Get the most out of your team with a competency matrix

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Competency Matrix

A competency matrix is a tool that documents the competencies organizations need to be successful and shows where those competencies exist within the company. It’s useful for identifying strengths and weaknesses and distributing talent throughout the company to meet competency needs. A competency matrix template helps an organization identify competency gaps that should be addressed through training, employee development, and recruiting.

The use of a competency matrix may also prompt you to wonder, “What is a competency?” Competencies are attributes and behaviors that lead to success. Sometimes they are referred to as “soft skills,” as opposed to hard skills such as proficiency in a programming language or the ability to operate a specific piece of machinery. Examples of competencies are verbal communication, ability to work well with a team, strategic planning, and data-based decision making.

Competencies can be thought of as the attributes that enable people to effectively apply their skills and knowledge. Many, if not most, jobs are either primarily skills-based or primarily competency-based. Many people perform more competency-based work as their careers mature. High-leverage jobs in an organization tend to be competency-based.

A competency framework template can focus on people, on the competencies themselves, or on the departments and projects that need specific competencies. A common matrix form is a spreadsheet with competencies on one axis and the names of employees on the other. There can also be information about when each competency is needed, what projects and departments need it, and what steps are available for an individual to acquire the competency or improve in it.

As discussed in our article on skills and competencies, a competency is a capability and a skill is usually a learned task. For example, a competency can develop from a talent or habit or can be made up of one or more skills. A skill, by contrast, is an ability that is learned. Skills can also be enhanced by talent or interest. It might help to think of competency as a category that can include skills and skillsets. In skill and competency matrices, we can track these two things separately or together, depending on your needs.

Why Do Organizations Use UR Competency Frameworks?

An HR competency matrix is vital for an organization that wants to make the most of the competencies it already has and add those that it needs. There are a number of reasons a competency framework is useful for this, including: 

  • It gives a company an overall view of where it stands with respect to critical competencies. It shows improvement (or regression) over time in the competencies.
  • It enables managers to understand what competencies it needs to have when a project team is being formed and identifies individuals who are strong in those competencies. It also shows how existing departments and teams can be strengthened.
  • It identifies opportunities for internal training, employee development, and coaching at a corporate level. It helps leaders and trainers develop programs that will have leverage in multiple departments and project teams.
  • It’s an important source for a company’s recruiting template. It identifies competencies that an organization should put at a premium when adding new employees.
  • It identifies individuals with high levels of competence who may be ready for redeployment and perhaps greater responsibility within a company.
  • It’s an important source of information for writing job descriptions. It identifies the factors that are most important in a position and should be used as evaluation factors in employee reviews..
  • It enables employees to assess their own competency levels and to better take charge of their career development.

With these advantages, the question isn’t so much why an organization would use a competency framework. Instead, you’d have to wonder why any company wouldn’t. They’re conceding an advantage to those that do.

HR competency model examples can take several forms, from a set of spreadsheets to a software tool specifically designed to highlight competencies. No matter what the form, a company needs to develop an HR competencies list. This is a list of all the competencies a company needs to be successful, and it should be central, widely visible and updated as competency needs evolve.

Competency vs. Skill Matrix

You may hear the terms “skills matrix” and “competency matrix” used interchangeably. It’s true that you can track both skills and competencies using the same employee skills matrix. However, even if you’re using a single tool, it’s important to identify skills and competencies separately. They’re related, but ultimately they’re two different things.

A skill is a very specific ability needed to perform a job. As a skills matrix example, a sales representative may need to know how to correctly assign a lead in their company’s CRM. Or, a project manager might need to understand and use the company’s chosen project management tool. An organization that wants to evaluate its people’s skills can use an employee skill matrix chart and assign skill matrix levels to individuals across the company.

Competencies are softer and aren’t as obviously tied to a specific job. For example, the ability to work effectively in a team is a competency. It’s important for almost every job, but more critical for some jobs than for others. Leadership is a competency that’s useful for just about any job but vital for some of them.

