Why Traditional Competency Models Don’t Work

Simon Carvi, HR Expert Contributor at Huneety.com.

The world has changed. Competency models made sense in the 1990’s when change didn’t happen overnight and when jobs were still relatively stable. At the same time, there are still no existing standards about what qualifies a skill as of today. Organizations have built complex competency models, often using a lot of time and resources to define what skills are needed to run the business.

The following are the results of traditional competency models :

  • Skills and KPI libraries built on Excel sheets
  • Manual Job mappings matching roles to company skills & competencies
  • Any other manually built competency frameworks.

Such competency projects have often resulted in the creation of large libraries of competencies, KPIs and skills for the benefit of Performance Management, Talent Acquisition, Succession Planning, and other HR Development processes. While these libraries help large companies structure skills and deploy a common competency framework – a common hurdle is triggered – they quickly fall into obsolescence.

  1. Large manually-built libraries are resource-intensive and time-consuming  to maintain

In 2021,  HR teams are still performing manual skills mapping, referencing skills, and KPIs into large libraries and Excel sheets. Depending on the company size; these projects may take months or even years to come to light.

For this reason alone, competency models have been reserved for large corporations that employ large HR teams to build and maintain the framework.

In the era of automation and AI, HR resources should best be spent supporting other areas of the business rather than performing time-consuming manual work.

  1. Updates are disconnected from the job market

Building the company’s competency model is not a one-shot project. Once built, competency libraries must be updated on a regular basis.

Library updates most commonly occur:

  • Every time a manager did not find a relevant KPI or competency in the existing library
  • At every job description updates
  • Before performance management cycles –  to refresh yearly KPIs or to reflect new yearly competencies and skills priorities decided by management.

In addition, companies that do not update their competency models in the past 10 years are facing a very high risk of obsolescence. As a result, managers risk developing teams with obsolete skills and KPIs that are no longer relevant and disconnected from the external skills market.  This means that organizations are more likely to make blind decisions –  and critical errors over skills.

It is recommended to build a taxonomy model with a dedicated task force including HR, Top Management and topic experts. However, some competency models have been built without concertation, and “one person” had to decide the company’s skills for the years to come.

At a time where skills are evolving fast, it is critical to build internal competency models based on both existing internal data and the external job market evolutions.

  1. The “impossible” link between learning and performance

Commonly, HRMS systems allow automatic imports to integrate the company’s comptency library into their system. The vast majority of HRMS, however, do not automatically link the library to the most relevant training opportunities and performance objectives the employee needs.

In most multinational companies today, HR must look at the Performance Management system to understand what skills have been assigned to a specific person, then manually look into the company’s LMS to try and match skills to the right learning activity. The Performance Management system is in fact not connected to LMS. This makes it challenging to measure the learning with the performance output.

  1. Maintain relevance to keep engagement high

Building a competency model is a significant milestone. It requires resources and commitment by all stakeholders involved. In some companies, there are different competency level matching job positions, each skill level presenting its own definition.

Evolving outside of the competency model is extremely complicated in some organizations, where competencies and competencies levels have been “fixed” by management.

If the competencies are not matching the real expectations of the job, the risk is to see employees evolve outside of the proposed competency model. Eventually, they may take classes on their own, because the proposed competency is not relevant to their roles.

When employees do not trust the system, they are most likely to take advantage of it. For example, employees may perceive any advancement in “competency level” as another reason to re-negotiate salary.

  1. Granularity of skills exposed: collaboration vs cooperation, teamwork vs team spirit.

Are you developing for Effective Communication? Or for Influential Communication? Traditional competency models fail to manage skills complexity. The primary intent of the competency model is to build a standardized system as a framework for employee development. Because of its rigid nature, the traditional competency framework does not take into account complex granularity and skills synonyms.

Instead, it puts employees in a box without a chance to get out of it.

Have you built a competency framework in your organization? How do you do to maintain his relevance over time? 

Click here if you wish to build a modern skills taxonomy. Upskilling efforts start by defining the unique skills and competencies your organization need.


Simon Carvi is an HR expert professional presenting over 7 years of experience gained through roles in Talent Acquisition an Employee Retention globally and in APAC. Simon is passionate about how people learn and future of work. He helps organisations upskill their workforce by leveraging skills data and A.I as Huneety Founder.

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