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Updated: Jun 25

Well-designed and implemented competency frameworks, sometimes referred to as models, provide metrics for selecting talent, developing individuals’ skills, and evaluating their performance equitably.

Without frameworks that reflect their values and align with their objectives, organizations are likely to place people in inappropriate roles, miss growth goals, and see declines in employee engagement and customer loyalty.

Clear competency definitions that align with an organization’s priorities and set accurate expectations for specific job roles help embed its vision and values into its expectations of employees’ capabilities and behaviors.

What is a Competency Framework?

As explained in Talent Transformation: Develop Today’s Team for Tomorrow’s World of Work, organizations group individual competency definitions into competency frameworks that describe the required knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and experiences employees need to succeed.

Competency definitions describe the required performance environment—the physical setting in which an individual or team performs a task, including elements such as information, job aids, tools, workspace, air quality, noise level, and lighting—and the levels of potential performance. These definitions explain what’s needed to perform successfully in a role; they help us understand what we need to measure to determine if someone is suitable for that role.

A competency framework that incorporates well-defined competencies provides a useful reference point for other talent management functions:

What are the Benefits?

A well-designed competency framework helps stakeholders at every level of an organization:

Senior leaders gain a reliable basis for talent decisions about who should fill available positions and what their organization’s strategic development requires. These frameworks, which align HR’s strategies with those of the entire organization, can be revised and clarified to meet changing priorities.

Managers obtain critical targets for talent acquisition, development, evaluation, and reskilling. Managers who adhere to these frameworks can confirm that their decisions are fair and match up with the rest of the organization.

Employees at all levels learn how to achieve desired results in their current role and prepare for the future roles they want.

The HR Team gets a roadmap for building and connecting talent management systems, with competency profiles at their fingertips for recruitment, onboarding, performance appraisal, and professional development.

Using Competency Frameworks

Popular applications of competency frameworks include:


Organizations that clearly define the skills, capabilities, and behaviors they need for specific roles are far more likely to fill positions quickly and appropriately than those who don’t pin down these details. Participating in interviews and assessments that align with competency frameworks helps new hires understand what their jobs will require and prepare for what’s ahead.

Learning and Development

Competency frameworks offer a roadmap for assessing performance, providing feedback, prescribing learning programs, and charting future professional development plans.

Succession Management

Leaders seeking talent to fulfill organizational goals need clear standards for assessing individuals at all levels. Data from assessments that reflect those goals make it possible to pinpoint talent gaps and identify individuals’ suitability for particular roles.

Performance Management

By articulating the skills, capabilities, and behaviors that bring success, competency frameworks give leaders and managers road maps for how to create performance plans that achieve desired objectives and outcomes.

Career Planning

Employees and managers who stay informed about critical skillsets and mindsets for job success can chart practical professional development plans and prepare knowledgeably for what’s next.

Cultivating Organizational Culture

Competency frameworks that incorporate organizational values articulate and reinforce behaviors that align with those values. If an organization wants to build an inclusive culture, competency definitions can name the behaviors that contribute to inclusiveness – such as psychological safety and empathy.

Talent Analytics

Clear competency definitions provide a foundation for measuring people’s capabilities. They give leaders a basis for analyzing data that compares an organization’s performance, such as productivity and customer satisfaction, to data from competency evaluations. They also help managers identify the competencies that differentiate individuals’ performance levels and identify those most likely to succeed.

Steps for Success

Organizations that develop competency frameworks that align with organizational imperatives and apply these frameworks to all job roles enjoy tremendous advantages. They gain valuable insights about the talent they need to grow and innovate, the competencies they need to build, and ways in which their talent management systems must improve.

Start on the Right Foot

Designing a competency framework begins with discussing the organization’s challenges and selecting the competency definitions to be included within the framework. Job Task Analysis (JTA) makes it possible to tease out critical tasks and discover their importance, difficulty, and frequency. For an existing role, this is a matter of analyzing each task by surveying and interviewing the individuals—preferably experts—who already perform it. For a new or changing role, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) collaborate to determine the details of the tasks it will entail.

Relating competencies directly to organizational strategies and goals encourages stakeholders at all levels of the organization to support the process. It’s also crucial to consider how competencies will be used and applied within talent management systems. Competency definitions should note specific skills, capabilities, and behaviors to match each role to ensure clear expectations. And organizations must ensure that staff members know how to use these definitions.

Build in Sustainability

Competency frameworks are of little value without accountability. Who will be in charge of supporting competency applications? How will they evaluate competencies’ strong points and weak points and revise those that don’t serve the organization well? And how quickly will they be able to respond to changing needs? Is there a process of evaluating return on investment?


Carefully planned and designed competency frameworks help keep organizations on track as they pursue their objectives. Once in place, these frameworks need ongoing review and revision to meet changing needs and demands. Consistently communicate the benefits of competency frameworks, monitor results, and inform stakeholders about progress to build support across the organization.

Learn more about the value of competency definitions and frameworks by visiting the Talent Transformation Guild.