How to Use Competency Models for Coaching

Friday, June 3, 2016

Imagine you are a successful individual contributor who has just been promoted into your first management role. You have eight direct reports whom you’ve worked with in the past, but do you really know them? You now have to begin showing your coaching capabilities—something you’ve never had to do before. Where do you begin?

If you have competency models for the roles of your team and a competency assessment tool, your fear, uncertainty, and doubts are over. You can use the skills in the model and the skills assessment data (yours and your direct reports) to have a data-driven conversation about specific areas where they are strong, and where they need help.

Your conversation can go something like this:

You see a perceptual difference—a skill area that your employee believes she’s strong in, but you think she needs some improvement. 

You: “I see that you appear to have a real strength in this area, and I’m not familiar with it. Can you give me some examples where you have performed these behaviors?” (while looking at behavioral examples from the competency model).


You both agree she’s strong in a particular skill area. 

You: “You’re really strong at this skill. There are several people on our team/in the region who could use assistance improving here. How do you feel about being assigned as a task-based mentor to one of those people from time to time?”

You both agree on some skills gaps. 

You: “There are four skills gaps. Which one or two do you think most affect your success in your role? Let’s take a look at what learning opportunities are available to close them. What do you prefer? Would you like to work with a mentor on this activity? Let’s look at the behavioral examples, to see what types of projects might be useful for skill building.”

Now, in every subsequent one-on-one conversation, you have great talking points:  

  • What activities did you complete? 
  • What did you think about them? 
  • How can I help you to apply these new skills? 
  • What experiences can I provide for practice or to complement the activity? 
  • How can we celebrate your achievement? 
  • What will best help you prepare for your next role?

The quality of a manager, and that manager’s ability to have great development conversations, is one of the reasons people stay in a job and remain engaged. And conversely, when a manager can’t do this, it’s why they leave. When you give a manager a road map to do this well, you drive skills gap closure, engagement, and retention.
If you want to improve the capabilities of your managers and help them maximize the daily impact on their direct reports, embrace competency models and make them actionable so they can be used daily.

About the Author

Cheryl Lasse is SkillDirector’s managing partner. Her goal is helping people and companies achieve their potential. Cheryl has extensive experience with competency model development and implementation, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and passion with others. Check out the LinkedIn group Competency Models For Professional Development.

She believes people are intrinsically motivated to excel, if they are given access to a competency model for their role, the opportunity to assess themselves against that model, and personalized learning to help them close gaps and meet aspirational goals. This philosophy has been embodied in the Self-Directed Learning Engine, the engine behind the ATD Skill Tracker.

Cheryl has a strong background in consulting, marketing, and sales, mostly in technology companies, where training has played a chief role throughout her career. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Syracuse University in computer science and HR, and an MBA from the University of South Florida.

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