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Conducting Effective Needs Assessments: Conduct a Competency-Based Assessment Part II

Part I of this post looked at data gathering prior to conducting needs assessments. This post will discuss conducting a competency-based assessment. You would use the data from the data gathering session(s) to develop a competency model to assess against.

To begin, let’s define a competency model. In The Art and Science of Competency Models (page 5), a competency model is defined as “the particular combination of knowledge, skills and characteristics and is used as a human resource tool for selection, training and development, appraisal, and succession planning.”


The outcome of the competency-based assessment might be:

  • An understanding of where each individual is currently in their development (gap analysis)
  • A description of the knowledge, skills and behaviors required for various roles within the organization based on the evaluation of individuals who are highly regarded and high performing  – meaning they exceed expectations on a regular basis and achieve high ratings on performance reviews
    • Create a competency model for future assessments
  • The creation of a variety of training programs to help individuals achieve their professional goals and the goals of the organization
  • The creation of career paths for various roles within the organization – from junior to more senior
  • The creation of interview plans and questions for recruiting and hiring
  • The creation and/or enhancement of a performance review process

The following approach might be taken:

  • Interview the managers of the best employees to understand what makes the individual valuable within that department and to the organization
  • Interview these best employees and high potential employees to understand their background, education level, skills brought into the organization from other companies and skills developed while at the organization

Other questions you might ask the employees include, for example,

  • What has enabled you to be successful at your job?
  • What barriers have you encountered and how have you moved past those barriers?
  • What support have you received?
  • What have you done of your own volition to be successful?
  • Do you have a mentor or coach?
  • What skills do you believe make you successful at the job?
  • What additional skills do you need in your opinion?
  • What are your professional goals?

Use this approach to develop the comprehensive competency models for the various roles to help individuals move up through the organization into future leadership roles.  Once developed, this competency model and assessments will be used to assess all other individuals within the organization.

For example, the organization may require that leaders have the following strengths (see bulleted list below).  You would want to ensure that your competency model covers these skills and that assessments assessed the individual against these skills.

  • Coaching others
  • Influencing skills
  • Collaborative decision making and problem solving
  • Team leadership
  • Communication
  • Long term vision/goal setting
  • Financial management
  • Strategic planning
  • Strategic thinking
  • Risk taking
  • Business acumen
  • Change management
  • Presentation skills
  • Negotiating and conflict management

The competency models may be distinct depending on the specific department/function, and should be focused on the critical jobs and roles needed at each level.  For example, a future executive in sales may require in-depth knowledge of the competitive environment and product knowledge; while an HR executive may require expertise in interviewing and selection skills and in-depth knowledge of employment laws.  New hires within any department may require the ability to work within a team environment.

It is important to look at the skills of current leaders to determine their strengths and development areas.  What skills are needed that may not exist within the organization currently in order for the organization to grow, prosper and compete in a global marketplace?  How might you groom more junior employees to ensure they have the necessary skills to lead the organization at a future date?

Individuals would be assessed against the competency model developed for their particular role (or a future role) to determine their strengths and development areas.  Those should be mapped against the expectations set for each role within the organization to determine the skills gaps.  You wouldn’t expect every individual to be performing now at the highest level (they wouldn’t rank as “experts”); but you would want an idea where they are performing now so you can develop a plan to get them to where they need to be in order to eventually take on a more senior leadership role within the organization.  The goal is to develop a long-term strategic management training program to ensure you have the bench strength when your current leaders retire or move on to other organizations. Your competency model will help you not only assess your current employees, but also help you identify employees with high potential within the organization.

The outcome of your competency based assessment should be:

  • A competency model for the various key roles within the organization
  • Tools to assess against that competency model in the future
    • Questionnaires/surveys
    • Interviewing tools
    • Assessments
    • 360 feedback tools
  • Development of detailed job descriptions for each role that includes the skills, behaviors and competencies required to perform successfully in that role

Remember to revisit and revise your work on a set schedule – maybe annually or whatever time frame works best for the organization.  If your organization has constant change due to mergers and acquisitions, frequent new product introductions, etc., you may want to set a more frequent schedule for reviewing and revising your competency models and needs assessments processes and procedures.  As the organization grows and develops, new competencies are required to ensure success – make sure you capture that information and re-develop/update your model and assessments appropriately.


The Art and Science of Competency Models: Pinpointing Critical Success Factors in Organizations, Authors: Anntoinette Lucia, Richard Lepsinger; Publisher: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 1999. This book provides a great resource for understanding competency models and providing you the knowledge and tools you need to create competency models.  I have also used this as a reference for many client engagements.

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