A survey of practitioners uncovered the competency practices that yield the best talent management outcomes.

What does it take to build and use competencies effectively?

As three experienced talent management professionals, we asked 195 talent practitioners about their most recent significant projects building or using competencies. More than 70 percent of respondents displayed confidence in their ability to gather information when building competencies (for example, interviewing) and also were comfortable with the quality of the final written content. However, some common challenges related to competency projects include

  • difficulty measuring business impact (59 percent)
  • sustaining use over time (47 percent)
  • trouble getting people to initially use the competencies (44 percent)
  • deploying technology to support competency usage (41 percent)
  • completing the project on time (38 percent).

The study also compared those who successfully built and used competencies in their last project with those who reported less success. In successful projects, participants said the competencies were still in use, the project attained at least 75 percent of initial goals, and the efforts resulted in "incumbent behavior change," "ROI," or "business/department improvement."

In contrast, less successful projects were those in which the competencies were no longer in use and did not achieve project goals. The following characteristics distinguish successful from less successful competency projects.

Multiple, clearly defined project goals. Examples include assessing training needs, conducting succession planning, or using as a performance management metric.

Input from senior leaders and HR. While almost everyone interviews managers and incumbents, 74 percent of successful projects also interviewed senior leaders compared with 40 percent of less successful projects. The respective percentages regarding interviews with HR professionals were 30 percent versus 7 percent.

Incumbent confirmation of content. Seventy-four percent of respondents in successful projects took the extra step of asking incumbents to review and validate the written content, whereas only 40 percent of those in less successful projects did.

Technology for specific competency applications. Successful projects incorporated a greater variety of technology to support various competency applications compared with less successful projects.

Targeted training. Successful projects were more likely to offer live training sessions (78 percent versus 47 percent) and one-on-one coaching (70 percent versus 20 percent) on the competency applications prior to use.

According to the survey, adding the above steps to your competency project will help to improve the quality of your competencies and ensure that the right change management mechanisms are in place to help mitigate the typical challenges organizations experience when creating and using competencies.