Best Practices in Competency Modeling

Whether you are experienced at developing competency models or just want a better understanding of the domain, the seminal article Doing Competencies Well: Best Practices in Competency Modeling (Campion, Fink, Ruggeberg, Carr, Philips, Odman, 2011) provides useful guidance and best practices typically applied by practitioners. Competency modeling has quickly gained popularity so it is no surprise that the practice, development, and implementation of the models have surpassed the speed of research on its effectiveness. 

This article provides a glance on how research and practice can begin to coincide on the development and implementation aspect of competency modeling.  In fact, we believe the article is so relevant and useful that we decided to list the best practices we apply to competency modeling. You will also see how we make these practices our own by adapting them to our organization.

 1. Using rigorous job analysis methods to develop competencies

To better apply our expertise in cognition and fully address our customer needs we have integrated rigorous Cognitive Task Analysis techniques to the development of competencies. This additional analysis method makes our models richer by providing both cognitive and behavioral aspects of effective job performance.

2. Using organizational language

Using the appropriate organizational language is essential in working with the military sector. We work closely with in-house military subject matter experts to ensure that the model is appropriate for the military. We strongly believe that the model must be grounded in science, but it should not sound like it came from a scientific journal. Stakeholder buy-in and successful implementation are dependent on the correct use of language. Employees must feel like they can relate to it and the leadership must feel that it correctly represents the organization.

3. Including both fundamental (across job) and technical competencies (job specific)

One of the advantages of developing competency models with both fundamental and technical competencies is that it provides a clear and concise way of organizing and presenting the model. Based on our customer needs, we have developed our competency models to not only delineate the fundamental and technical competencies, but also identify the fundamental competencies that should be acquired prior to beginning the job. This makes the model an easy transition for use in employee selection tools.

 4. Using diagrams, pictures, and heuristics to communicate competency models to employees

One of the quickest ways to gain buy-in from stakeholders is to provide the competency model in an easy-to-understand and easy-to-market format. Unlike job analysis that typically requires and experienced scientist to decipher, competency models are typically displayed as creative models and figures that help guide understanding. The layout and design of our competency models are based on the organizational needs and future goals. The visualizations are typically a reflection of the organization and its future.

 5. Using competencies to align the HR systems

To truly see the benefits of an organizational competency model, it needs to be aligned with most HR processes. The key is to have the right amount of detail and generality in the model that it allows for more specific applications. Our models include general competencies as well as their associated knowledge, skills, and cognitive abilities. For this reason, we have successfully applied competency models to interventions such as performance appraisals, development of selection tools, and curriculum development and revisions.

Have you applied any of these best practices or any of the practices mentioned by the article? If so, were the results successful?


Campion, M.A., Fink, A.A., Ruggerberg, B.J., Carr, L., Phillips, G.M., Odman, R.B. (2011). Doing competencies well: Best practices in competency modeling, 64, 225-262.

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About the Author:


Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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