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The Ultimate Guide to Developing Competencies in Your Organization

Jennie Yang
Jennie Yang

Early in my career with 15Five, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to job craft my role, which then became “Director of Talent Transformation.” This encompassed manager enablement, organizational development, talent development, and performance management. 

As the owner of our organization’s performance processes at that time, competencies became an area of focus for me. At 15Five, we’re big on drinking our own champagne, and I realized there was an opportunity to build out our competencies at both the organizational level and team/role levels. 

This process can look a little different for every company, so I wanted to share a little bit about what has worked well for us and some lessons learned. 

So, what are competencies (and why should we care)?

From a talent and culture perspective, competencies are a measurable set of skills, attributes, characteristics, and knowledge that help an employee perform their job successfully. They essentially set the standard of performance within any role or team. 

Well-designed competencies can help you connect the right person with the right role, give employees and teams a roadmap for personal and professional development, and improve the quality of coaching conversations between managers and employees. 

As an example, here are 15Five’s competencies for managers:

15Five’s Examples of Competencies For Managers

Developing Business Acumen

Developing Business Acumen refers to the ability to analyze complex situations, anticipate future trends and possibilities, and develop plans that take into account various factors and contingencies across a business environment.

  • Consider the broader context and long-term implications of a decision or action.
  • Break down complex problems into manageable parts and analyze them systematically. 
  • Develop strategies that are aligned with organizational goals and objectives.

Setting Goals

Setting Goals refers to the ability to prioritize work & define measurable objectives that an individual or organization wants to achieve. It involves identifying the desired outcome or results and developing a plan to reach that goal.

  • Understand the company-wide goals, and setting team/individual goals that move the needle on business outcomes and impact.
  • Create effective Role & Performance Agreements for each role that outlines the mission, outcomes, and competencies of the role, so that each team member has role clarity.
  • Define quantifiable and qualitative KPIs and metrics for each role.

Enabling Productivity

Enabling Productivity refers to the process of creating an environment or providing resources and tools that allow individuals to work efficiently and effectively towards achieving their goals. Enabling Productivity involves identifying the factors that may hinder productivity and finding ways to eliminate or mitigate them.

  • Implement regular check-ins, such as weekly or monthly meetings, to review progress and provide feedback on performance.
  • Hold team members accountable for their actions and decisions.
  • Re-establish metrics to measure progress towards achieving goals and objectives when priorities shift. 

Giving and Receiving Feedback

Giving and Receiving Feedback is the process of providing or getting information about performance, behavior, or actions with the intention of improvement or the continuation of doing something well. 

  • Understand the company-wide goals, and set team/individual goals that move the needle on business outcomes and impact.
  • Create effective Role & Performance Agreements for each role that outlines the mission, outcomes, and competencies of the role, so that each team member has role clarity.
  • Define quantifiable and qualitative KPIs and metrics for each role.

Influencing Others

Influencing Others refers to the ability to affect people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. People with this skill are aware of people and their values and needs, and they use this knowledge as a means to drive organizational impact. 

  • Communicate priorities and work effectively across the organization. 
  • Building your team’s change capability and capacity by transparently communicating the why behind changes.
  • Demonstrate the behaviors and attitudes you want to see in your team members, such as accountability, responsibility, and professionalism.

Supporting Career Growth

Supporting Career Growth involves helping individuals to develop the knowledge, skills, and experience they need to achieve their career goals. It can take many forms, including mentoring, training, coaching, and providing opportunities for learning and growth.

  • Develop effective team and role specific onboarding and training. 
  • Understand what motivates each of your team members, aligning strengths and energizing work to their roles.
  • Co-create growth plans with each of your team members, effectively communicating their potential for increased rewards over time based on performance.
  • Identify opportunities for team members that enable their growth and development.

Building Strong Teams

Building Strong Teams involves fostering a group of individuals who work well together, are committed to a common purpose, and are able to achieve their goals efficiently and effectively together.

  • Build rapport and trust with each individual team member, and between team members.
  • Demonstrate ownership for team culture and employee engagement initiatives.
  • Encourage a sense of belonging and ensuring the equitable treatment of all.


Self-Management includes leaders staying organized, focused, and productive while also managing their teams effectively. 

  • Understand who you are as a leader, your impact on others in how you show up with your team.
  • Engage in conscious practices to self regulate.
  • Assess situations carefully before deciding whether or not to delegate.

