Do you want to find out how to create a behavioural competency model or competency framework?

Behavioural competency models or frameworks are a valuable tool for organisations to identify, develop, and evaluate the skills, behaviours, and attitudes required for success in a specific role or across an entire organisation. They are also a critical part of designing an effective 360 degree feedback questionnaire. In this post we explain how to create a behavioural competency model or framework.

What is a behavioural competency model?

Competency models or frameworks are used to describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success in a particular job or role.

A competency model provides a clear definition of what good performance looks like and helps individuals understand what they need to do to be successful in their roles.

They describe the behaviours that are most important for people to be successful in their role. They tend to contain lots of behaviours clustered into themes. These themes are the competencies.

Competency models are also the main starting point when it comes to designing an effective 360 degree feedback questionnaire so the steps we outline below are exactly the steps we follow when designing bespoke 360 degree feedback questionnaires.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of competency frameworks?

While there are many advantages to using competency frameworks, there are also some potential disadvantages to consider.


1. Competency frameworks provide clear expectations for employees, outlining the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required for success in their role.

2. Competency frameworks can be aligned with the overall goals and mission of the organisation, helping to ensure that all employees are working towards the same objectives.

3. Competency frameworks can be used as a basis for performance evaluation, providing a consistent and objective way to assess employee performance.

4. Competency frameworks can be used to identify areas for professional development and training, helping employees to develop the skills and knowledge needed to advance their careers.

5. Competency frameworks can be used to guide the recruitment and selection and talent management processes, ensuring that new hires have the skills and abilities needed for success in their role.


1. Competency frameworks can be too narrowly focused on specific job tasks and may not account for broader skills and abilities that are important for success in a role.

2. Competency frameworks may be too rigid and may not account for the evolving needs of the organisation or changes in the job market.

3. Competency frameworks can be subject to bias and subjectivity, particularly in the areas of personality and interpersonal skills.

4. Developing and implementing a competency framework can be costly and time-consuming, particularly for large organisations.

5. Competency frameworks can be met with resistance from employees who may feel that they are being pigeonholed into specific roles or that their individual strengths and abilities are not being recognised.

Should competency models focus on technical skill or behaviour?

Some organisations have competency models that include technical capability as well as behavioural capability. Technical competency models can be useful where the technical nature of the role is critical to success.

They can also be used to develop a skills-matrix where all the technical skills needed for a role are listed on one axis of the matrix and every employee is listed on the other axis. The matrix can then be filled in to highlight which employees possess which skills. This makes it an easy way to identify technical training needs.

However, technical competency models tend to have lots of the disadvantages outlined above. By definition, they need to be much more role-specific than behavioural models so you will end up with lots of different models, which makes them hugely time-consuming to develop, they get very complex very quickly, and they take a lot of time and resource to maintain across all roles.

What’s more, in our experience, if you ask any manager to define what makes the difference between their high performers and their average or poor performers, the answer invariably comes down to behaviour.

HOW people go about their job tends to valued more than WHAT they can do or what they know. Of course, people need a minimum level of technical competence, but this can be assessed using a fairly simple skills-matrix.

As such, our advice is to focus on behaviour rather than technical competence when creating your competency framework. In this way you will be able to create a behavioural competency framework that can be applied to a wider range of employees in your organisation.

How are competency models or frameworks used in practice by organisations?

Behavioural competency models or frameworks can be used by organisations in several ways.

1. Recruitment and selection:

Competency models or frameworks can be used to identify the specific behaviours required for success in a particular job or role.

Organisations use these models to inform job descriptions and selection criteria, helping to ensure that candidates possess the required behavioural competencies.

Where you have a well-designed behavioural framework you can use it to inform the design of competency-based interviews and selection assessment centres. You can also map your behavioural competency model to psychometric tools such as personality profiling.

When the decision making process is tied to a well-designed competency model it will help to eliminate bias from the decision making process and inject more objectivity.

2. Performance management

Competency models or frameworks can be used to evaluate the behavioural aspects of employee performance. Where you have a clearly defined competency framework you can use it to set expectations around behaviour, provide feedback, and identify areas for improvement.

Some organisations use 360 degree feedback as part of the appraisal process. Used in this way, 360 degree feedback can provide input into how other people evaluate someone’s behavioural skill. However, we advise against using 360 degree feedback as part of the appraisal process.

