Avoid Pitfalls With Competency Frameworks

Competency frameworks are developed to support the needs of the business - they add significant value to the organisation and provide consistency that supports a number of people processes. However, competency framework development and implementation can take considerable time and effort and so a little joined up thinking is needed beforehand. This forethought should be focused on identifying the issues that a competency framework could solve and defining the measurements and success criteria once the framework has been implemented. Doing this will ensure you avoid the potential pitfalls.

There are many off-the-shelf framework tools and processes that are built on a generic model and these will help you generate a generic set of competency statements. Be very careful that these generic competencies are appropriate for your organisation and they represent only the key and important behaviours which employees must display for success. Competencies must be defensible against potential legal challenge, so if you were challenged on a set of generic competencies, you need to be able to demonstrate that the competency requirements were identified based on the expert knowledge of those who understand the job or area being profiled. Employee involvement is key to identifying competencies that are appropriate for the role and an effective communications campaign greatly improves employee awareness and organisational readiness and therefore the likelihood of success for the whole project.

Defining format, scope and structure will provide clarification for the project team, and will ensure you avoid scope creep. Selection of an internal project team is important here. Your industry/sector/organisation will continue to evolve and therefore the competency framework must accommodate those changes after the consultants have left. It is essential that you have the internal expertise to maintain the framework and associated processes.

Ultimately, it is staff and management who need to embrace, apply and understand the purpose, relevance and benefits of a competency based approach . Without that understanding there is a danger that the initiative is perceived as a ‘command and control’ process imposed by HR. Keep your framework simple and accessible. If it is too complicated you risk it not being used or misinterpreted.

A competency based approach benefits a range of people processes and your framework should be designed to gradually feed into other processes such as appraisal, recruitment, succession planning and/ training needs analysis. The time required to rollout your competence management process will vary with the size of organisation and the number of departments involved. 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.