Performance Test Designing an Effective Competency Model
The demand for leadership competency models has grown in recent years, but it has done so much faster than the underlying expertise. The value of such models comes from the behaviors that make up the competencies and the processes used for identifying them. Here are some keys to creating an effective competency model.
s organizations seek to improve their competitive advantage, much effort is being devoted to improving leadership, and such efforts often include the use of competency models. Unfortunately, the results of using leadership competency models have been mixed. An underlying source of many problems is that leadership competency models are often too simplistic in their appearance—that is, it is rather easy to gain a general understanding of what the competency model is and the potential value for the organization. Competency models, particularly leadership competency models, generally have a lot of face validity. For example, typically seen competencies include initiative, influence, business acumen, relationship building, orientation toward results, insight, communica-
tion skills, delegating, motivating others, and managing change. What organization would not consider these to be important components of leadership effectiveness? On the surface, then, selecting the elements of a leadership competency model appears to be straightforward. However, it is not the competency labels or titles that are most important. The value really comes from the behaviors that make up the competencies and the buy-in resulting from the processes used for identifying them. Another underlying issue is found in the very use of the term competency. The American Heritage Dictionary defines competence as “the state of being adequately or well qualified; ability.” Competence is commonly used to refer to someone’s ability to perform a specific task. It is
by Kim Kanaga
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The Genesis of Competency Models
Early competency models, developed by social psychologist David McClelland and colleagues, focused on identifying competencies for specific jobs. It was assumed that because different positions have at least some unique tasks and requirements, success was not something that could be well defined across jobs but rather was dependent on characteristics and behaviors as they applied to a particular job. It was not practical or feasible to create a competency model for every position in an organization. Instead a few key positions would be identified as significant contributors to an organization’s current or future success. Management, from first level to executives, typically fell into this category. There is therefore an extensive history of using competency models as tools for selecting, developing, evaluating, and rewarding leaders. In recent years the demand for leadership competency models has grown rapidly as their value to individuals and organizations has become more widely understood.
thought of as a threshold on a continuum beyond which an individual is considered capable of performing as expected. In the context of leadership, a competency is made up of one or more characteristics or behaviors that enable someone to be an effective leader. The more a person exhibits such behaviors, the more leadership ability he or she is assumed to possess. Although that may seem to be a reasonable approach, it is not how competency models were originally conceived, developed, and effectively applied (see the sidebar above). Competencies were defined as abilities that distinguished superior performers from average performers. They were identifiers of what separates the best from the rest. In defining competencies in this way, the bar is set high, which enables the model to be used as an overarching framework to build leadership capabilities and organizational effectiveness.
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