3. Learning and development

Competency models or frameworks can be used to inform employee learning and development needs and programme design. Organisations use these models to identify skills gaps and develop training programs that address specific competencies.

Competency models can also be used to inform career development planning, helping employees to identify areas for growth and development.

4. Leadership development

As competency models define the key behaviours that people need to demonstrate to be effective in their role they can be used to define ‘what good looks like’ for leadership in your organisation.

A competency-based leadership framework can then be used to hire and develop leaders.

Incorporating a leadership framework into a 360 degree feedback questionnaire is one of the best ways to develop leaders.

5. Succession planning

Competency models or frameworks are used to identify high-potential employees and develop succession plans.

Organisations use a competency framework to identify employees who possess the competencies required for leadership roles and develop programmes to prepare them for those roles.

6. Talent management

Competency models or frameworks can be used to inform talent management strategies. Where you have a clear idea of the critical competencies required you can design development assessment centres around them to identify individuals who possess the potential to move into more senior leadership roles.

7. Reinforcing organisational culture

Above all, behavioural competency model frameworks are an essential part of reinforcing organisational culture. Having clarity over what behaviours are important for leaders to display in your organisation is critical for defining your culture and bringing it to life by ensuring all of your leaders are demonstrating the appropriate behaviours.

What are the steps for creating a behavioural competency model?

Creating a behavioural competency model can be a complex process, but following these steps will help you develop a comprehensive and effective model.

These steps are also exactly the same when designing bespoke 360 degree feedback questionnaires.

Central to the process of creating your competency model is to engage with the relevant stakeholders in the business. Without engaging with your stakeholders you will find it much more difficult to gain buy-in to the model, you will find it much harder to design the model and you will find it harder to get your stakeholders to then use it in practice.

1. Identify the purpose and scope of the competency model

Before creating a competency model, it is important to understand the purpose and scope of the model. This includes identifying the specific roles or functions that will be covered by the model, as well as the organisational goals that the model will support.

For example, is the model intended to be for all leaders at a certain level of the organisation? Is the model to be used to support development or recruitment selection etc.

2. Identify a broad range of behaviours to include in your competency framework

This next step is where you need to engage with your stakeholders. We find that starting with a blank sheet of paper is the best approach, but the key technique to use here is something called a critical incidents interview to start gathering information.

How do you carry out a critical incidents interview?

A critical incidents interview is a technique used to gather information about specific events or situations (incidents). The purpose of the interview is to identify the behaviours and actions that led to success or failure in the situation and to use that information to develop best practices and training programs for employees.

The starting point is to explain to stakeholders what you are trying to achieve with the competency model.

We then ask one broad, but revealing question:

  • Think about your best performers. What do they do particularly well, or differently to everyone else?

When asked this question, most stakeholders will give you lost of information. It might not be particularly well thought-through or well-structured so this stage is simply about capturing everything your stakeholders share.

After this you can start to ask your stakeholders to provide specific examples of situations where the examples they provide are most relevant. These are your critical incidents.

This stage is great for gaining buy-in to the competency framework. After all how can the model be wrong if the content was created by your stakeholders!

3. Identify the core competencies

After several interviews you will have gathered lots of information, but you will also see that most stakeholders are saying the same things.

For example, if you are developing a leadership competency framework you will see things such as lots of behaviours around communication, setting direction, engaging with staff etc.

As such, this step is about reflecting on all the information you have and starting to cluster it into themes. These themes are what will become your competencies. It takes time and a fair bit of thought.

As you develop your themes we find it helps to start creating a definition for each theme. For example, you might identify a theme around Interpersonal Impact and your definition might be:

This is about communicating with impact, demonstrating confidence balanced with warmth and humility

Defining each competency will also help you ensure your competency model is tailored to your organisation’s culture and values.

Whilst you could easily download a bunch of competencies and behaviours from the internet, they are likely to be quite generic and unlikely to reflect your organisation’s tone of voice of specific ways of working.

Depending on how you intend to use your competency model we recommend keeping it to around 8 competencies.

5. Refine the behaviours within each competency

Now you have identified your competencies and defined what they mean for your organisation, the next step is to review all of the individual behaviours you identified in your critical incidents interviews.

