Understanding the Importance of Competency Models

ICOG - 21-Apr-2022

Every industry has its own list of essential jargon, and “competencies” is a big one in the L&D industry. But how many of us can explain what it means? Here is a succinct definition to use the next time someone asks:

‘Competencies' is a broad term to describe the KSAOs ( knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics)  that are required to be possessed by employees of an organization to achieve its goals and objectives. 


How are skills and competencies different?

People are often unaware of the difference between skills and competencies, especially as the term ‘skills’ is heard more in day-to-day parlance. Perhaps because it is the shorter word? Maybe if we started saying “comps” instead of competencies, we might hear it more. Because in essence, skills are a component of competencies. So, while there’s nothing wrong with organizations placing such importance on skills, shifting the focus to competencies will take care of that aspect and much more. The difference between skills and competencies is further seen when exploring competency models. 


Examples of competency models

In the early 1970s, Harvard psychologist David McClellan was the first to discuss the importance of measuring competencies over intelligence. He devised a framework represented by a metaphorical iceberg, divided into 6 areas. Knowledge and Skills are seen above the water, meaning they are easier to identify and change. Social role/Values, Self-image, Traits, and Motives are hidden below water as these 4 areas are harder to pinpoint and track. But they are more essential to understanding performance than skills or knowledge. 

Another famous competency model is the onion model by scholar Richard Boyatzis. The outer layer represents the basic characteristics of knowledge and skills. The middle layer represents values and attitudes, and at the core lie traits and motives. These models provide a roadmap for organizations to build their own competency models.


Why are competency models important for L&D?

Competency models are important because they are essentially a tool to communicate vital information to employees as well as management. To employees, the models identify what competencies are important to the organization, and help employees perform their job roles in line with the organization’s expectations. On the other hand, management can use the models as a benchmark while hiring new employees, and also to track employee performance and growth.

While competencies will vary based on industry and job role, here are some key competencies that show up regularly in many competency models. These competencies include:


  • Teamwork
  • Responsibility
  • Decision making
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Trustworthiness 
  • Problem solving
  • Organizational skills. 

It’s important to note that not only do these cover skills, but also behaviors, traits and knowledge. This is the reason why utilizing competencies is a more comprehensive way to measure employee performance. 


Using competency models effectively

Many organizations already have a competency model in place. But how much value is being derived from it and is it being implemented to achieve the best results? By partnering with ICOG, your organization can utilize the model as the engine of your L&D vehicle. ICOG is a learning experience platform that is designed to be powered by competency models, and can offer relevant insights and metrics to track competency development. And don’t worry if your organization doesn’t have a competency framework in place yet, ICOG can help find a suitable model from its existing library that would best fit the needs of your organization.


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