I was recently asked by a consultancy if I could help with their bid to a client who, as part of the project, wanted to set up competence frameworks. Did I have a couple of slides to explain how one would develop such competence frameworks and some examples of companies for whom I had done this?


The latter was certainly not a problem. Many of my jobs have involved developing or applying competence frameworks (or discussing if they were even useful!), as have many of my consulting contracts. Some of the examples included:

Many years ago in Shell Technology I led the development of competence frameworks and job profiles for engineers, scientists, technicians and research managers. Later in Shell Chemicals my team and I set up a worldwide skill resource management system, covering competence frameworks and job profiles and families for all types of engineers and scientists.

For the European Space Agency I and a colleague set up an agency-wide job family model for Science, Engineering, Services & Management, including competency frameworks (also for project management), linked to gap analysis, individual development plans and training.

In Russia for the TNK-BP oil company we developed a talent management framework including values and a leadership competence framework (as well as technical competences/training). Whilst for Sibur Chemicals in Russia, I advised/consulted on their new world-class technical training centre, including many discussions on technical competence frameworks for engineers of all sorts and comparison with international best practice (e.g. Royal Dutch Institute of Engineers), with the idea of developing new training courses.

Whilst leading the Samruk-Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund Corporate University in Kazakhstan, we started the introduction of Functional Academies for e.g. IT, HR, HSE, Finance, Legal Services for all national companies (including the Oil & Gas and Chemicals companies), which involved professional standards, competence development & training. Whereas specifically for the national Oil & Gas corporation and some of their daughter companies, we were involved with technical and leadership competence development, used for assessment and the identification of potential.


The former question wasn’t that difficult either, although the devil is in the detail of actually doing it and having available expertise and experience – and delivering something that is useful and actually used – rather than purely an explanation of the building blocks of competence framework development theory.

The description I often use of a ‘Competence framework’ is the ‘definition of measurable/observable (levels of) knowledge, skills, attributes and behaviours needed for successful job performance’.

These can either be qualifying, such that one either has the competence or not to enable one to do a job, for example. Or more usefully and frequently performance (or knowledge/experience) related, such there is an idea of what is a really good performance at a given level.

Although competence frameworks are often used for technical functions (engineers for example, in many of the examples above) they can just as easily cover leadership and inter-personal skills.

Competence frameworks are useful in a number of different applications: ensuring people have sufficient expertise to do their roles; identifying gaps in their competences; customising training & development; in the design of training courses, performance evaluation; career planning and career paths, assessment and recruitment.

Although obtaining commercially available frameworks is an option, the best approach is to tailor the competence frameworks to the company needs, whilst using as input and reference internationally benchmarked models, legislative requirements and subject matter experts.

The final product needs to be kept simple and relevant: they should be used not put in a binder on a shelf or in a drawer. I remember seeing page after page of small font A3 sheets of paper for just one job when consulting in Russia. Not surprisingly, these were unusable, even if someone really wanted to! And led some senior executives not to believe in competence frameworks at all.

The balance needs to be found between not too general (need to give guidance to staff and managers) but not too detailed (limit the number of different competence levels; limit bureaucracy and time needed to use them).


The four stages of developing competence frameworks are:

  1. Preparation
  • Define the purpose: Why? How do you plan to use it? Scope?
  • Identify internal team members, resources
  • Involvement: the people the framework is for, their managers, HR
  • Communication: again the Why? How?
  1. Information collection
  • What exists already in the company?
  • Job descriptions; business plans/strategy; organisation principles; future organisation
  • Interviews: job holders; managers; individual and/or focus group sessions; questionnaires/surveys
  • Ensure regulatory and/or compliance requirements met
  • Input from (relevant) external competence frameworks; subject matter experts (SMEs)
  1. Build framework
  • Develop behavioural statements based on effective/ineffective performance
  • Group statements/behaviours/competences in a small number of general categories
  • Create small number of sub-groups of related competences
  • (In practice this may be split further. E.g. Job community is a group of job families belonging to the same professional field; Job family is a group of jobs that handle similar types of work, requiring similar types of knowledge, experience and competences; a Domain is a sub-category of the Job family, with specific duties and calling for additional specific competences. Choices of sub-division will depend on the scope of the competence framework project)
  • Input from (relevant) external competence frameworks; SMEs
  • Identify/name competences
  • Define levels for each competence (as few as possible e.g. awareness, proficient, expert; may be related to job grading)
  • Validation (Is the competence exhibited by the better performers? Does absence mean poor performance? Is it necessary for effective performance?)
  1. Implementation
  • Communication/change plan: the Why? How? (What?)
  • Process for gap analysis
  • Process for individual development plans; link to training/development, career planning or other aims of the project


If you want to discuss the competence frameworks in your company, feel free to get in touch. (grhays@valshebnik.com; +31655838162)

1 Comment

  1. Margaret Neal

    Thanks for sharing this. (It all sounds wonderfully familiar! – including the challenges of ‘engaging others’ in Competence Frameworks!)


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *