Competency-based Human Resource Management: Planning for Success

What is Competency-based Human Resource Management?

A competency is “any skill, knowledge, or other attribute that is observable and identifies successful performance.” Effectively, competencies translate the strategic vision and goals for the organization into measurable and observable behaviours or actions that employees must display.

A common framework of competencies provides the means for integrating all aspects of the HR system so that employees are selected, evaluated, developed, promoted and rewarded based on competencies that support organizational success. By communicating these competencies, organizations empower employees to take charge of their careers, direct their own personal development and continually self-evaluate and improve. At the same time, the framework allows the organization to pro-actively plan for its human resource needs both in the immediate and long term, and to establish programs that support employees in acquiring the competencies needed for organizational success.

Planning for Competency-based Human Resource Management

It takes effort and commitment to implement a fully-elaborated and integrated Competency-based human resource management (HRM) system. It is important, therefore, to take the time to evaluate the needs of the organization, and to create a strategy and plan that will meet these needs - in other words, getting it right the first time.

Developing the Business Case

Our years of experience in implementing Competency-based human resource management programs have shown that, as with any other significant change initiative, there must be a compelling need and will to change. It is not sufficient for the organization’s human resource or training professionals to see the need; leaders of the organization must also see the benefits and be willing to champion the initiative. Likewise, employees must understand how the program will benefit them both in their current jobs, as well as in advancing their careers. For this reason, many organizations have chosen first to implement components of a Competency-based HRM system that address the expressed needs of employees, preferably in a non-threatening way - for example, a Competency-based self-directed learning program.

Developing the Strategy

Having identified the business need, the champions for change and the organizational readiness, the organization is in a position to more precisely define a staged approach for developing and implementing competency models.

As the first major challenge the organization must decide to what level the competencies will be defined. For example, will it be sufficient to define the common / core competencies for everyone in the organization, or do specific competencies have to be developed for particular classifications and levels, functions, or jobs? The answer to this question hinges on how the competencies will be used. For example, to staff particular positions, competencies should be defined for the job. On the other hand, for appointments to level, for appointments to level, competencies need only be defined at the core or common level.

The organization must also determine the competency modelling method best suited to support the identified needs. In our experience no one single method will effectively support all components of the human resource management system (i.e. training and development, selection, performance management, etc.), the full range of occupations and levels (executive, professional, skilled, semi-skilled, etc.), or the various types of organizational and business environments.

Finally, communication is imperative at all stages of the planning, development and implementation process. In addition to promoting the value, benefits and ways in which the Competency-based initiative will be implemented, stakeholder participation in the process is also important, not only to create "buy-in" for the initiative, but also to ensure that the competencies truly reflect the behaviours that will contribute to and sustain organizational success.

Common Pitfalls of Competency Initiatives

1. No sponsor, or sponsor with insufficient power, influence, credibility or strategic perspective.

2. No perceived need for change, among senior leaders or groups with power.

3. Resistance to change across the organization.

4. No clear identification of stakeholders – not involving them.

5. Losing momentum – priorities change.

6. Non-existent / inadequate training – managers, supervisors, employees, HR staff.

7. Support infrastructure and finding not in place.

8. Inadequate project management / project talent.

9. Not implementing right away.

10. Competencies / applications too complicated.


Many organizations are using competencies as the means for identifying and developing this talent. Our experience shows that unless the competency framework is well planned and defined, organizations will not have the proper foundation for developing and implementing a system of human resource programs and initiatives for renewal and sustained success.


Dr. Simpson is a registered Industrial / Organizational Psychologist. Her focus throughout her thirty-five year career has been on developing and implementing Talent Management systems that propel organizations to higher levels of success and encourage respectful and welcoming work environments. She has managed and supported many organizations as well as whole occupational sectors in defining competency frameworks and in developing and implementing competency-based talent management products, pr...

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