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Competencies and development of competency framework for organization

Competencies and development of competency framework for organization

The greatest strength of an organization, and the key to its success, is the quality of its employees and their ability to thrive and fulfill their potential while delivering the output expected from them.

The competency framework enables the organization to clarify expectations and to set standards for performance throughout the organization. It is a guide to help management and the employees to understand the behaviours and skills expected of them and what they are to strive for achieving them.

The concept of competencies emerged during the early 1980s as a response to the organizational changes. This concept drives the organization towards higher performance levels. During the subsequent decades, competency frameworks have become an increasingly accepted part of modern HR (human resource) practice in the organizations.


A competency is considered to be a cluster of related knowledge, skills, abilities, and characteristics which are related to the performance of a significant aspect of the practice of a profession.

The term ‘competency’ is usually defined as a combination of skills, attributes and behaviours which are directly related to the performance on the job. They are important for all the employees regardless of occupation, function, or level. Competencies normally focus on the personal attributes or inputs of employees in the organization. They are the behaviours (and technical attributes where appropriate) which employees are to have, or are to acquire, for their effective performance at work.

Competencies are broader concepts which encompass demonstrable performance outputs as well as behaviour inputs, and relate to a system or set of minimum standards required for the performance at the work.

Competencies are means to provide organizational focus, as building blocks for human resource systems, and as methods for certifying attainment of various skills. Competencies are key performance indicators from the organization to an employee regarding the expected areas and levels of the performance expected from him. They provide the individual with an indication or map of the behaviours and actions which are to be valued, recognized and in some organizations rewarded. Competencies can represent the performance management system in the organization.

Organizational competencies are the competencies needed in the organization so that it can excel and remain competitive in the market. The competencies provide an inventory of expected behaviours, skills and attitudes which lead to the successful performance of the organization. Organizational competencies depend heavily on the competencies of the employees of the organization.

Specific competencies are normally needed to carry out a given job within a job family. These competencies cover the various fields of expertise relevant to the specific work carried out in the organization. The competencies are at the heart of what the employees do.

There are three types of organizational competencies (Fig 1). These are (i) core competencies, (ii) job or role competencies also known as technical competencies, and (iii) personal competencies. Core competencies are unique to organization. They demonstrate organizational strengths and are keys to the competitiveness of the organization. Job or role competencies are those competencies which are necessary for the organizational employees to have for performing their jobs or for playing their role in the organization. Personal competencies demonstrate the skills or abilities of the employees. They demonstrate that the individual employee is at the required level.

Fig 1 Types of competencies

Most of the competencies can be grouped into three categories. These competencies groups are (i) delivery related competencies, (ii) interpersonal competencies, and (iii) competencies of strategic nature.

Competency framework

A competency framework is a broad framework for integrating, organizing, and aligning various competencies which are relevant to the performance in a particular job, job family, or functional area. It is a structure which sets out and defines each individual competency (such as problem-solving or people management) required by employees of the organization.

The competency framework supports the efforts of the organization to strive for a high performance culture where development is nurtured and encouraged. By highlighting the skills, attributes, and behaviours (competencies) in the selected areas, it clearly sets out what is essential for all the organizational employees to contribute for the success of the organization.

Competency frameworks, when done well, can increase clarity around performance expectations and establish a clear link between employees’ performance and organizational performance. When developing and implementing a competency framework, care is required to be taken to balance the details with flexibility and avoid an overly prescriptive and non-inclusive approach.

Competency frameworks can be extremely useful to support talent strategy and guide practice in a number of areas from recruitment, talent development and performance management. However they are only be successful in supporting decision-making if they accurately reflect the needs of both the job and the organization in terms of skills, experience and behaviours. They are therefore take account of job and employee specifications and the organization’s medium- and long-term needs for talent, as well as reflecting the organizational ethos and values.

Competency frameworks originally have been consisted mainly of behavioural elements which are normally expression of the softer skills involved in effective performance. Increasingly, they have become broader and more ambitious in the scope and include more technical competencies. This development has been given greater momentum by advances in the technology.

In designing of competency frameworks, care is required to be taken to include only measurable components. It is important to restrict the number and complexity of competencies, typically aiming for a maximum of 12 (preferably lower) for any particular role. These competencies are arranged into clusters to make the framework more accessible for users. The framework is to contain definitions and/or examples of each competency, particularly where it deals with different levels of performance for each of the expected behaviours. It is also to outline the negative indicators for the competency.

A critical aspect of all competency frameworks is the degree of detail. If a framework is too broad (containing only general statements about individual competencies) then it will fail to provide adequate guidance either to the employees as to what is expected of them or to the management who has to assess the employees against these terms. Further, if it is too detailed, the entire process becomes excessively bureaucratic and time-consuming and thus loses its credibility.

When preparing a competencies framework, it is important to take account of the statutory issues to ensure that none of the competencies framework discriminates against any particular group of the employees. It is also important that when frameworks are used to assess competence, they recognize an employee’s potential to develop and do not just collect evidence of a certain behaviour in the past.

There are the following types of the competency frameworks in an organization.

