By Bruce Griffiths M.S.

The reasons for competency models are compelling. Without criteria for hiring, promotion, placement, performance management and training, managers are left on their own to develop their own models, and HR systems don’t always offer optimal options. Quality hires, DEI goals, productivity, and a host of other HR metrics are in jeopardy without a common language for talent management.

What are competency models? They are a library of skill sets necessary for an employee to perform their job effectively within an organization.

A single competency is one dimension in this library of skill sets and is best behaviorally defined. This preferred, behavior-based definition is a legacy of the assessment center movement. Over 60 years ago AT&T realized the best way to define and measure managerial competency was through performance indicators, or behaviors. By modeling exemplars, they were able to tease out and cluster behaviors into relevant dimensions. Diagram 1 illustrates this concept.

While the most reliable way to define and measure a competency is through performance, a more complete definition includes other factors (K,S,A,O’s), and these factors play an important role in understanding and developing proficiency in a competency. Diagram 2 uses the iceberg as a metaphor for the seen and unseen elements in the Active Listening competency.

Finally, in thinking about competencies you must allow for synergy, subsets and interactions. Most complete competency libraries contain several dozen individual competencies, but not all are relevant for every role. And in any given context they can be prepotent (necessary, but not sufficient), synergistic and overlapping.

Diagram 3 includes the competencies professionals need to be effective in a meeting: you can’t win if you don’t play (Initiative), you must get your message across (Oral Communications), be seen as confident (Assertiveness), and fair (Active Listening) to be persuasive (Influence).

To learn more about OSI’s industry leading Polaris® competency library please contact Crystal Matsuura at OSI at or 858.455.0923.