Partnering on Competency Modeling: A Recap and Way Forward

March 12, 2018 in
By Ben Porr

For those of you who couldn’t attend the Partnership for Public Service’s workshop on competency modeling on February 22nd, we’re happy to report that it was a packed house! Demonstrating the diverse interests government employees have about competencies, attendees spanned most Departments and included I-O psychologists, HR specialists, training specialists, and leaders within technical areas (e.g., finance, geology). Clearly, we only scratched the surface and people are craving more information, but the workshop reinforced the need to share processes and actual models so all of us can spend more time applying competencies instead of just creating them.

Based on our conversation during the workshop, there were four featured takeaways:

First, as described by Mike Camburn in his blog, Competency Modeling: Planning for Workforce Success, and further reiterated during the session, competencies should be ingrained throughout the human capital lifecycle. This does not mean that competencies should be initially developed to meet every human capital need. Instead, typically, competencies are developed for a specific purpose (like selection), but while you’re developing them, consider and account for their applications in the other areas (like training and development, performance management, or career development). Also, once competencies are validated, they should be one of the inputs for other human capital programs that seek to improve workforce capabilities. Organizations that use competencies effectively are transparent in communicating what they are doing and how it fits into this overall strategy. This ensures stakeholders (e.g., leadership, unions) and users (e.g., employees) buy-in and understand the purpose.

Second, monitor and update competencies regularly. The rule of thumb used to be that competencies needed to be updated every 5 years. In today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) work environment, competencies should constantly be assessed for their relevance to the work (i.e., at least every two years). This will ensure employees understand what is expected of them and how they can prioritize their professional development. Having outdated competencies results in a misaligned workforce and could result in employees ignoring competencies altogether. During the workshop panel, April Davis from OPM discussed the importance of this and even referenced that OPM is currently evaluating the Executive Core Qualifications to ensure they still meet the expectations needed of the Federal Executive workforce. Also, as was demonstrated, competencies are being developed across many organizational functions sometimes with no standardization. Due to this, the processes and outputs can be different and even competing. It’s important for human capital leaders to facilitate this process without hindering it. Depending on your organizational culture and the view of human capital in this culture, facilitating the process can take many forms. The overall goal is to make sure the output of competencies are consistent (e.g., not having different names for same competency, similar look-and-feel). Leveraging pre-existing work within and outside your agency is critical in saving resources, but also helping with consistency.

Third, realize that competencies can be defined at multiple levels and should be defined to meet the need of your specific purpose. For training, we might want employees and supervisors to identify gaps in all competencies related to their job so that they can target and prioritize development opportunities. As described by Meredith Ferro at OCC, for performance management, we might want to have higher order factors (i.e., dimensions) that cover a collection of similar competencies. That way, we are not inundating managers with excessive competencies to rate, but more importantly, managers are focusing their performance ratings on the bigger picture of an employee’s productivity instead of specific slices of it.

Fourth, equip your supervisors with the information and resources to apply competencies effectively in the workforce. With everything that the federal supervisor is responsible for, it’s not effective to release a competency model and expect them to figure out how to implement it. As discussed by Corey Coleman of FEMA, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the federal supervisor and develop, communicate, and implement competencies in a way that helps them perform their jobs.

In summary, it’s clear that competencies aren’t going anywhere and it’s up to us as a human capital community to make sure they are developed and implemented effectively to maximize the performance of the federal workforce. If you know of other best practices or have existing competency models to share, we want to hear from you! Reach us at

Watch a recording of the workshop below!