How Organizations Develop Competencies and Skills

Employers struggle to establish, measure, and develop competencies and skills for their employees.

In most organizations, needed competencies and skills are determined by HR and business stakeholders when creating Individual Development Plans (IDPs) that lay out needed competencies and skills. However, about half of organizations don’t have IDPs for every employee, Brandon Hall Group research found.

More troubling, fewer than 1 in 5 organizations tie competencies and skills to performance goals and evaluations to a high degree, so progress in developing competencies and skills is not tracked regularly for many employees.

This leaves organizations without clear visibility on how the competencies and skills of employees align with the current and future needs of the business and the type of training and development needed to improve individual and organizational performance.

The Challenge

For competencies and skills to impact organizational performance, they must be integrated across talent processes, including learning, performance management, career development, and succession planning. Employers struggle in just about every aspect of managing competencies and skills.

The biggest problem, expressed by 61 percent of organizations, is a lack of consistent feedback and coaching of employees by their managers.

But the impediments go much deeper and are systemic:

  • Poor organizational alignment on competencies
  • Lack of resources to develop a viable competencies program
  • Inconsistent use of IDPs
  • Lack of a long-range plan to develop competencies and skills for future business needs

And the list of New Age competencies in need of development is exceedingly long, topped by:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Critical thinking
  • Innovation
  • Analytics
  • Collaboration
  • Continuous learning


Failure to develop competencies and skills to meet current and future business needs has a vast impact on the organization, including:

  • Inadequate employee engagement
  • Talent retention challenges
  • Difficulty in reacting to market and business changes
  • A void of creativity and innovation
  • Slowed revenue and profitability growth


To turn competencies from a liability to an asset, employers need to answer many critical questions: 

  • How can we get stakeholders from across the enterprise to align on competencies and skills needed to drive business results, both now in and in the future?
  • How can we integrate competencies and skills across the talent processes so competencies and skills are reflected in learning, performance management, coaching and mentoring, career development, and succession planning?
  • How can we communicate our strategy and approach around competencies across the organization?
  • How can we ensure that employees at all levels of the organizations have Individual Development Plans that include competencies and skills that will benefit the employees and the business?
  • How can we improve our culture to make coaching and feedback, in alignment with competencies and skills, part of the fabric of our organization?
  • How can assessments—during the hiring process and post-hire—help us determine employees’ strengths and development areas so we can provide relevant learning aligned with needed competencies and skills?
  • How can we evaluate our technology to make sure we have systems that can help us improve the development of competencies and skills related to business needs?
  • How can we do a better job of understanding employees’ personal and professional aspirations and how they align with business goals and the competencies and skills the business needs to succeed?

The Adhesive

Competencies should be the adhesive that links business objectives with individual and organizational performance goals, learning and development, and career growth. Instead, competencies are adrift. Competencies are closely linked to employee performance goals in only 16 percent of companies. Almost half of organizations don’t have Individual Development Plans for all employees, and 60 percent of organizations struggle to integrate competencies and skills into the IDPs that do exist.

Employee performance won’t meet the ever-changing needs of the business until employers figure out how to unify and synchronize business goals with learning, performance development, career development, and competency and skills development. The leading technology providers are starting to roll out solutions that help sync performance and business goals, but systems are only tools. Employers need to get all the pieces together, and that breakthrough is elusive.

Progress requires improvements behavior change at all levels of the organization:

  • Business leaders and the Talent function have to do a better job of engaging with managers so they understand the competencies and skills they need to develop in their employees.
  • Managers need to coach employees effectively and consistency as they work on building the competencies and skills.
  • Those competencies and skills need to be included in IDPs for each and every employee so they are enabled and motivated to improve their performance to enhance their careers and help the business. They must go hand in hand.
  • Accordingly, career growth must be directly aligned to competency and skills.
  • And organizations must assess competencies and skills regularly to prioritize learning and help monitor progress.

Download a free copy of the KnowledgeGraphic, The Current State of Talent Assessments

Claude Werder is vice president of Research Operations and principal HCM analyst at Brandon Hall Group. The firm’s vision is to inspire a better workplace experience and its mission is to empower excellence in organizations around the world through its research and tools. Brandon Hall Group has five human capital management (HCM) practices and produces the Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards and the annual HCM Excellence Conference, in West Palm Beach, FL, February 4-6, 2020.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.