Developing a Competency Framework

27 Apr 2015

The term ‘competence’  is used to describe what people need to do to perform a job and is concerned with effect and output rather than effort and input.  ‘Competency’ describes the behaviour that lies behind performance, such as critical thinking or analytical skills, and describes what people bring to their role.

A Competency Framework is a structure that sets out and defines each individual competency (such as problem-solving or people management) required by individuals working in an organisation.


Linking Company Objectives and Personal Performance

You’re probably familiar with the phrase ‘what gets measured gets done.’ Defining and measuring effectiveness is important.

The question is, how do you define the skills, behaviors, and attitudes that are needed to enable people to perform their roles effectively? ie: How do you know what to measure?

Many companies use the concept of competencies to measure performance. By having a defined set of competencies for each role in the business, employees know what is required of them to achieve their objectives. Team members will work more effectively and hopefully achieve their potential, but there are business benefits to be had from linking personal performance with corporate goals and values.

Developing a competency framework takes time and effort. To make sure the framework is actually used as needed, it’s important to make it relevant to the people who’ll be using it so they can take ownership of it.

The following principles are critical:

  • Involve the people doing the work – These frameworks should not be developed solely by HR. To understand a role fully, you have to go to the person doing the job, as well as getting other inputs to demonstrate what makes someone successful in that job.
  • Communicate – People tend to get nervous about performance issues. Let them know why you’re developing the framework, how it will be created, and how you’ll use it. The more you communicate in advance, the easier your implementation will be.
  • Use relevant competencies – Ensure that the competencies you include apply to all roles covered by the framework. If you include irrelevant competencies, people will probably have a hard time relating to the framework in general. For example, if you created a framework to cover the whole organization, then financial management would not be included unless every worker had to demonstrate that skill. However, a framework covering management roles would almost certainly involve the financial management competency.
  • Create a competency framework team – Include people from all areas of your business that will use the framework. Where possible, aim to represent the diversity of your organization. It’s also important to think about long-term needs, so that you can keep the framework updated and relevant.
  • Collect Information – This is the main part of the framework. Generally, the better the data you collect, the more accurate your framework will be. Collecting the information can be done through a variety of ways; observing people while they are performing their roles; interviewing and talking to people; job descriptions; regulatory and other compliance issues; business plans, strategies & objectives; customer and supplier needs


Build the Framework

  • Group the statements – Ask the team members to read through the behavior statements, and group them into piles. The goal is to have three or four piles at first – for instance, manual skills, decision-making and judgment skills, and interpersonal skills.
  • Create subgroups – Break down each of the larger piles into subcategories of related behaviors. Typically, there will be three or four subgroupings for each larger category. This provides the basic structure of the competency framework.
  • Refine the subgroups – For each of the larger categories, define the subgroups even further. Ask yourself why and how the behaviors relate, or don’t relate, to one another, and revise your groupings as necessary.
  • Indentify and name the competencies – Ask your team to identify a specific competency to represent each of the smaller subgroups of behaviors. Then they can also name the larger category.



  • Link to business objectives – Make connections between individual competencies and organizational goals and values as much as possible.
  • Reward the competencies – Check that your policies and practices support and reward the competencies identified.
  • Provide coaching and training – Make sure there’s adequate coaching and training available. People need to know that their efforts will be supported.
  • Keep it simple – Make the framework as simple as possible. You want the document to be used, not filed away and forgotten.
  • Communicate – Most importantly, treat the implementation as you would any other change initiative. The more open and honest you are throughout the process, the better the end result – and the better the chances of the project achieving your objectives.

The process of creating a competency framework is challenging but if you can do so effectively and link what you are asking people to do to the overall aims of the business then there can be a really positive impact on the performance of the business as a whole. 



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