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Can Competency Models Inspire Change?

What inspires you? I imagine competency models do not make the list. And yet, I’ve seen multiple clients this year integrating competencies into leadership development experiences for both growth and larger system change management. I have found myself truly inspired by how leaders are using competency models as a toolset to lead organizational change and transformation, address adaptive problems, and simply encourage and grow better together through a difficult season.

Most recently, I viewed inspiring Fellows of Clark Atlanta University’s HBCU Executive Leadership Institute’s (ELI) inaugural cohort presenting their adaptive leadership challenge presentations. They shared leadership approaches, lessons learned and applications of ELI competencies. Fellows received feedback and supportive ideas from other Fellows, Legacy HBCU leaders and their mentors, and coaches.  These inspiring leaders are serving their HBCU missions and broader communities by addressing adaptive problems that require new perspectives and solutions with complex partner engagement.

Has your organization considered using a custom competency model or refreshing the one you currently use to aid your organization in achieving 2022 goals and beyond? Perhaps the remote or hybrid work environment and complexity of the past 24 months has amplified needs for culture and business change. Well-designed behavioral competency models align to your business strategy and help define a supportive culture.  Such models create common language for leaders to illuminate the behaviors, skills, and mindsets that matter most to achieving the organization’s aims in working together, serving customers, and gaining competitive advantage.

…culture change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.” Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.

Thus, for competency models to support business and culture change  they need to be designed, communicated, embedded, and applied with heavy stakeholder involvement.

Let’s fast-forward beyond design to a few examples illustrating how clients have involved stakeholders and reinforced the development value of competency models for inspiring the organization’s change goals.


Design learning opportunities to socialize, personalize and develop self-awareness regarding your competencies.

One client organization addressed multiple business change goals with a leadership development experience that included launching a new competency model. Nominated leaders from across the business were brought together to reconnect, refuel, and grow during turbulent times. From business ownership change to significant business challenges brought by COVID-19, these leaders rallied together with learning designed to help them socialize how the competencies relate to their business, teams, and desired culture. They gained personal assessment feedback regarding strengths and continued growth opportunities.  And the leaders were challenged to present ideas and recommendations for how the competencies could be further developed with their teams to lead effective business and culture change.  With this application, new competencies became more real, meaningful, and aspirational.


Create space and structure for tackling real business challenges and organizational change with competency model application.

Similar to the HBCU ELI program referenced above, another client integrated real business challenges into their leadership development experience supported by competencies. Format options include mentoring support and leaders sharing personal progress, struggles, lessons learned and next steps with competency model language as a learning tool.  Other formats may take the shape of small group peer coaching for each leader on her business change initiative – using the competencies for coaching conversations embedded in the peer coaching design and facilitation. With this example, competencies are made more relevant and helpful through candid group coaching conversations and personal applied learning.


Help employees know where they stand and where they can go and grow with competencies as a tool.

More organizations are focused on strengthening the quality of feedback conversations and developmental relationships, helping employees know where they stand and where they can go and grow as the business changes. Often clients choose technology solutions to integrate their competencies into various talent processes, serving up the descriptions to aid assessment and feedback conversations and mapping competencies to learning resources. This may include simple check-in’s, more formal performance management, or developmental 360-feedback.  If feedback skills and experience are limited, referencing a competency model that’s carefully aligned to your business and culture-change goals can offer helpful talking points for leaders and employees to apply to their specific context. And when organizations are providing coaches and mentors for onboarding and other transitions, competency models are valuable for the toolset.

I acknowledge that competency models alone do not inspire me. What I do find inspiring are real leaders pursuing meaningful business and personal growth in collaboration with others. Application of competency models simply helps those leaders drive change, growth, fuel clear communication, and inspire others to follow.

To develop a foundational knowledge of competencies, read the following blog.

Learn more about how TalentQuest can work with your leaders to design new or optimize existing competency models.

Dr. Schrage is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and an Executive Consultant at TalentQuest. Having served the bulk of her career inside the business in talent leadership roles, Dr. Schrage’s experience leading organizational development, talent management, and learning teams spans big technology, global restaurants, financial services, and the non-profit sector. Since joining TalentQuest in 2018, Marsha partners with clients to deliver customized talent management and leadership development strategies, facilitate employee engagement and learning solutions, and provide executive assessment and coaching services.

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