Competency frameworks – a management tool for recruitment, development and knowledge sharing

By Elisabeth Goodman, 15th November 2017

Competency frameworks have been very much in my mind at the moment as they are core to the recruitment and interview skills course that my RiverRhee Associate, Alison Proffitt and I recently delivered for a client as an in-house course.

They are also an excellent foundation for discussions about development and career progression that might be taking place at this time as part of annual performance reviews and appraisals.

Leadership competencies - HBR Nov-Dec 2017
Levels of [leadership] competence.  Harvard Business Review November-December 2017, p. 89
The November-December issue of Harvard Business Review also carries an excellent article on using competency frameworks as a basis for leadership development (see note 1.)

Last but not least, competency frameworks can be a useful tool to underpin the sharing of knowledge and expertise across an organisation.

Using competency frameworks for recruitment and interviewing

When recruiting candidates, we’re looking for as good a predictor of what their performance will be on the job as possible.  So it’s a good idea to have a clear idea of what we are looking for in the first place, and to make sure that everyone involved in the interview process has the same understanding.

Defining the competencies – both the technical and softer or behavioural skills – that we want is a way to do this. Examples of the softer skills include problem solving, communication, decision making. Technical skills will include scientific, legal, regulatory – depending on the nature of the job.

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Job advertisements can then be framed to reflect essential or desirable competencies.

Interview questions can be structured so that the interviewees are asked to share examples of how they have demonstrated the competencies in their previous work.  Questions could use a ‘STAR” approach for example:

  • “Give me an example of when…” (Situation or Task)
  • “What action did you take?” (Action)
  • “What was the outcome?” (Result)

Competency frameworks for development and career progression

Organisations usually have some form of career ladder, through which individuals can progress as a result of their technical and/or behavioural or leadership skills.

Ideally, they will have different job titles, and accompanying job descriptions, the contents of which could form the basis of a competency framework along the lines shown in the illustration from the HBR article above.   There is also an excellent example of competency levels for the analysis and use of information in this UK government document:

A competency framework provides individuals and their managers with a concrete foundation for discussions about what the individual needs to do, and to demonstrate, in order to support their role and progress in their career.

Identifying and developing the leaders within your organisation

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz et al, in the HBR November-December 2017 article, share some excellent insights from Egon Zehnder’s collection of 30 years’ worth of data as global executive leadership recruiters.  They state that 72% of the managers within their database demonstrate the potential to grow into executive leadership roles, and 9% of these into CEO roles.

There is tremendous potential to develop managers within organisations to fulfil leadership roles.  Yet the authors’ findings suggest that internal leadership development programmes are typically weak at doing this, and that organisations either fail to use, or lose their best talent as a result.

The authors have identified 7 to 8 core competencies that can be used to evaluate senior managers on their leadership capability, and a further 4 to 5 predictors of their potential as leaders.  With the right match, and effective internal development activities such as stretch assignments, secondments, coaching and mentoring, can then shape the individuals for a leadership role.

Using competency frameworks to support knowledge sharing

There is another potentially powerful way to use competency frameworks to encourage and support sharing knowledge and expertise across an organisation.  I have seen this done in a workshop setting at a NetIKX seminar led by Chris Collison.

Although Chris uses different terminology, participants in a workshop identify different competencies present within the group.  They then use this as a starting point to agree areas to focus on for sharing their expertise.

This kind of approach could be used within an organisation, to foster a climate of sharing and collaboration.  Teams or departments could create a map of the type of competencies, and different levels of proficiency present within or across groups.

Individuals with greater proficiency in a particular area could then act as mentors to others wanting to develop their knowledge or skills in that area.  Mentors would thus develop their own management skills, as well as the knowledge and skills of their ‘mentee’.


  1. Claudio Fernández-Aráoz et al.  Turning potential to success.  The missing link in leadership development.  Harvard Business Review, November – December 2017, pp.86-93
  2. About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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