Competency Frameworks

The terms ‘competency’ and ‘competencies’ focus on someone’s personal attributes or inputs. They can be defined as the behaviours (and technical attributes where appropriate) that individuals must have, or acquire, to perform effectively at work.

Over 20 years experience

Mapping success

Competency frameworks, when done well, can increase clarity around performance expectations and establish a clear link between individual and organisational performance. When developing and implementing a framework, care needs to be taken to balance detail with flexibility and avoid an overly prescriptive and non-inclusive approach.

We're here to help

If you would like to discuss your training needs and explore options, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you and discuss how we can help. 

About Competency Frameworks

The terms ‘competency’ and ‘competencies’ focus on someone’s personal attributes or inputs.  They can be defined as the behaviours (and technical attributes where appropriate) that individuals must have, or acquire, to perform effectively at work.

‘Competence’ and ‘competences’ are broader concepts that cover demonstrable performance outputs as well as behavioural outputs.  They may relate to a system or a set of minimum standards needed to perform effectively at work.

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 or part of an organisation.

In the past, HR professionals have tended to draw a clear distinction between ‘competences’ and ‘competencies’. The term ‘competence’ was used to describe what people need to perform a job and was concerned with effect and output rather than effort and input. ‘Competency’ described the behaviour that lies behind competent performance, such as critical thinking or analytical skills, and described what people bring to the job.  More recently there has been a growing awareness in organisations that job performance required a mix of behaviour, attitude and skill, and the terms are now more often used interchangeably.

The terms ‘competency’ and ‘competencies’ focus on someone’s personal attributes or inputs.  They can be defined as the behaviours (and technical attributes where appropriate) that individuals must have, or acquire, to perform effectively at work.

‘Competence’ and ‘competences’ are broader concepts that cover demonstrable performance outputs as well as behavioural outputs.  They may relate to a system or a set of minimum standards needed to perform effectively at work.

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 or part of an organisation.

In the past, HR professionals have tended to draw a clear distinction between ‘competences’ and ‘competencies’. The term ‘competence’ was used to describe what people need to perform a job and was concerned with effect and output rather than effort and input. ‘Competency’ described the behaviour that lies behind competent performance, such as critical thinking or analytical skills, and described what people bring to the job.  More recently there has been a growing awareness in organisations that job performance required a mix of behaviour, attitude and skill, and the terms are now more often used interchangeably.

While competency frameworks originally consisted mainly of behavioural elements – an expression of the softer skills involved in effective performance – increasingly, they have become broader and more ambitious in scope and often include more technical competencies.  This change has been given greater momentum by technology advances.

Competency frameworks can be extremely useful to support talent strategy and guide in practice areas such as recruitment, talent development and performance management.  However, they will only be successful in supporting decision-making if they accurately reflect the needs of both the organisation and job roles in terms of skills, experience and behaviours.  They should therefore take account of job and person specifications and an organisation’s medium and long-term needs for talent, as well as reflecting the organisational ethos and values.

Communicating the competency framework’s purpose is essential so that managers have a shared organisation-wide understanding and can implement it effectively when making hiring decisions and assessing performance.  The framework should be a starting point to define shared expectations of skills and performance but applied flexibly depending on the context of the job and the individual worker’s levels and aspirations.

To reflect the changing nature of jobs and remain open to diverse career paths, competency frameworks should be consistently reviewed and informed by future focused workforce planning to assess the nature and requirements of future roles.

What should be included?

In designing a competency framework, care should be take to include only measurable components.  Its important to restrict the number and complexity of competencies, typically aiming for no more than 12 for any particular role (probably fewer), and arranging them into clusters or groups to make the framework more accessible for users.  The framework should contain definitions and/or examples of each competency, particularly where it deals with different levels of performance for each of the expected behaviours. It should also outline the negative for that competency, the behaviours deemed unacceptable.