Competencies versus skills 

We get asked pretty often to explain the difference between competencies and skills. Think of it this way: A set of competencies is ultimately the umbrella over all the skills (and characteristics and knowledge) a person needs to do their job well. One competency could be made up of a number of different skills. 

Developing organization-level competencies

We began this competencies development project at the company level, and decided to create company-wide competencies through the lens of our core values, which are:

  1. Create Customer Success & Delight
  2. Win as One Team
  3. Make an Impact
  4. Learn, Grow & Thrive

To help our team members truly understand how to embody these values, we created competencies that clearly map back to them. 

The key component in the development of our competencies was human-centered design. This means, we did research to better understand our team and what they believe make up the characteristics and behaviors of a high performer. 

We used 15Five to ask the team these questions (again, drinking our own champagne), then aggregated those answers into different themes to parse out what those desired qualities look like. Then, with those responses in hand, we already had behavioral statements from the team that we could refer to when crafting those competencies. 

How many organizational competencies should we have?

It can be easy to go crazy and develop a long wish list of competencies at the organization level, but a good rule of thumb is to distill it down to around 10 org-level competencies at maximum.

I believe it’s essential to have company leadership and founders involved in development, to ensure the org-level competencies embody the company’s vision and values. I partnered almost exclusively with our executive team, but in hindsight, I would recommend also bringing some other team members into the process to get a more broad perspective. 

Developing team & role-level competencies

At the individual role level, there’s a baseline set of competencies that a person should have to be successful. In cases where there’s only one person for each role type, you can look at competencies at the team level, and determine the ideal competencies people on that team would collectively demonstrate. 

(For example, if you have only one “social media manager,” that person could roll up to the marketing team competencies. If you have say, 15 sales development reps, you could more easily create competencies for that specific role.) 

After developing our competencies at the company level, I worked on developing a playbook that department leaders could use to develop their own role and/or team competencies. 

The playbook is a step-by-step guide and template for creating competencies and mapping out the skills that roll up to them. For example, we included some columns where the leader would fill out what “extraordinary” would look like for a particular skill, as well as what “good” looks like and what “ineffective” looks like. This helps them better understand and combine some ideal characteristics and skill sets into a competency.

How many team/role competencies should we have?

Like at the organization level, it’s important to limit the list to your very top competencies. A good rule of thumb here would be a maximum of 5 individual role or team-wide competencies.

Rolling out competencies to managers and employees

When you have your competencies developed — whether at the org level, team/role level, or both — you definitely want to spread the word and start embedding them into your culture. The rollout can vary and you’ll want to do what you think will work best for your unique team.

At 15Five, we leveraged our company-wide team meeting to roll out our new organizational competencies. This allowed the entire team to learn about these competencies, how they were developed, and why they’re a top leadership priority. 

For our team and role-level competencies, the introduction was done more organically throughout the process of developing and reviewing them. Then, they were fully rolled out in individual team meetings. The more employees are involved early on in the process, the more invested they’ll be. 

How can we use competencies in the hiring process?

Once competencies were developed at the role or team level, we developed questions for each of them that we could then use to vet for those specific competencies during the hiring process.

According to SHRM, competency-based selection is “probably the most common interview style for Fortune 500 companies today.” Organizations across all types of industries have been adopting this competency-based method over more traditional approaches to hiring.

It’s important to note that a list of competencies is not the same thing as a job description. As TalentAlign notes, a job description lists the outcomes, responsibilities, and tasks required in a role, whereas a set of competencies lists the abilities needed to conduct those tasks or functions.

How do competencies fit into a performance review?

At 15Five we believe performance review conversations are a huge opportunity to drive important business objectives like performance and engagement. These conversations are a chance to reflect on past performance while charting a path forward to growth and development. The combination of reflecting back and forward-thinking  is critical, and having competencies that define what’s expected of people in their roles helps make that reflection much more constructive.

Defining competencies and key behaviors for all of your roles within 15Five is a powerful tool for providing role clarity to your team members. Then, in performance reviews, managers across the org get a chance to assess the members of their team through this lens, which drives performance. 

In our review cycles, we look at an employee’s role (or team) competencies and use them to create self-development objectives that employees can use to grow.

Assessing competencies in reviews also helps give managers clarity on what is expected of employees, making their performance discussions more effective! This approach helps leaders focus on empowering employees and developing a strong, trusting, manager-employee relationship that leads to high performance and engagement.

Learn how you use 15Five to assess employees’s competencies in a way that is scalable, actionable, and objective. Explore Perform

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