The goal here is to start assigning them to the appropriate competency so you will come across a number of scenarios:

  • There may be some behaviours that could belong in more than one competency. For these you should use your competency definition to help make the decision.
  • There may be some behaviours that don’t seem to fit anywhere. We recommend you put these to one side.
  • You may have only one or two behaviours that appear to belong together. This suggests they do not form a competency on their own so either assign them to another competency or exclude them.
  • You are likely to find that you have several behaviours that kind of say the same thing. The trick here is to see if you can integrate them into fewer behaviours that do not cross over each other.

6. Refine the wording of each behaviour

At this point you will have a competency structure with behaviours defined within each competency so the next stage is to revisit the specific wording of each behaviour.

There are three rules we adhere to when finalising the wording for each behaviour:

  1. Ensure each behaviour only describes one behaviour. Whilst it is tempting to combine behaviours to make the model look more manageable, it will come back to haunt you when you implement your model. Imagine that one of your behavioural statements includes two behaviours and you then ask managers to evaluate their team members as part of the appraisal process. There will be occasions where managers evaluate someone as being strong on one of the behaviours, but not the other. At this point they will find it difficult to provide an overall evaluation and you will start receiving emails from your managers!
  2. Word each behavioural statement positively. The reason for this is that it is easier to define what people do need to do in behavioural terms rather than what they do not need to do. This is grounded in positive psychology, but it also makes the model sound more constructive than having negative statements in your model.
  3. Ensure the wording is clear so people know what is meant. It should be easy to visualise what the behaviour looks like in practice so avoid using complex language.

We recommend you aim for around 8 behaviours as a maximum in each competency. Any more than this and you will find that you are either starting to duplicate or you actually have more than one competency on your hands.

What does an example competency statement look like?

Let’s take “Communication Skills” as an example competency as it is a common competency that is important for success in many roles and functions within an organisation.

Here is an example of the associated behaviours that might be included in a competency model for Communication Skills. Example behaviour statements might be:

Behaviour 1: Listens actively to others

– Pays attention to what others are saying

– Asks questions to clarify understanding

– Reflects back what has been heard to ensure understanding

Behaviour 2: Expresses ideas clearly and concisely

– Organises thoughts before speaking

– Uses appropriate language and terminology

– Avoids jargon and technical language when communicating with non-experts

Behaviour 3: Adjusts communication style to suit the audience

– Uses appropriate tone, pace, and volume

– Adapts communication style to match the needs of the audience

– Tailors communication to the level of knowledge and experience of the audience

Behaviour 4: Uses effective written communication

– Organises written material logically and clearly

– Uses correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation

– Writes in a style that is appropriate for the audience and purpose

Behaviour 5: Seeks feedback to improve communication skills

– Solicits feedback from others on communication effectiveness

– Actively listens to feedback and considers suggestions for improvement

– Continuously works to develop and improve communication skills

What does an example competency framework look like?

We have a more comprehensive competency model which we developed for HR Business partners, but this is another example using one competency.

HRBP Competency Model

And to put our money where our mouth is, this is the competency framework for employees at realworld employee surveys!


  • Willingly puts in the effort needed to achieve workloads to deadlines
  • Takes the initiative to propose new ideas and respond to clients
  • Is flexible in approach to the demands of the job
  • Is prepared to take responsibility and accountability for projects

Planning & Organising

  • Is always conscious of priorities
  • Is prepared to switch priorities as workload and client demands change
  • Takes time to focus on detail
  • Spends time organising workload, ensuring a follow up mechanism is in place

Communication skills and developing relationships

  • Responds to client requests in a timely, professional manner
  • Is proactive in communicating with clients to keep them up to date and push them where required
  • Is able to explain things clearly and succinctly
  • Is a confident and assertive communicator
  • Is able to develop rapport with clients
  • Shares information internally to ensure relevant colleagues are kept informed

Creativity and Innovation

  • Generates new ideas for products or service improvements
  • Is unafraid to challenge the way things are done
  • Is able to grasp concepts quickly

Commercial thinking

  • Considers cost and risk to the business before responding to client requests
  • Spots opportunities to ‘upsell’ when interacting with clients
  • Seeks support from the wider team as necessary
  • Demonstrates sound judgement when making decisions that impact the client and the company

In conclusion

A well-designed behavioural framework or competency model will help strengthen all of the key HR processes, whether it be recruitment and selection, training and development, leadership development, performance management, succession planning or talent management.

A well-designed behavioural competency model will also then enable you to define and reinforce your desired organisation culture.