How to develop a competency framework
A competency framework defines the knowledge, skills, and attributes needed for people within an organisation. Each individual role will have its own set of competencies needed to perform the job effectively. If you are looking to implement a competency framework within your organisation, here’s our 10 steps to developing a competency framework.
1. What are the objectives of the competency framework?
As with any HR project, start out by clarifying why you want to have a competency framework – what business issues are you trying to solve? Is a competency framework really the best solution? To develop and implement a competency framework will take significant time and effort so you need to be clear about what you want it to achieve. Additionally, define the success criteria for the project so you can measure the effectiveness of the framework once it has been implemented.
2. How will it be used?
Competency frameworks can be used as a tool to support a number of people processes such as recruitment and selection, performance management and career planning. Before starting work on the framework development, be clear about how you wish to use competencies within your organisation as this will determine how the framework is structured. Plan your timetable for rolling out the framework – we recommend a gradual rollout, applying it to one people process at a time. Ideally, start with the process that will bring you a ‘quick win’ and that will have the least resistance.
3. Define the format, scope and structure
Do you want the framework to contain just behaviours, or also to include skill and knowledge requirements? Should it cover all roles and functions within the organisation, or will it apply to a particular group of employees? Will it cover all levels, or exclude groups such as senior management? What will the end structure look like – will it just show positive examples of competencies or do you want it also include negative examples?
Think about how you want to group the examples of each competency. Some organisations like to group them into hierarchical levels (our recommended approach) which may or may not relate to grades within the organisation. Others prefer to categorise them into named groups such as ‘Essential’, ‘Effective’ and ‘Outstanding’ Performance.
4. Establish your project team
First decide whether you will develop the framework using entirely in-house resources or whether you will need external assistance. Collecting, defining and assembling behaviour examples require particular skills and expertise which may not always be present within the organisation. When building your project team, try to include key stakeholders that will endorse and champion the final framework within the organisation.
5. Plan your communication
Before you commence the development of the framework, it is essential to plan and execute your initial communication. People within the organisation need to know that the project is taking place, understand what its purpose is, its benefits and how the final competency framework will be used. If this is not clearly communicated up front, suspicion is likely to be aroused when employees are being interviewed during the data gathering stage.
6. Gather the competency data
The objective here is to gather specific examples the competencies / behaviours that lead to effective performance within the organisation. There are various techniques that can be employed for this such as undertaking detailed behavioural or critical incidence interviews. The data should be collected from a selection of employees across all the functions and levels that are within the scope of the framework. It can be helpful to include people who are influential within the organisation and who may not necessarily be supportive of the project – by engaging them in the development process, you are more likely to obtain their support when then framework is rolled out.
7. Assemble the draft framework
The competency / behaviour examples that you have collected will need to be categorised into competency groups or ‘clusters’ and then sub-divided into levels or other groupings according to your desired framework structure. This is best done via facilitated workshops with the project team. During this process, you should hone the competency / behaviour examples to remove any duplication and re-write any that are vague or unclear.
8. Gather feedback
It is essential that you gather feedback on the draft framework from across the organisation. Participants should identify any competency examples that are duplicated, vague, in the wrong group or level, not relevant to them or that they simply do not understand. Again, it is useful to involve key influencers within the organisation in this process to help to engage them and gain their buy-in to the project.
9. Test your framework
Your framework is now ready for testing and there are various ways in which this can be done. One of the simplest and effective methods is to select a number of employees with varying levels of performance and assess them against the competency framework. For each employee, compare their competency evaluation to their recent performance appraisals / assessments. Higher performing employees should, in most cases, display a higher level of competencies than the lesser performing employees. If this is not the case, then the framework may need to be re-worked.
10. Prepare for rollout
You now have a fully developed and tested competency framework! However, the competency framework will only be effective if it is used effectively. Therefore you will need to ensure that everyone who will be using the framework is fully trained and briefed and given the necessary supporting materials and documentation. Where possible, it is best to pilot it in one area of the company to iron out any potential issues and to hone the training and supporting materials. Finally, before you move into implementation, decide on your process for reviewing and updating the competency framework on an ongoing basis and assign responsibilities.
Typical business benefits of an effective competency framework
- There is a common language for describing effectiveness across all parts of the organisation
- Managers have the vocabulary and examples to discuss performance with their employees in a specific and factual manner
- There is greater consistency and objectivity in the assessment of performance
- A reduction in recruitment and selection mistakes
- Employees can identify and plan their personal development needs in order to support progression into other roles within the organisation