A critical aspect of all frameworks is the degree of detail.  If a framework is too broad (containing only general statements about individual competencies), it will fail to provide the adequate guidance either for the employee as to what is expected of them or to managers who have to assess their employees against these terms.  If, on the other hand, it is too detailed, the entire process becomes excessively bureaucratic and time-consuming and may lose credibility.

Employer competency frameworks may include different types:

  • Core competencies – support the organisations values and mission. They will usually apply to all roles in the organisation.
  • Common competencies – relate to certain roles. For example, in management roles common competencies may include strategic awareness,, leading a team, managing team performance
  • Technical or role specific competencies – apply to certain toles or a ‘job-family’ or ‘job-function’ within the organisation. They outline any specific technical expertise required and assess the depth and breadth of that skill and knowledge.
  • Leadership competencies – skills and behaviours that contribute to leadership performance. By using a competency-based approach to leadership, organisations can better identify and develop their next generation of leaders.  Essential leadership competencies and global competencies have been defined by researchers.  However, future business trends and strategy should drive the development of new leadership competencies.  While some leadership competencies are essential to all, an organisation should also define which leadership attributes are distinctive to it to create competitive advantage.
  • ‘Meta’ competencies – relate to the recruitment of high-potential individuals who the organisation would like to promote and develop, for example, into senior management roles in the next five to ten years. These are the competencies required in the future.

When preparing a framework, its important to take account of the legal background to ensure that none of the competencies discriminate against any particular group of employees or potential employees.

It is also important that when frameworks are used to assess competence, they recognise an individual’s potential to develop and don’t just collect evidence of certain behaviour in the past.

The terms ‘competency’ and ‘competencies’ focus on someone’s personal attributes or inputs.  They can be defined as the behaviours (and technical attributes where appropriate) that individuals must have, or acquire, to perform effectively at work.

‘Competence’ and ‘competences’ are broader concepts that cover demonstrable performance outputs as well as behavioural outputs.  They may relate to a system or a set of minimum standards needed to perform effectively at work.

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 or part of an organisation.

In the past, HR professionals have tended to draw a clear distinction between ‘competences’ and ‘competencies’. The term ‘competence’ was used to describe what people need to perform a job and was concerned with effect and output rather than effort and input. ‘Competency’ described the behaviour that lies behind competent performance, such as critical thinking or analytical skills, and described what people bring to the job.  More recently there has been a growing awareness in organisations that job performance required a mix of behaviour, attitude and skill, and the terms are now more often used interchangeably.

Early application of competencies and competency frameworks focused mainly on performance management and development, particularly of senior employees.  However, it is now recognised that an effective competency framework applies across the whole range of people management and development activities.  The approach has become more popular in recruitment, for example, because it enables recruiters to assess against a clear range of criteria and behaviours.

Competency frameworks are now often seen as essential to achieve high organisational performance by focusing and reviewing each individual’s capability and potential. A competency framework can be a key element in any change management process by setting out new organisational requirements.

Employers most commonly use frameworks with the aim of achieving the following goals:

  • Consistency across recruitment practices
  • Fair performance reviews and rewards
  • Increased employee effectiveness
  • Greater organisational effectiveness
  • Better analysis of training needs
  • Better career and talent management

Many organisations develop a competency or behaviour framework to manage performance more effectively. However, managers and individuals often find it hard to use the frameworks to help achieve their goals and, therefore, the organisations goals.

The most frequent reason is that employers don’t achieve full buy in of the framework from their employees, they do not roll it out properly, links to organisational goals are missing or the framework is just too complicated to make it effective.

For a competency framework to be effective in an organisation there are a number of key steps which need to be taken to ensure it is successfully embedded.

Our team of Learning & Development Consultants have worked with organisations across all sectors to successfully develop these frameworks. 

For more information on how we can support your organisation to build and implement a competency or behaviour framework then give us a call on 0330 0881857.

What our clients say

Meet our Learning & Development experts

Our team of experienced training professionals have worked across multiple sectors and have significant experience of supporting our clients with all their training needs

Melanie Stead

Managing Director

Vici McLean

HR Client Account Manager

Sharna McWilliam

HR Administrator