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Karin’s Leadership Articles

You Don’t Need a Fancy Competency Model, to Identify the Knowledge, Skills. and Behaviors to Guide Success.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for formal, validated competency modeling processes. Competency models are extremely useful for staffing and selection processes. They’re great for prioritizing your training needs. I’ve spearheaded plenty of competency model initiatives. I’d be happy to help you think about a formal process.

And, I’ve heard so many stories of companies investing big money on their competency models, with very little return. Why? Because they were built in a vacuum and stay on the shelf. The best competency model is the one you will use.

So, if you’re looking to get more focused in your recruiting and hiring, or more effective and efficient in your training, here’s how you can quickly work with your team to identify the critical knowledge and skills for your key positions.

What is a Competency Model?

A competency model is simply a list of the key knowledge, skills, and abilities that are most critical to doing the job well. Competency models are the foundation to guide recruiting, selection, and training programs.

5 Easy Steps to Building Your Own Competency Model

So, if you don’t have time or resources for a more formal approach. Start by asking this question.

When a person in this role (insert the role you want to build a competency model for) s at the top of the game, what skills do they do best?

Such an exercise gets people really thinking about what success looks like for a particular role.

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
  • Have 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

For Example: The Skills and Abilities Necessary to Be a Successful Contact Center Director

Here’s what such an informal competency model 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.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Dan Rockwell

    Hi Karin. This is so useful. I’m going to use this with leaders and teams I lead!

    • Karin Hurt

      Dan, Awesome. Thanks so much. Glad you can use it.

  2. Terri Klass

    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!

    • Karin Hurt

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

  3. Alli Polin

    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!

    • Karin Hurt

      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.

  4. LaRae Quy

    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!

    • Karin Hurt

      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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