Build Your Own Competency Model- A Team Exercise

When’s the last time you looked at the competency model for your job or for the members of your team? Do you leave such things to the HR department and get on with your work? Or perhaps you work on your own or in a small company that just doesn’t have time for such formalities?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for formal, validated competency modeling processes. Competency models are extremely useful for staffing and selection processes, building training curriculum, compensation modeling and other contexts. I’ve spearheaded many such initiatives over the years, including the modeling of all the leadership jobs that were used in merger selection of the executive team.

But, when it comes to running the daily business, I don’t see too many leaders referencing competency models in their developmental conversations.

5 Easy Steps to Building Your Own Competency Model

What if, in the spirit of development, you worked with the team to build your own? Beginning with one simple question:

When a person in this role is at the top of the game, what skills do they do best?

Such an exercise gets people really thinking about what it takes to be successful in their role. They use their own words and describe the real deal. The debate and prioritization are worth the time, even if you never do much more with the model. Of course, the further you take it, the more impactful the exercise becomes.

1. Gather a group of people holding a similar role or function (e.g. call center directors, team leaders).  You can have them work on their own role, or the role of the people they supervise.

2. Provide each participant with five index cards.  Ask each person to envision the highest performers in the role and privately write down their thoughts on the following, putting one competency on each card.

  • What skills are most central to their success?
  • Considering where the organization is heading in the next three years, what skills will be most vital in this role?

3. If a formal model exists, use that for additional input and invite participants to update their cards if desired.

  • Which of the competencies listed feel most relevant to the role today?
  • Which are vital toward accomplishing your goals for the future?
  • What’s missing?
  • Which of these competencies has the biggest impact on actual results?

4.  Have each participant share their competency deck, and sort the competencies of the group into similar skill sets.

5. Then prioritize, discuss and debate the ones you most agree to. Refine the words into easy to understand language that feels real and actionable to the team. Have the team pick their five favorites.

6. The next steps are limitless. Some possibilities include:

  • Turning the tool into a self assessment, describing what behaviors look like at a high, medium or developing level
  • Having each team member pick one competency they really want to work on this year and create an action plan around it
  • Partnering up team members as peer support to help one another

An Example

Here’s what such an informal competency could look like in the call center director world.

1. A Wildly Passionate Commitment to the Customer Experience

Helps the team understand, and believe in, what great customer service looks like and why it matters. Holds high-standards and takes any breach of great service as if it had just happened to his mother… no, make that his grandmother. His energy toward great service serves as a charismatic contagious vortex that inspires daily action.

2. A Beacon of Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Is not easily rattled. When the systems crash, the calls back up, the customer starts screaming, s/he takes a deep breath and moves into action. Can diffuse the negative energy in a crises and channel it into productive action. Is highly responsive, but has the ability to consider implications before reacting.

3. An “I’m in It With You” Attitude

Is seldom behind closed doors, but is on the floor, listening, observing and supporting. Won’t hesitate to hop on a call to deescalate a tough customer situation. Is an artful coach and works to draw out the best solutions from the team. Is not a blamer, but consistently works to bring the right people together to resolve the problem.

4. A Legacy Mindset

Balances day-to-day operations with a longer term view.  Is constantly encouraging innovation and new ways to make the work more effective and efficient. Invests deeply in developing her leadership team. Knows that a true sign of success is what happens in the center when s/he’s not there.

5. A Penchant For Process

Understands that center leadership is a constant balancing between quality, efficiency, employee experience and financials. Is constantly considering cause and effect and the downstream impact of decisions. Approaches problems in a systematic way and explores alternative solutions before making decisions.

The most important part of any competency model is that it propels people forward.  Worry less about whether it’s perfect, and be glad they’re talking and working to improve their leadership.

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Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

8 Comments

  1. Love your informal competency model because it is so user-friendly and still addresses the essential steps towards understanding what top performers in each job look like!

    I also think your idea of sharing it with a team and creating a self-assessment is terrific. It is always impactful involving people who actually do the line jobs to be part of a competency model process.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Thanks, Terri. I’ve used this quite a bit, and the discussion that emerges is so valuable.

  2. This is excellent, Karin. I love that you’re asking people to think about the competencies that really matter and to fill in the blanks individually and collaboratively.

    I’ve used Lominger competencies for a similar exercise creating sort cards with each competency and asking each individual to do the sort individually for their top five and top ten and then come together as a group to work on agreement on the top five and ten competencies for their position. One of my favorite ways to work with teams to further define the position and it serves to really help teams share their thinking and model some of the essential skills as well.

    This is going to be incredibly helpful to many!

    • Alli, Thanks so much. I’m a huge fan of Lominger. In fact, that’s how I worked with folks to create the competency models for one of our big mergers. Sounds like you’ve got a great way to use them with teams. Love the addition.

  3. Loved this exercise, Karin!

    I’ve found that identifying our true skills can be quite difficult! Often, it’s because of perceived differences between what we think we should be good at and where our true competency lies…often, we’ve not uncovered our peak performance because we’ve never pushed ourselves to that point.

    Great exercise!

    • LaRae, I agree. It can be tricky, which is why I like having a model to really kick the tires on in a group. Someone will say “oh I’m terrible at that…” and often the team can help provide additional perspective. Thanks!

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