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Insights

When the Competency Model Breaks Down: How to Map Skills to Roles

Wednesday, January 15, 2020
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By now, most of us have caught on to the idea that talking about skills is cool, and many companies are simply replacing the word learning with skills. While this idea is taking over the L&D world, many professionals are facing challenges in reconciling this idea with their companies’ pre-existing competency models.

The problem with competency maps is they evolve so quickly and they’re often outdated before being approved and published. And who really knows how to measure the broad statements they often contain, such as, “ . . . Treats customers with empathy and kindness while expediently resolving their issues?” Maybe that’s why organizations also have committees to calibrate the resulting competency measurement processes.

So we understand the complexity around competency models, but what’s the alternative? Our solution: mapping skills to roles to quantify ability and create visibility. Once you’ve mapped, you measure, modify, and share what you’re learning with the data. We can help with these five steps.

1. Start With Why

This is the fundamental business reason why you’re measuring skills. For most organizations, the main driver is growth, whether that is in size, in new markets, or in new products and services to future-proof your organization.

Don’t stop there, though. Remember that you must get this data from people. And to get the most accurate data, it’s best to avoid highly pressurized moments, like promotions or raises. Another best practice is to identify a “why” for each individual, which is often a version of career progression, especially if it occurs within the organization (think internal mobility).

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2. Focus on a Few Roles to Start

Remember that one of the reasons competency models don’t work is their complexity. They’re layered and wordy, so let’s not repeat that mistake. When crafting your solution, focus on a few critical roles to start. Maybe you start with growth roles or high-performing departments—even a horizontal role, like a manager or business analyst. Or perhaps you focus on important skills for new hires, like going back to the basics.

3. Map Skills to Roles

After selecting a handful of crucial roles, it’s time to map skills to them. Sounds easy, right? It can be but there are a few common challenges:

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  • Too Many: Recall where we went off the road with competencies and avoid doing too much. This makes it challenging to hit the goal identified in step one. In other words, it will make it difficult to glean immediate insights.
  • Non-Critical: The reality is that every one of us is a complex system of skills. Some of these skills help us to be successful in our current role while others may be completely unrelated to the current role. And some are supporting but maybe not critical. It’s the last group that organizations might include when they really aren’t necessary.
  • Top-Down: Our recent report with Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning in How the Workforce Learns shows that our employees know their skills and skills gaps. So why aren’t we asking them? You’ll get better input along with better output to meet your goal.

4. Measure, Monitor, Modify

You need to measure but also monitor often and modify based on what you’re seeing. Say you’re looking at project management and noticing that everyone’s level is the same. To get insight, you need to modify what you’re seeing. Perhaps project management isn’t the skill that distinguishes great performance (and great performance is what you need to meet your goal). So, remove it and find the skills that are driving your business forward.

5. Share Your Insights

This one may seem obvious but too often we stop at the measuring stage, so we don’t fully realize the impact of our insights. These insights can lead to changes in job requirements and the opening of talent pools. That can lead to more growth. Find those connections in your data and share them, far and wide.


About the Author

Kristi Broom is director of client engagement at Degreed, and a L&D leader with 20+ years of experience, including time at Citi and Anthem. Her expertise lies in delivering complex global solutions with impact, including learning technology strategy, change management, and realizing value through skills. A true promoter of lifelong learning and skill growth, Kristi is a mentor for MNCAPS, a program that fully immerses students in a professional culture while receiving high school and college credit.

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In my experience, employees are the worst judges of their own skill levels. There is a consistent upward bias when reporting their levels of proficiency. That is really not surprising, right? No doubt due to a combination of human nature and fear of fallout from admitting to weakness. I have found that manager assessments are better even though they carry their own biases. Suggest using manager assessments in conjunction with an analysis of specific program performance gaps.
Purpose is an important driver in validity of ratings. This statement: "No doubt due to a combination of human nature and fear of fallout from admitting to weaknesses" captures that point -- when skill levels are used for purposes that are largely punitive, individuals may inflate. When they are used for virtuous purposes, like personalized development and career mobility, user rating are likely to be much more valid. Manager or peer validation is a great augment to the data.
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