Competency architecture

The start point for any application of competency based management is a competency model / profile that is valid and constructed in a way that it can be easily used to support all intended HR goals (e.g. recruitment, selection, learning, etc.). Establishing a clear competency structure is one of the first and fundamental steps in profile development.


Competency architecture defined

A competency architecture describes the common rules for defining competencies within the organization. It includes the guiding principles that describe how the profiles will be designed for the entire organization - e.g., the format for displaying the competency profile, content for the profile (e.g. behavioral competencies and technical / professional competencies), core vs. unique competencies, etc.)

There are three basic criteria that competency structures in most organizations must meet:

  1. The competency profiles must include the competencies that employees must have, both now and in the future, to ensure that organization can achieve its vision and support its values;
  2. The competency profiles must support all of their intended applications ( e.g., Recruitment/Selection; Learning and Development; Performance Management; Multisource Feedback; Career Development and Succession Management; Human Resources Planning); and
  3. All competency profiles must be easy to use by all stakeholders.

Competency architecture


Several competency architectures are possible. Each organization needs to identify the architecture that best meets its needs. The following figure graphically depicts a model that is typically used as the basis for the development of competency profiles and implementation of competency-based management. This or similar models in combination with a well-researched and constructed Competency Dictionary have been used successfully by many organizations as the basic framework for developing competency profiles.

Competency layers

The model builds from the vision, values and strategic business priorities of the organization and includes the following competency layers:

Core Competencies - The Core competencies includes very general/generic competencies that all employees must possess to enable the organization to achieve its mandate and vision (e.g., Teamwork). These competencies describe in behavioral terms the key values of the organization and represent those competencies that are core to the organization’s principal mandate

Job Family Competencies - Job Family competencies are those competencies that are common to a group of jobs. They often include General Job competencies that tend to be required in a number of Job Families (e.g., Partnering), as well as Job Specific competencies that apply to certain job families more than others (e.g., Project Management). These tend to be related more to knowledge or skill required for certain types of jobs (e.g., Accounting for jobs involving financial administration)

Technical / Professional Competencies - The technical/professional competencies tend to be specific to roles or jobs within the Job Family, and include the specific skills and knowledge (know-how) to perform effectively (e.g. ability to use particular software; knowledge in particular professional areas such as finance, biochemistry; etc.). These competencies could be generic to a Job Family as a whole, or be specific to roles, levels or jobs within the family.

Leadership Competencies - These are the key competencies for roles in an organization that involve managing, supervising or influencing the work of others in some way. Some organizations view "leadership" to be a part of every job of the organization in that employees are expected to contribute and offer new or better ways of working regardless of their level or role in the organization. Leadership is required in teams, project management, as well as at the managerial, executive and board levels.

Consistent with the requirement for ease of use, organizations typically define a limit on the number of key / important competencies that are included in the profile for any job / role within the organization. As a rule of thumb, best practice organizations establish a limit on the total number of competencies included in any one profile in the range of 12 to 15.

Example guideline

A typical set of rules for one organization’s competency profile development is:

  • Up to 12 competencies per profile, including five (5) core competencies.
  • Core Competencies - 5 competencies that apply to all employees
  • Job Family Competencies - Common to whole family
  • Technical / Professional (work specific) Competencies - Apply to some or all jobs / roles in group


Vendors of Competency-based Management Systems include:



Dubois, D., & Rothwell, W. (2004). Competency-Based Human Resource Management. Davies-Black Publishing

Dubois, D., & Rothwell, W. (2000). The Competency Toolkit (Volumes 1 & 2). HRD Press

Lucia, A., & Lepsinger, R. (1999). The Art and Science of Competency Models: Pinpointing Critical Success Factors in Organizations. Pfeiffer

Shandler, D. (2000). Competency and the Learning Organization. Crisp Learning.

Spencer, L M. in Cherniss, C. and D. Goleman, eds. (2001) “The economic value of emotional intelligence competencies and EIC-based HR programs”, in The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace: How to Select for, Measure, and Improve Emotional Intelligence in Individuals, Groups and Organizations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley

Spencer, L., & Spencer, S. (1993). Competence at Work: Models for Superior Performance. Wiley

Ulrich, D. and Brockbank, W. (2005) The HR Value Proposition. Boston: Harvard Business School Press

Wood. R., & Payne, T. (1998). Competency-Based Recruitment and Selection. Wiley


Bartram, D. (2005) The Great Eight competencies: A criterion-centric approach to validation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 1185–1203

Catano, V., Darr, M., & Campbell, C. (2007). Performance appraisal of behaviour-based competencies: A reliable and valid procedure. Personnel Psychology, 60, 201-230

Cheng, M. I., &. Dainty, R. I. J. (2005). Toward a multidimensional competency-based managerial performance framework: A hybrid approach. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 20, 380-396

Draganidis, F., & Mentzas, G. (2006). Competency-based management: A review of systems and approaches. Information Management &Computer Security, 14, 51-64

Homer, M. (2001). Skills and competency management. Industrial and Commercial training, 33/2, 59-62

Horton, S. (2000). Introduction- the competency-based movement: Its origins and impact on the public sector. The International Journal of Public Sector Management, 13, 306-318

Kochanski, J. T.,& Ruse, D. H. (1996). Designing a competency-based human resources organization. Human Resource Management, 35, 19-34

McEvoy , G., Hayton, J., Wrnick, A., Mumford, T., Hanks, S., & Blahna, M. (2005). A competency-based model for developing human resource professionals. Journal of Management Education, 29, 383- 402

Rausch, E., Sherman, H., & Washbush, J. B. (2002). Defining and assessing competencies for competency-based, outcome-focused management development. The Journal of Management Development, 21, 184-200

Sanchez, J. I., &. Levine, E. L. (2009). What is (or should be) the difference between competency modeling and traditional job analysis? Human Resource Management Review, 19, 53–63

Schmidt, F.L., & Hunter, J.E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practice and theoretical implications of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262-274

Shippmann, J. S., Ash, R. A., Battista, M., Carr, L., Eyde, L. D., Hesketh, B., Kehoe, J., Pearlman, K., & Sanchez, J. I. (2000). The practice of competency modeling, Personnel Psychology, 53, 703-740.

Spencer, L. M. (2004). Competency Model Statistical Validation and Business Case Development, HR Technologies White Paper

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