Skip to content
All posts

How to Alleviate Heaps of HR Headaches

You’re hiring talented, smart people with the “right” credentials, background and education. So why are you experiencing so many hassles and HR headaches related to underperformance, poor fit in roles, retention, and bench strength?    

Graphic Showing Interview Between Applicant and HR or EmployerMaybe resumes alone aren’t giving you enough insights when you hire people or consider them    for internal promotions. And you already know    that “going with your gut” isn’t really reliable,     fair, or adequate. But what else is there?

You need a more objective measure, one that won’t lead you astray. You need a competency model! 

Competencies include the skills, knowledge, and traits needed to perform a job. A competency model is a collection of competencies relevant to an organization and each of its job roles. 

Think your business is too small for competencies? On the contrary, the smaller your HR department is, the more you need competencies to alleviate HR headaches and make your people practices easier. 

Creating Job Competencies: an Overview  

When you have clearly defined competencies, you can eliminate the guesswork and streamline people processes. You’ll improve your hiring, performance management, and career development all at once. What’s more, the clarity will reduce perceptions of favoritism and override unconscious biases. 

Competencies create transparency and give everyone a better understanding of what each job entails. Employees will be able to work on next-level competencies when you have a competency-based framework to define what’s needed in each role.  

The work that’s needed on the front end will take a little time. You may wish to partner with an experienced architect of competency models. The time, money and HR headaches you’ll save over the long-term make that investment a no-brainer, though. 

The best competency models are developed collaboratively. Enlisting the input and support of frontline managers accelerates buy-in and makes the final product better. After all, HR alone can’t fully understand the granularities of every single job role in an organization. 

First, you’ll develop company-wide competencies. To build a competency model for your organization, think first about the skills, knowledge, or traits you believe are absolutely essential for every employee (regardless of job role). For example, in one startup tech company, the founders strongly believed in the value of “humility.” For them, this competency has evidenced by a willingness to continually learn and grow, to accept and seek feedback, and to remain open to possibilities for incremental improvements (vs. pride of ownership and ego). For every employee in this organization, humility is a core competency. 

With 1-3 universal competencies, you’ve got a strong foundation. Next, you’ll begin defining competencies by job level and job role. 

Job-level competencies, like universal or company-wide competencies, apply to everyone in a particular level. For example, many organizations select leadership competencies for all employees in the Director (and higher) roles. In one food distribution company, all senior management team members are screened and developed for the competency of managerial courage. They defined this competency as “saying what needs to be said at the right time, to the right person, in the right way” (from Lominger). 

With job-level competencies, employees have a better sense of what’s needed for promotion. Additionally, the competencies become part of the culture.  Instead, people are unified by these prized skills, knowledge and traits. They strive to build them, work to demonstrate them, and provide an example to others through those actions. 

Now it’s time to define competencies that are specific to each role. There may be some repetition and cross-over, especially within business units. That’s okay! It’s also okay if there are differences by job role. What matters is selecting the ones that are truly needed in the role, not how many are the same or different when compared to other roles. 

For job role competencies, start by getting a clear picture of the ideal candidate for a particular job. Don’t think about the people who already do this job. Instead, step back and objectively look at the associated tasks and expectations for the role. What knowledge is required to perform those tasks? What skills are needed? What traits or characteristics make it easier to do those tasks well? What does success look like in this role, and what does it take to achieve success? 

Answering these questions will help you select the competencies that are essential for the role. Going forward, you’ll use these competencies to hire, train, and measure employees in this role. With a completed competency model, you know have a picture of your ideal candidate for this role. 

The ideal candidate is the one who brings all the competencies you’ve selected. Of course, “ideal” is a high standard. But it’s the right standard to measure against rather than comparing one individual to another (because that invites subjectivity). Going forward, the person who comes closest to the ideal is the one who is the “right choice” for the job.   

There’s more, too, that you can do to make your job easier once you’ve developed job competencies.     

7 HR Headaches You Can Alleviate with Job Competencies 

Competencies provide clarity and consistency. They safeguard employers from guesswork and slipshod people practices. Here are seven specific ways you can deploy competencies for a stronger organization and smoother operations.  

Job Descriptions

Competencies should be reflected in your job descriptions for use in recruiting and for employee clarity, too. The tasks and responsibilities outlined in the job description will cascade from the competencies.  

Candidate Screening

You won’t waste time in go-nowhere interviews when you pre-screen candidates on certain competencies. By including clear competencies in your job descriptions, some candidates will opt out of applying. This is a good thing! 


Behavioral Interviewing (BI) is the gold standard. Without competencies to guide the interview, though, BI can miss the mark. You need to know what you’re looking for before the interview to craft good BI questions and understand how to interpret responses. 

Once you have a competency model, you can also create interview guides with pre-written BI questions plus examples (+/-) to help interviewers score candidates objectively. 

Setting Expectations

KPIs and deliverables are easier to define and understand when positioned in the context of competencies. Competencies create clarity and reduce randomness (or the perception of it).  

Performance Evaluation

The clarity and objectivity of competencies will also demystify feedback, reviews, and appraisal of performance. Managers and employees are more likely to see the value of routine feedback when it’s part of the holistic system of people processes created with competencies. 

Succession Management

Transparent competencies for all jobs will enable self-guided career pathing. It also provides clarity in preparing successors and in selecting people for internal promotions (using BI questions here, too!).

Learning & Development

In addition to obvious functional and technical skills, you may discover a need to train employees in competencies. Looking through this lens will help you allocate your L&D resources. With competencies, you’ll be able to identify gaps and respond accordingly. 

After developing competencies throughout the organization, a digital agency recognized a void. One company-wide competency, one leadership competency, and one job level competency that recurred across many roles were seriously lacking. All were soft or transferable skills. The agency realized they had historically hired and trained for technical skills, thereby ignoring skills that would improve communication, collaboration, and decision-making. 

Once they recognized the gaps, they offered a series of training courses to upskill employees. Later, they also created performance metrics and tools for reinforcement. 

How an Experienced Partner Can Support You in Developing Competencies 

A partner who has worked with competency models before can provide five things you may not have:

  • Objectivity
  • Experience
  • Time
  • A starting point
  • Blueprint for the process


Recently, for a veterinary hospital/clinic with 105 employees, it took about 3 months to interview employees, update job descriptions, create a competency model for every job role, build an interview/selection guide with BI questions for each role, and develop job profiles with all this information and more. 

Our consultant carried the load. The management team was not unduly taxed by this transformation. They were excited to attend training and to begin implementing these tools. Their rapid adoption has paid off with improved hiring and retention, higher rates of productivity, clarity on expectations, and positivity throughout the organization (despite some unforeseen, unrelated challenges). 

If you’d like to learn more about how a partnership like this could work for your organization, book a free consultation. We’ll walk you through some samples, describe the process, and learn more about your goals and gaps. No obligation!