Competencies are coached and developed, while skills are generally acquired through either formal training or on-the-job training. Competencies can also be developed and improved through training, but it’s not the case that you take a course and when you’re done you have the competency. Improvement in a competency is something that happens over time in a number of ways.

Competency Matrix Examples

So, what competencies should you include in your competency matrix? If you compile your competency list and perhaps create a competency model PDF, here are some competency matrix sample entries you might consider. These can stand on their own or be broken down into more granular components.

Teamwork

There are very few jobs anywhere that don’t require some degree of teamwork, and for many, it’s as important as any competency. Whether it’s further broken down or not, it includes such facets as communicating with teammates, offering ideas to the team, evaluating team ideas, being accountable within a team, committing to team goals, and supporting team members. Teamwork can be taught and developed at the individual level or through training and coaching that involves an entire team.

Leadership

This includes accountability, ability to influence, and negotiation skills, among others.

Problem-solving

This includes creativity, the ability to think outside the box, the ability to acquire new skills as needed, and adaptability.

Results-oriented

This includes not only general productivity but also the ability to look beyond the task at hand and maximize the impact of one’s work on the entire organization. It requires understanding the company’s critical success factors.

Reliability

This includes delivery on individual commitments and also extends to understanding and meeting team deadlines. A highly reliable employee not only completes their own assignments but also recognizes what else needs to be done and steps up to ensure that it happens.

It’s usually not as easy to define or measure a competency as it is a skill. Being a good team player isn’t as readily obvious as being a competent Java coder. Still, companies need to make an effort to define and assess competencies. In many jobs, particularly high-leverage jobs, they’re more important than skills. The relevant technologies in the business world are forever evolving, but teamwork, leadership and results orientation will be important no matter how much the required set of skills changes. A few other competencies you might consider are the ability to work independently, ability to work under pressure, client focus, analytical thinking, and self-motivation.

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Benefits of Using a Competency Model

It takes some effort to identify competencies and to decide how you’ll measure them and document all this in a competency matrix. However, your organization will realize several significant benefits from this exercise.

A snapshot of competencies

It’s very difficult to improve something if you don’t know what the starting point is. A competency matrix provides a snapshot at several levels. It’s a single tool that lets the organization know where it stands with respect to critical competencies and how those competencies are distributed. It shows teams and individuals their competency status and what opportunities there are to improve. Multiple snapshots over time show a company how it’s advancing (or regressing) with respect to competency.

A road map for individual team members

Most employees want to be of value to the organization and to grow their careers. An effective competency matrix not only measures competency across the organization but also shows individual employees a picture of where they stand. This can give them an appreciation of what they bring to the organization and increase their awareness that their value to the company lies in more than just the hard skills they possess. Many employees focus on learning new software or mastering a new tool, but a competency matrix provides a road map for additional ways to increase their value. It’s a morale boost when an employee learns they can advance their career by developing competencies, and even more of a boost when those competencies are mapped to training and development tasks the employee can pursue.

Identify gaps and room for improvement

Once an organization or a department sees their competency levels mapped out, they can take specific steps to upgrade those competency levels. Every competency has training and development steps that improve the mastery of that competency. While it’s not a bad thing for an individual project team or a department to bring in training or establish a coaching structure, it can be even more effective and efficient if competency upgrading is undertaken at the corporate level. Gaps in competency can be addressed by training and development in-house, and they can also be tackled by internal transfers from areas that are strong in the competencies. A competency matrix also identifies gaps that can be at least partially addressed by recruiting.

Improve Competencies with Lessonly

If you find gaps in your competency matrix, Lessonly can help. Our enablement software makes continuous training and coaching possible for all customer-facing teams. With Lessony, trainers and managers can easily create, deliver, and track training on key competencies for entire teams and individual employees so everyone has what they need to succeed in their roles. See how teams train faster with Lessonly. 

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