So, what are core competencies? A competency is simply a ‘blend’ of knowledge, skills, experience, behaviors, and values.  When put in action, an individual with the right “blend” performs his/her responsibilities in a way that gets results.

Competencies are generally built from one job level to another. An example would be communications. An entry level position will require a lower level of communication skills than a manager or executive would require to be effective.  Competencies help employees to focus their behaviors on what is important to and valued by your organization and are the foundation of employee development and success. They provide a common way to select, measure, and develop talent.

There are many benefits to using a competency framework including: more effective hiring, evaluating performance, identifying competency gaps for development plans, and better succession planning. When developed and used effectively, they help employees develop and grow incrementally. And with succession planning, they are critical to ensuring you have the right people, in the right seats, at the right time, doing the right things.

Most large companies create and implement a core competency model, which details each competency and the various proficiency levels of a competency required for each position. An example of competency levels is: Fundamental Awareness, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert. Additionally, each job position will have its own competency model.

So, if you are a company of 50 employees, you could have upwards of 40 models depending on your organizational chart. As a smaller company, I don’t recommend implementing an entire competency model as the process is rigorous and expensive.  And once you have a model it, takes time to update and train managers on how to use it effectively.

Instead, I recommend you stick to this abridged approach which creates two broad Competency Ladders, one for all employees and one for leaders. These ladders are developed by identifying behaviors supporting your company values, your strategy, leadership, and specific skills for a position. The behaviors will then be organized into broad competencies.

Values First

Company values are your company’s DNA. They are the beliefs and principles which drive your decision making and actions for your business, and your values impact the experience your employees, customers, and partners will have with your company. Values based competencies will be the benchmark for future hires as well as existing employee assessment, development and deployment.

Values are abstract while behaviors can be observed and explained with more clarity. The first step to defining core competencies is to determine the specific actions and behaviors which demonstrate your company values.

So how do you uncover the behaviors which support your company values? I recommend asking these three questions:

  1. Which employee(s) do you think of when we talk about a specific value?
  2. What actions does the employee specifically display consistently which proves they are living that value?
  3. Which of these actions are the most important to our company and its success?

Remember that there can be multiple behaviors that support a specific value.

Since values are core to a company’s culture, these behaviors will become part of each job profile within your company and can be used as the basis of behavioral interviews for future hires.

Leadership Competencies

Unlike values competencies, which will be part of every job profile, leadership competencies are unique to those positions which manage departments, projects, and other employees. These positions require additional characteristics, skills and behaviors to drive results and to be successful. So, in addition to the values-based competencies, you will need to determine competencies critical to leadership success in your organization.

A common way to organize leadership competencies is into five distinct areas: Managing Self, Managing Projects, Managing People, Managing Programs, and Leading Organizations.

Now that you have your core and leadership competencies you have a structured and methodical approach to hiring future employees, managing and developing existing employees, and making decisions on promotions and job rotations.

And as a final note, your business strategy will shift as your company grows and as your strategy changes so will your Competency Ladder. The competencies necessary to help realize your future objectives may be different than the ones you have identified for today.