Competency-based learning

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Once organizations have used a competency dictionary to define the competency requirements for groups, areas, or the whole organization, it becomes possible to develop learning strategies targeted to close major gaps in organizational competencies and to focus learning plans on the business goals and strategic direction for the organization.


Best practices

Competency profiles assist in effective learning and development by identifying the behaviours, knowledge, skills and abilities that are necessary for successful performance in a job. Employees can assess their competencies against those required for their own job, or for another job in which they are interested, and then take steps to acquire or improve any necessary competencies.

Competencies support learning by:

Some of the common benchmark competency-based practices in learning and development are:

Self-assessment – Typically, the behavioral indicators for the competencies and proficiency levels needed within the target role / job are used as the standard for assessing the performance of the employee using a common rating scale (e.g., five-point scales from Never to Always) for assessing each indicator. The results are compiled and a report is provided that includes the results for all competencies, highlighting both employee strengths as well as competencies requiring improvement. This information can then be used to support the development of an individual learning plan (see below).
Multi-source / 360 – Multi-source or 360 feedback is similar to the self-assessment process except there is more than one evaluator. The process includes at a minimum the employee and their supervisor, and can include others with whom the employee interacts within the workplace (e.g., peers, team members, clients both within and outside the organization, reporting employees; etc.). Once again, a report is prepared on the feedback reults to allow the employee, supervisor and / or others (e.g., coach / mentor; learning advisor; etc.) to target learning and development efforts to the particular employee’s needs.
Assessment through other methods – Competency assessments can be accomplished through a wide variety of other methods, including those typically used in a selection process (see Recruitment & Selection section), such as: competency-based behavioural interviews; in-baskets; role-plays and simulations; track record / portfolio reviews; etc. As well, formalized assessment is often included as a component of employee development programs for the purpose of assessing the employee’s base skills / competencies going into the program, progress in development at any point, as well as level of success at the end of the program.

Finally, many organizations establish comprehensive competency-based employee development programs in high need areas. These programs are staged development initiatives that include: formal in-class learning events; planned work assignments aimed at developing certain skills and competencies; self-study components; and, formal assessment to evaluate progress in development as well as to accredit or certify that the employee has gained required competencies and knowledge. In some cases, the employee is promoted to a higher level once certain performance standards have been met. Organizations are increasingly moving to this model of employee development to address current or looming shortages of staff and to ensure that there is a continuing supply of qualified staff to meet future organizational needs. This approach also demonstrates to employees that the organization is committed to their development and advancement within the organization.

Implementation stages

The following implementation stages are suggested for mid to large organizations implementing competencies in Learning and Development on a corporate-wide basis.

Stage 1

Stage 2

See also