  • Core competencies frameworks – They support the organizational values and mission. They are normally applied to all the jobs in the organization.
  • Common competencies frameworks – They usually relate to certain jobs. For example, in management roles common competencies can include strategic awareness, leading a team, and managing team performance.
  • Technical competencies frameworks – They are job specific and usually apply to certain roles, or a part, a department, or a group within the organization. These competencies frameworks outline any technical expertise needed and assess the depth and breadth of the skills and knowledge needed.
  • Leadership competencies frameworks – They include skills and behaviours which contribute to the leadership performance. By using these frameworks, organizations can identify and develop their next generation of leaders in a better way. Essential leadership competencies are usually available. However, future business trends and strategies drive the development of new leadership competencies in the organization. Usually some leadership competencies are essential to all the organizations. It is necessary also for an organization to define what leadership attributes are distinctive to the organization to create competitive advantage.
  • Meta competencies framework – It relates to the recruitment of high-potential employees who the organization likes to promote and develop, for example, into senior management positions in the next few years. The framework characterizes competencies needed for the future.

Competency frameworks can be developed in a number of ways. Method for the development of competencies framework usually consist of developing its entire structure from the scratch. The competency framework can be developed internally based on the business relevance and using widely used concepts which have proved successful in other places.

Early application of competencies and competency frameworks in the organization helps in focusing on performance management and development, particularly of more senior employees. Today, however, it is recognised that an effective competency framework has applications across the whole range of employees’ management and development activities. The approach has become more popular with management, since it enables the management to assess the performance against a clear range of criteria and behaviours.

Competency frameworks are now often seen as an essential vehicle for achieving high organizational performance through focusing and reviewing employees’ capabilities and potential. Moreover a competency framework can be a key element in any change management process by setting out new organizational requirements.

Organizations normally use competency frameworks with the aim of achieving (i) consistency across recruitment practices, (ii) fair performance reviews and judging for rewards, (iii) for enhancing employee effectiveness, (iv) for greater organizational effectiveness, (v) better analysis of training needs, and (vi) for enhanced career management.

A large number of the organizations develop a competency framework with a view to managing performance and progressing more effectively. However, many of the managements and employees find it difficult to use the frameworks to help achieve their objectives and, hence, the goals of the organization. The most usual causes for this are that (i) employees do not see the usefulness of the framework, (ii) employees are not trained adequately, (iii) there are no clear links between the frameworks and what the organization is aiming to achieve, and (iv) many frameworks are a mix of different concepts, which makes them unwieldy.

The following are some of the few steps for checking the whether a competency framework is going to serve the purpose for which is meant.

  • Communication of the purpose – The first step is to find out whether the employees understand the purpose is of the competency framework. If they do not understand it then the framework is not going to contribute to the employees’ as well as organizational success. In such a case there is no necessity to update or develop the framework.
  • Identification of key characteristics – Even if the employees are clear about the purpose of the competency framework, it still necessary to support the organizational aspirations (such as goals, values, production and sales targets, and business plans etc.). In case the employees are not working towards these aspirations then some individual efforts are likely to cause deviations from achieving the organizational success.
  • Getting the right conditions – The organizational procedures need to support the competency framework. Also the organizational culture, resourcing, and management structures are required to be supportive too. It is necessary to be realistic. If the conditions do not support behaviours then it is necessary either to change the conditions or to change the behaviours.
  • Tackling of the root cause – Along with the goals and conditions, behaviours are also influenced by the organizational characteristics (e.g. skills, knowledge, and attitude). One under-developed characteristic in the organization (e.g. communication skills) can have adverse impact on many of the different behaviours. If the management does not understand this distinction then it focuses on trying to improve the behaviours without tackling the root cause.
  • Taking of simple approach – There are two key elements for the easier use of the competency framework. These are its language and its structure. The complicated, long, or detailed competency framework is hardly used in the organization even if it is perfectly structured. The language is to be simple and meaningful to the employees for them to understand and use it.
  • Employees training – Once the structure of the competency framework has been made then it is to be ensured that all those employees who are to use the framework are trained in the methods to use it. A framework is a tool and, as without its proper use it fails to meet its full potential.

Advantages of competency framework

The organizations having competency framework based systems have several advantages. Some of them are given below.

  • Employees in the organization are having a well-defined set of behaviours which are needed for their work. They are also clear about the ways for carrying out of the jobs.
  • The appraisal and recruitment systems in the organization are impartial and more open.
  • Recruitment procedures include transferable skills and the required behaviours regardless of career background.
  • Competency framework links effective employees’ inputs to work as well as to the performance of the organization.
  • Competency framework makes the processes of the organization measurable and standardized across the organizational boundaries.

Disadvantages of the competency framework

The main disadvantages of the competency framework based organizational systems are as below.

  • Organizations get focused on the past and hence fail to keep up to date with the rapidly changing environments.
  • Many of the organizations do not have expected improvements in the organizational performance since the competency framework developed by them are unwieldy and not user-friendly.
  • Competency framework creates ‘clones’ in the organization since every employee of the organization is expected to behave in the same way.

The disadvantages of competency framework are usually true for the poorly-developed frameworks. The disadvantages also reflect a lack of understanding of competencies. The disadvantages do not so much detract from the need and usefulness of competency frameworks as they highlight the need for care and understanding during the development and implementation of such frameworks.

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