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Which Organizations Should Use Competencies?

By Sarah Beckett on October, 8 2015
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Sarah Beckett

While any organization can benefit from competencies, some business challenges are particularly well suited to a competency-based approach.

For example, an HR department may examine competencies for the first time in response to a need for greater rigor and consistency. In this post, we’ll examine some common situations that motivate an organizational switch to competencies.


Strengthening organizational culture.

Selecting the right core competencies can be a powerful way to build organizational culture. Whether the culture is poorly defined or needs to change, competencies help to reinforce the desired path and give every employee a blueprint that translates organizational values into tangible, on-the-job behaviors that everyone can understand and aspire to.

CLIENT EXAMPLE: When a large aircraft manufacturer went through a major restructuring, they needed to align company performance with a new mission and a new set of values. They also needed a way to help employees at every level to understand how they could support the big picture. By selecting core competencies that reflected the organization’s values, the HR team could communicate those values in a way that related to every employee’s performance.

“Core competencies become critical when you’re looking at change, especially cultural change. It’s hard for employees in basic roles, like cleaners or maintenance workers, to relate to a vision and see how they contribute to organizational success. When you are able to spell it out for them with core competencies, it’s something everybody can understand and embrace.” –Christine Lamothe, HRSG competency consultant


Navigating organizational change.

Effecting change across an organization is a big challenge, but when every employee’s performance supports the desired change, it can create a powerful momentum that breaks through resistance and inertia. Competencies can be a useful tool to guide employees in adopting new behaviors, or to help HR to hire employees whose capabilities align with the new priorities.

CLIENT EXAMPLE: When The DXL Group, a national retailer, underwent a major expansion and a change in strategy, they needed their front-line retail staff to understand the new vision and become effective brand ambassadors and stewards of a new customer experience. Identifying the right core competencies enabled them to effect a transformation by aligning HR activities and employment expectations with the new direction.

“We can talk to people about where they need to be in their own job, or what they need to do to move to the next proficiency level for the next job. It’s all right before them. It makes it very easy.” –Tracey Piper, DXL’s Director of HR


Strengthening defensibility.

For organizations required to meet certain employment requirements by unions or government regulations, competencies can enhance defensibility, providing a transparent and consistent standard for hiring, managing, and promoting employees.

CLIENT EXAMPLE: When the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) was tasked with formalizing their talent management process, they knew it would be challenging to gain support from both their management team and their unionized workers. Competencies helped them clarify expectations on both sides and find a middle ground that satisfied everyone and met rigorous defensibility standards.

“Defensibility was always a big issue for me. We had meetings with supervisors, subject matter experts, and people in the bargaining unit. We had a validation process where we introduced what we had come up with, asked for feedback, and incorporated feedback where it was appropriate. Now, I feel even better about dissenting grievances because I know that we have a valid process in place, and I can rely on that.” –Nazlin Mohamed, OPSEU’s Supervisor of Employee Relations


Creating consistency.

When organizations expand their base of operations across multiple regions or countries, it can result in a cultural and operational disconnect. Even if the HR department is centralized, there can be big differences in the ways that local managers handle hiring, performance management, and development. Competencies provide a common language that ensures greater consistency across the organization in terms of the levels of performance that workers are expected to meet and the values that are shared across the organization.

CLIENT EXAMPLE: The call-center division for a specialty benefits-management company was experiencing growing pains after seeing their workforce double in five years. With locations nationwide, every call center was following different HR policies, practices and procedures, resulting in disconnection, confusion, and inconsistency. By creating a standardized, competency-based approach and consolidating their competency content in HRSG’s CompetencyCore, a cloud-based solution that’s accessible from every location, the company can now ensure that every job site reflects a common set of standards and values.

“Competencies provide a set of standards that apply to everyone in the organization, and a language that people outside of the HR department—managers, employees, and the executive level—can understand. When everyone speaks the same language and is bound by the same rules, it helps to maintain a stronger culture across geographic boundaries.” –Paul Pagliaro, HRSG SVP Products


Want to learn more about using competencies? Get started with our Competency Toolkit:

Download your Competency Toolkit using the form below.



Post last updated: June 27, 2019.

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