Single versus multi-level competencies. What’s the difference?

March 6, 2017 Lorraine McKay

While competencies are widely used to manage talent, there is still confusion around the different types of competency content available.

Many HR professionals use some form of competency-based management within the organization. Those who work in large organizations with extensive HR resources may develop their own competency content in house. Others choose to purchase or license the use of competency content from competency specialists such as HRSG.

Whether they create content internally or purchase it from an external source, the most valuable competencies are those that articulate multiple, progressive levels of proficiency, from entry level to mastery.

Why do multi-level competencies perform so much better as a talent management tool?

Because they provide greater detail, continuity, and simplicity than single-level competencies, and these enhancements make competencies more practical and more versatile in the workplace.


Many HR professionals assume multi-level competencies are more complicated to use. In fact, the opposite is true. For example, instead of applying three single-level competencies to three different jobs, you can assign different levels of the same competency. This approach allows you to streamline the number of competencies you work with while achieving the depth and flexibility you need.


Breaking a competency into progressive levels of proficiency provides more accuracy and allows managers and employees to see how a competency is expressed differently depending on the amount of experience, skill, and aptitude required for a particular job. This additional detail and context provides a shared language during discussions about performance and greater accuracy when talking about specific workplace behaviors and expectations.


By enabling employees to see how the same competencies are expressed at different proficiency levels for other jobs, multi-level competencies help them explore their potential and work towards lateral or upward career progression.


Multi-level competencies connect jobs at every level—from entry to leadership—across the organization. Each competency level describes the observable skills for a specific job, but one competency can link different jobs vertically or laterally across the organization. This helps HR professionals manage talent management more holistically and evaluate the organization’s current and future talent needs more confidently.


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.

About the Author

Lorraine McKay

Lorraine has over 30 years of experience as an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and HR Professional. She is well known for her experience developing competency-based programs and tools and has been instrumental in building HRSG’s competency management methodology, certification program, and tools.

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