Martin Bleazard
By Martin Bleazard on March 10, 2022

Competency Frameworks – What Are They? And What Are Their Benefits and Challenges?

Competency frameworks are an age-old topic in learning and development, but the majority of businesses are yet to truly harness them to drive employee performance. On one side, there are businesses that are yet to build them, as they are seen as too big of an undertaking to dedicate resources to. And on the other side, there are businesses that have gone through the process of creating them but are yet to truly embed them within their learning and development programme. 

If you’re in either of these camps, we understand your pain, building and embedding competency frameworks is not easy, but when done correctly they can be revolutionary. At Ethical Angel, we champion their use to enable us to deliver targeted behaviour change that allows employees to deliver at peak performance, giving their companies an edge over their competitors. Without competency frameworks, none of this would be possible, which is why we believe everyone in L&D should embrace them. 

In this article, we’ll explain what competency frameworks are, why you should use them, the benefits they offer to staff and the potential challenges you might face when implementing them. So, read on and discover why your L&D programme needs to harness the power of competency frameworks. 

 

What are Competency Frameworks?

Competency frameworks are a matrix used by businesses to set out the competencies needed by an employee in a particular role. They describe the behaviours and skills required to drive excellence in performance and delivery. The framework can then be used as a benchmark to assess staff against and identify and aid their learning and development needs.

One subtle distinction to be aware of here is the difference between the terms ‘competence’ and ‘competency’. Competence describes the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. Competency describes the set of skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to successfully perform a work function or task. For example, a dentist who can fill a patient’s tooth can be described as competent. However, the competencies required as a dentist also include communication, empathy, problem solving and teamwork, and a specific set of technical skills. A dental nurse needs to be equally competent to be effective in their role, but they require a very different set of competencies. Hence the need for competency frameworks, as they set out the specific competencies employees need for their specific role within an organisation.

 

Why Use Competency Frameworks?

Competencies are important for both employers and employees, and a framework for them helps to establish a clear and transparent approach for recruitment, appraisals and performance reviews, and development plans. They help provide a reliable and robust method for defining the skills, behaviours and attitudes that staff need to perform effectively in their roles, minimising personal judgement and subjectivity which, in turn, allows you to deliver the skills employees need more effectively. By embracing the structured approach that competency frameworks provide, you are able to measure employees much more effectively, identify areas for improvement, and precision target L&D where it is needed most.



Benefits for Employees

For employees, a well-defined competency framework gives them a clear understanding of expectations and what is required of them in their role. This not only helps them gain an understanding of what behaviours and skills should be exhibited and the level of performance expected, but it also helps them understand where their gaps are which will result in them being more engaged with your L&D programme.

In addition to this, it will provide a consistent approach, both in language and style, removing the risk of misunderstanding or misinterpretation. When used as part of an appraisal, skill gaps can be identified and addressed; strengths can be further improved, and the requirements of career progression can be defined. It also empowers employees to self-assess their performance in their current role, and identify what is required for the ‘next step up’.

 

Benefits for Employers

Many of the benefits for staff are also true for employers. A framework will help align behaviours and skills with the organisation’s mission, culture and goals. It will aid consistency in HR planning, recruitment, learning and development, and performance management. Subjectivity will be minimised during staff appraisals and will establish a structure for constructive feedback. This will also then enable a more personalised approach to training and professional development. In addition to this, it will also allow managers to take a much more active role in learning and development, as they will be able to see where their team members’ gaps are and engage them with the training they need to close them. 

 

What are the Challenges?

A well-crafted competency framework will give the business and employee a platform that is fair, equal and transparent when it comes to assessments and developing talent. However, when building a framework, without care and consideration they can become large and unwieldy. If multiple levels of competencies (e.g. grade, leadership level) are defined by 5 to 10 competencies, the size of the model can easily reach 20 or even 40 competencies. Due to this potential complexity, it can become difficult to keep them current in rapidly changing environments. And of course, managers and employees dislike working with models that are difficult to understand and not user-friendly. These challenges should, however, serve to highlight the need for care when developing and implementing competency frameworks, rather than detract from their value as overcoming them will enable you to embed them at a cultural level. This in turn will only lead to positive results, as managers and employees will buy into the benefits of competency frameworks and become much more engaged in your learning and development programmes.

 

Summary

A clear and detailed competency framework will provide an effective method to assess, monitor, and grow the knowledge, skills, and attributes of an organisation’s employees. It will enable organisations to link individual performance to the goals of the business. It will also help managers make informed decisions about recruitment, learning and development, and performance management. Staff will have a clear reference to what is expected of them in their role, how they will be benchmarked, and what is required to take it to the next level. When using competency frameworks proficiently, employers and employees alike will have a shared understanding of the underlying skills, knowledge and behaviours needed for success and L&D will continue to raise its profile in the business as a vital cog for success. 

Want to compare your competency framework to the work of 30 leading businesses and government organisations? Then download our Universal Competency Framework Template now. 

 

Published by Martin Bleazard March 10, 2022
Martin Bleazard