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Competency modeling will help your nonprofit with development challenges

When we talk to nonprofit leaders about their greatest organization development challenges, alignment is a word we hear often. Leaders who are serious about strategy understand that effectively aligning their talent competencies to business goals is crucial.

A competency is an identified knowledge, skill or attribute (KSA) that directly and positively affects the success of employees and the organization. Behavioral competencies are a set of behaviors that make employees particularly effective in their work when applied in appropriate situations; for example, high emotional intelligence. Technical competencies are underlying KSAs that are necessary for employees to perform a certain type or level of work activity; for example, Adobe InDesign software proficiency.

Competency modeling is one widely used human capital process that helps connect people and performance in organizations. It is the activity of determining the specific competencies that are characteristic of high achievement and success in a given job.

A new context for competency modeling

Competency modeling has enjoyed growing popularity in recent years due to the changing world of work. Serving as the foundation for important human capital functions such as recruitment and hiring, competency modeling remains a relevant exercise despite a new talent management environment. Below we explore several employment trends and show how competency modeling can contribute positively to these new talent realities.

  • Gig economy. Freelance jobs and contract work are becoming more commonplace. As people move away from full-time employment and toward part-time “gigs,” workplaces are beginning to hire for on-demand roles that require specialist skills. Competency modeling, with its focus on identifying the attributes needed to perform a job successfully, can assist employers with smarter hiring practices as talent models continue to change.
  • Artificial intelligence. Automation is on the rise. Machines are increasingly used for a variety of tasks, especially in manual labor industries. Some people fear that robots will replace humans in the workplace, but this concern is most likely premature. As society makes advances in artificial intelligence, so new jobs will be created — jobs that require an understanding of nuance and emotion that only human brains can conceptualize. But regardless of the person or computer completing the work, competency modeling isn’t going anywhere. As old jobs are eliminated and new ones created, organizations will require clear blueprints for position performance.
  • Learning and development. Employees in today’s workplace value personal development, often more than compensation or benefits. Employers attempting to retain loyal and well-trained employees are investing in workplace learning with renewed vigor. Competency modeling supports learning and development efforts by identifying skills gaps. When organizations understand the knowledge and behaviors required for high performance and the current skill levels of existing employees, they can better create learning and development pathways to move staff from point a to point b.

Competency modeling first steps

Because competency modeling focuses on a role, it is not tossed by the waves of job attrition; the knowledge, skills, and abilities determined for each role are not person-specific. Ideally, every job should have at least three to seven specific competencies. Each competency includes a brief description of the attributes an employee needs to perform well; intended results; and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) metrics showing completion of these results.

Going back to our earlier example, here is a competency outline for a job role requiring high emotional intelligence:

  • Competency: Emotional intelligence
  • Description: The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to use empathy in interpersonal relationships
  • Results: High emotional intelligence in workplace relationships, including interactions with supervisor, peers and direct reports
  • Metrics: 80 percent or higher EQ score from annual 360-degree assessment

Note that this description is short and simple, and intentionally so. Competency modeling must, by design, describe your core talent capabilities while remaining agile enough to support the creation of new roles and changing talent needs. The above list is a first step in competency modeling — it describes one competency for one role. A robust model includes all competencies for all roles and is written as a visual map. The intent is for your leaders to see how, in the bigger picture, organizational talent contributes to strategy.

What does competency modeling look like in your organization? What can you do to improve the practice and ensure greater performance? Organization consulting firm Brighter Strategies can assist with your competency modeling strategy, as well as the specific opportunities and challenges your nonprofit is facing. Contact us for more information.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.