have the rights skills and capabilities to do their jobs well.  Sadly, this often results in very long complex documents where even phrases like ‘speaks clearly and positively’ seems to need defining at 7 different levels across multiple job families.

I have spent a lot of time helping organisations take these highly complex documents, and turn them into something that captures the core ideas of competency, without turning it into a Victorian novel.

To have a useful competency framework, you need to decide what you want your people to use it for.

Is it a quick checklist of skills?  For example, does a kitchen worker know how to use all equipment safely and effectively?


Is it a tool to look more broadly across the organisation?  For example, a financial institution is probably going to rate accuracy and attention to detail quite highly.  In many roles, accuracy might be precisely measurable, but not in all.  And what does attention to detail look like in practice?  Do you want managers to talk about ‘slow down to avoid mistakes’ or do you want managers to have conversations around what it means to pay attention to detail in this role or team?

If you have answered ‘all of the above’ – in reality you have not answered anything.  A checklist of skills is not the same as a conversation around working habits.

Our general view is that a competency framework empowers managers and colleagues to put in place the development needed to work in the way the framework suggests.

It is less helpful if it is used as an assessment tool.  As soon as assessment occurs, then employees have an incentive to pretend to be as competent as possible in relation to the framework – including covering up mistakes, claiming credit for work or actions that aren’t theirs, and ‘performing’ in front of managers while hiding the aspects of the work where they feel less confident.

Ideally, a competency framework should be a guide – if I’m struggling with something what skill, experience or capability might I be missing?  The framework should help me identify what to do to improve my confidence and my performance.   But it has to be used in the context of development rather than assessment.

So, if you have a complex framework that isn’t having a positive impact on confidence, empowerment, development or performance – come and talk to us and we can share some examples.


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