Case Study:  Competency-Based Human Capital Management

In the past, organizations focused on knowledge and skills to define the requirements for their employees even though knowledge and skills are typically not the factors that differentiate superior performers from average performers.  Over the years, research has shown that competencies define the “whole person” and provide the important distinctions for job performance among all employees while also tapping into a more qualified talent pool.  The federal government has begun to adopt the use of competencies – a practice used by the private sector as well as state and local governments – to define the requirements of the “whole person” and, thus, make more meaningful distinctions among job candidates and employees.

Lindholm & Associates, Inc. has unrivaled experience and expertise in the development of end-to-end competency solutions.  Its founder and many of its consultants were directly involved in the initial, formative development of competency-based Federal HR management approaches at the US Office of Personnel Management in the mid-1990s. 

As consultants, Lindholm & Associates, Inc. have broken even more ground and developed functional, operational, and effective competency-based human resources processes.

As an example, in 2002, the Department of Labor determined that competencies should be developed for its mission-critical occupations as part of its effort to strengthen its human capital management.  Although competencies should serve as the basis for most (if not all) human resources functions, the Department supported the fact that identification of competencies is a management function, not a human resources function.  Thus, a process was established to use agency subject matter experts (managers, team leaders and/or senior specialists) who were selected for their ability to identify requirements for the occupation, both current and for the future. 

The subject matter experts used research results, in the form of a competency database, from the U. S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as a foundation for identifying and validating appropriate competencies with supporting documentation.  In some models, the subject matter experts also used data from other sources – i.e., survey questionnaire, focus groups, interviews and written documents - to assist them in the design of their competency profiles.

Each model for each mission critical occupation was developed for all career levels in the occupation.  Within each career level, indicators (examples of how the competency is demonstrated on the job) were developed by the each agency’s work group of subject matter experts and validated by others knowledgeable of the particular occupation or position.

Each career level included Selection Indicators, which are behavioral or performance indicators reflecting a work example required for selection into the career level as well as Developmental Indicators, which are behavioral or performance indicators that provide an example of work to be performed while an individual is at that career level.

Since development is a continuous process across career levels, an individual is not expected to perform this work when entering the respective level but is expected to be able to demonstrate the behavior and/or performance specified in the indicator before leaving the career level and advancing to the next career level.  Like the selection indicators, the developmental indicators are cumulative and progressively more difficult across career levels.

Using the Selection Indicators, Labor was able to develop assessment questions and other assessment tools which probed for the existence of the competency in the candidate.  Specific, competency-focused questions were added to the Department’s applicant assessment system.

Performance plans and training and development programs were similarly linked to developmental indicators.

Individual employees were also then able to link training courses, job development activity, and learning to competencies to progress more effectively in the career.

This similar approach was later adapted and implemented at numerous other agencies.  Lindholm &Associates used this Best Practice and developed models for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Federal Election Commission, US Mint, NASA, and many others.


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