A competency model is a written description of the competencies required for fully successful or exemplary performance in a job category, work team, department, division, or organization. Competency identification and modeling can be a beginning point for strategic development plans linked to organizational and individual needs.
As you might expect, organizations express competency models in somewhat different ways. These variations reflect their different constraints, preferences, practices, values, business objectives, and reasons for using competencies. Competency models may also vary by type. Many organizations do not distinguish among competency models that
Research on the characteristics included in competency models is of much interest today. In one study with 300 respondents
Confronting the Challenges of Competency Identification
Striking a balance between speed and rigor is perhaps the chief challenge of competency identification work.
refers to how quickly the competencies for a
Many other challenges await those who undertake competency identification. An organization may have difficulty matching the resources needed to conduct competency identification with the resources available to carry out the task. Decision
Pickett (1998) mentioned challenges such as difficulty identifying competencies, not enough time allotted for the project, resistance from staff, and lack of management support and commitment. As the reasons for problems, he suggested poor communication, not enough background information made available, and
According to Lucia and Lepsinger (1999), lack of commitment is often caused by failure to clearly
We should comment here, however, that a competency-based approach to HR management provides a method of dealing with each issue. Several research studies on competency-based HR management have addressed the topic of challenges and barriers and provided suggestions for meeting and overcoming them. Here is a brief look at the some of the results.
From a survey on competency systems, both their design and use,
conductedwith 134 people, Green (1999) indicated that the findings suggest five broad categories of challenges: gaining buy-in, involvement, and participation; developing reliable and valid forms of measurement; addressing the challenge of negative feedback through introduction of acceptable and representative performance measurement; ensuring job relevance; and seeking methods of cost effectiveness.
More than 130 HR executives were interviewed for a study during late 1999 and early 2000. The results indicated the following barriers to using competencies: no buy-in or visible commitment from top management; organizational unreadiness; lack of time and resources needed to develop and validate credible, useful models that could withstand legal challenge; insufficient time and resources for creating reliable, valid evaluations with which to guide follow-up steps (Rahbar-Daniels, Erickson, & Dalik, 2001).
The Society for Human Resource Management sponsored a study in late 1999 and early 2000 that involved 300 organizations. The results suggested that barriers to success include lack of expertise, insufficient staff and financial resources, limited support, and conflicting priorities (Schoonover et al., 2000). Identifying realistic outcomes, determining resources needs and time requirements, and consistently using best practices were noted as contributors to positive
outcomes(Schoonover et al., 2000).
In 1998, researchers Cook and Bernthal Development Dimensions International conducted a study of 292
membersof the HR Benchmark Group. The survey included a number of different questions about competencies and their use in organizations. One of the topics was barriers to the effective use of competencies. The findings suggested difficulties in the following areas: making resources available for job analyses, developing strategies for using competencies, linking competencies to organizational strategy, securing management support, identifying competencies, adapting to changing jobs and roles, assigning responsibility for competency identification, and providing clear, accurate definitions (Cook & Bernthal, 1998).
Professionals who work with competencies often have very good suggestions for addressing problems associated with competency projects. A few of these suggestions are
Representatives of organizations with competency-based HR management practices
Some organizations continuously seek ways of facilitating competency projects. For example, the Public Service Commission of Canada, collaborating with the Treasury Board Secretariat, conducted a survey that involved 57 organizations of the federal Public Service to ascertain interest in the use of competency-based human resource management. Members of the project team
Yet, many HR
Competency Identification Methods
Competency identification is a means of clarifying key requirements for a job category or department and should be completed only after the dimensions of the work (for example, activities,
The Job Competence Assessment Method (JCAM)
JCAM was one of the first competency identification methods created to provide information on workers and the work they perform, and it can lead to the development of a highly valid and reliable competency model when the model is
The method relies on the collection and analysis of data obtained through a process called
behavior event interviewing.
