What is a competency framework?

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What is a competency framework?

A competency framework effectively defines role responsibilities and organisational behaviors. A competency is a set of skills, knowledge, abilities, attributes, experience, personality traits and motivators which has a predictive value towards an individual effectively performing in a job. This article will go over what a competency framework is, where the concept came from, and why to apply it to HR.

What is a competency framework?

What is a Competency Framework?

A competency framework defines competencies that contribute to an individual’s ability to do their job well. This framework can exist at an organizational or individual job level – but enables recruiters to choose specific individuals who are highly suitable for job roles, while giving managers the tools to assess behavior and production, to set goals, and make decisions. Competency frameworks are most often used in recruitment, for evaluations, and for employee development.

Origin of Competency Frameworks

Until the 1970s, most companies believed that success in a job role depended on traditional schooling and intelligence (testing). However, in 1973, David McClelland of Harvard University introduced the concept of ‘competency’ in his paper “Testing for Competence Rather than Intelligence.” Here, McClelland criticized traditional structures that were biased against women and minorities, and only of limited use in determining if someone can do their job well.

By the 1980s, this concept had caught on, and, in 1982, Richard Boyatzis wrote “The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance,” which presented a large-scale study of over 2,000 managers, detailing the behaviors that influenced effectiveness in job roles. This book proved to be influential, and contributed to the increasing adoption of competency frameworks.

What is a Competency?

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  – Albert Einstein

Competencies are behaviors or trait that contribute to a person’s ability to do their job well. Underlying characteristics can predict behavior in a wide variety of tasks and skills, such as a person’s ability to analyze a situation quickly and to perform well under stress. Competencies include characteristics, related knowledge, skills, and attributes, all of which contribute to job performance. For example, a competency frameworks typically answers questions like:

  • What are the expected outputs for the job?
  • What behaviors will lead to the expected outputs?
  • What knowledge, skill, and ability will lead to the expected outputs?

A competency framework can be defined at an organizational level with broad competencies and defined at a role level with specific competencies.

Why Use a Competency Framework?

The business benefit of using a competency framework is quite simply increased performance. A framework outlines the skills and behavioral traits that an employee needs to perform their job well, making it easier to identify the persons who have the correct traits, skills, and behaviors for specific roles.

A good competency framework enables HR to hire the right person for the job based on core behavior traits, in turn increasing hiring accuracy, reducing job turnover, and increasing performance.


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