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Competencies: The building blocks for career mobility

June 30, 2022
By Mark Coulter

Photo: tadamichi/Getty Images

As the labor pool continues to shrink and the quit rate continues to rise, talent professionals are dealing with challenges in retaining key talent. It is not a stretch to think that some of your very best employees may currently be considering career options outside your company. In this article, we’ll explore how you can use competencies to build a career pathing program designed to retain, engage, and leverage your talent.

Identifying competency

Let’s start by defining what competencies are before looking at how they can be used to create career pathing programs.

A competency describes the observable abilities, skills, knowledge, motivations, and traits, defined in terms of the behaviours, needed for successful job performance. They define the behaviours required for success at the different proficiency levels that are aligned with the hierarchy of roles within the organization.

A group of competencies, defined at the appropriate proficiency level, can be amalgamated into a competency profile that describes the competency requirements that predict job success. Depending on the role type, these competencies may include core competencies, leadership competencies, and functional competencies.


Enabling good talent decisions

Competencies can easily be translated into a “career profile” for each role. The career profile includes the competency profile as well as the qualifications required for success.
A career profile can be used to assess and select talent for roles. Not only do competencies assist in making objective, fair, and equitable selection decisions, but they also help predict employee success.

Competencies can act as a beacon to confirm that candidates are ready for a specific role by proving that they can demonstrate the necessary behaviours (the ‘how’), at the required level of proficiency, to achieve expected performance outcomes (the ‘what’).

Ensuring better succession management decisions

Competencies can help identify the future leaders of your organization. One commonly held belief when it comes to succession management is that “the best performers are the best leaders.” Unfortunately, this is a fallacy. Often, organizations resort to intuition and unconscious biases when categorizing employees as high-potential future leaders. But there is too much at stake to allow leadership choices to be guided by anything other than objective facts.

A better, less biased, and more equitable approach to assessing leadership potential is to use a common set of leadership competencies (including proficiency levels) to accurately assess your talent pool. This approach ensures that the executive team uses valid, observable, and measurable behaviours to assess where each employee is today, including a deeper understanding of their readiness for future leadership roles.

Supporting more diverse career paths

Well-designed competency profiles limit the number of competencies required for any one role. This simplifies the career paths because there is a limited number of competencies in which successful candidates need to be proficient.

Since roles are constructed from the same competency “building blocks,” it also enlarges the potential talent pool. Employers can now consider internal candidates from a variety of different backgrounds, roles and functions in their selection decisions.

Instead of looking within each function for candidates to fill the next vacancy or going outside the company to hire an external candidate, managers can use competencies to identify a broader, potentially deeper pool of interested, motivated, and skilled internal candidates to select from.

Helping employees navigate their career choices

Ensuring that employees have the tools, resources, and support to navigate their career choices can be challenging. A lot of organizations promote the philosophy that the employee is the “CEO of their career.” However, it is one thing to say this and quite another for employees to experience it. The primary goal of any internal mobility program is to ensure that employees are free to explore career opportunities without having to leave your organization to do so.

In other words, if you know the competencies needed in your target role, you can consider whether a candidate is a good fit for the role. Also, competencies and required proficiency levels can provide a roadmap by showing how you can develop from one role to the next, whether it is a lateral, vertical, horizontal, or downwards move.

New paths, new narrative

The effect of the “Great Resignation” is real, but it can be a catalyst for talent professionals to start developing programs that improve the workplace experience for employees.

A career pathing program built with competencies sends a powerful message that the organization recognizes the value of their employees and is committed to empowering and retaining them. The goal is to create an environment where new, non-traditional career paths are enabled in ways that have not been considered or allowed previously. With every employee career move and every subsequent success story, you are creating a new narrative in your organization—one reinforcing the importance and commitment to employee development and career growth through a sustained focus on career mobility.

Mark Coulter is the Director of Talent Management Solutions at HRSG. He partners with global clients to design and implement competency-based solutions to achieve business and workplace outcomes.

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