The behavioral event interview (BEI) is a technique developed by McClelland and Charles Dailey (1973). It combines Flanagan's (1954) critical incident technique with other data based on more than 30
Through the use of BEIs, exemplary and fully successful workers are first identified and then interviewed about critical events in their work experience. The interviewer asks
The data are tabulated and subjected to rigorous statistical analyses. Three sets of characteristics are identified: those used by only the exemplary performers, those used by both exemplary and fully successful performers, and those cited by the fully successful but not the exemplary performers. The worker competencies that distinguish performance are represented by the first of the
Although BEIs produce rich and comprehensive work-related data, they do have limitations. First, they cannot be used to identify competencies for future work. After all, the interviews rely on the experiences of the respondents. Second, BEIs require skilled interviewers and statistical support services. For that reason, an organization might need to contract with outside sources to complete many of the tasks required for this approach. Third, key employees must be available for interviews, which does result in lost work time. It is easy to see why conducting BEIs can be a costly and
The Competency Menu Method
competency menu method
is becoming increasingly popular as a means of identifying competencies. It relies on competency lists obtained from sources in the private and public domains. Practitioners create menus from the lists and then use the
As a starting point for developing an organization-specific competency model, competency menus tend to be less costly than the Job Competence Assessment Method we described earlier. But there is a trade-off. Competency menus from external sources may be of questionable value to an organization, although menus of high quality have been devised from credible research conducted by professional associations or government agencies. The real question is this: How did a vendor create the competency menu?
To be both useful and defensible, a competency menu must be comprehensive for the work it embraces. It must also represent the current state of the art and state of the practice for its work area. These factors affect the validity and reliability of the competency models derived from a menu. Validity refers to the measurement of the competencies needed to bring about desired business results, and reliability refers to the means of measurement that accurately reflects the actual competency levels of employees (Cooper, 2000). Accordingly, practitioners should carefully examine the origins of the competency menus they have found.
Competency models built from competency menus can be organized in a variety of ways, depending on the needs or preferences of the
A competency menu must be modified—a process that some call "tailoring"—to meet the needs of a unique corporate culture. Modifications may be accomplished in several ways, such as by using card sorts, focus groups, surveys, or a combination of the three. Each approach has its advantages and challenges.
A card sort activity is easy to design. Competency statements (taken verbatim or edited from a menu) are placed on index cards. A respondent group is identified, and group members meet to sort the cards. Members may be instructed, for example, to
Focus groups also can be used to identify competencies from a menu. With focus groups, researchers must take care to avoid
Printed surveys are
In summary, the way in which a competency menu is used dramatically influences the quality of the results obtained. 
The Modified DACUM Method
The modified DACUM method is based on the "Developing A CurriculUM" (DACUM) method (Norton, 1997). DACUM is a popular job analysis process that relies on a disciplined, focus group approach for information collection, analysis, and presentation of results. Dubois and Rothwell (2000) extended the DACUM process to include the identification of abstract competencies (for example, patience) that are frequently difficult to identify and verify.
The modified DACUM method begins by assembling work experts. These experts may be exemplary performers, managers, supervisors, team
Application of the modified DACUM method
Other Aspects of Competency Identification
Competency identification also requires consideration of other factors.
Regardless of the method, data about competencies are dependent on sources, whether internal, external, or both. Practices regarding the types and number of sources vary from one organization to another.
The Job/Role Competency Practices study conducted by researchers Cook and Bernthal (1998) received responses from 292 members of the HR Benchmark Group, Development Dimensions International. One of the topics in the survey was sources of data used in competency identification practices. Results of the group surveyed showed that 85% or more of the organizations responding depend on information from managers and job incumbents in defining job and role competencies. Input from HR staff, while not as
Research indicates that the use of competencies in HR management practices is enhanced with experience. Schoonover et al. (2000) pointed out that "more
 See, for example, Byham and Moyer (1996); Dubois (1993); Dubois and Rothwell (2000); and Green (1999).
 For further review on the validity of competency models, see Block and Rebell (1980); Byham (1996); Byham and Moyer (1996); Cooper (2000); Dubois (1993); Dubois and Rothwell (2000); Harlan, Klemp, and Schaalman (1980); Huff, Klemp, Spencer, and Williamson (1980); Lucia and Lepsinger (1999); Pottinger, Wiesfeld, Tochen, Cohen, and Schaalman (1980); and Spencer and Spencer (1993).
 For more extensive discussions on competency identification methods, see Dubois (1993) and Dubois and Rothwell (2000).
 Details of the JCAM process can be found in Dubois (1993); Spencer, McClelland, and Spencer (1994); and Spencer and Spencer (1993).