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HR competencies Q&A

1. What is a competency?

A competency is an observable, measurable set of skills, knowledge, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics an individual needs to successfully perform a job.

2.  What is a “Competency Framework or Model”?

 Competencies are the most critical knowledge, skills, and attitudes that drive successful performance, described in behavioral terms, using observable indicators.  Thus a Competency Framework or Model is a written description of the competencies required for successful or exemplary performance in a job category, work team, work setting, profession, organization or industry.   In our case, the HR Professional Core Competencies describe ideal behaviors expected from individuals classified in the Washington state Human Resource Consultant series.

3.  Why have competencies?

Competency-based human resources systems are a best practice in business and government. They help make sure that we use the same, accurate standards and language across Human Resource functions like staffing, performance appraisal, training, and others. They help ensure individual and team performance aligns with agency mission and strategic direction.

4.  What's the difference between the HR Professional Core Competencies, and the Statewide Leadership Competencies?

The HR Professional Core Competencies are specific to the ideal behaviors expected from individuals classified in the Washington state Human Resource Consultant classification series.  These HR Professional Core Competencies may also be applicable to other positions in HR shops, such as WMS and HR leadership positions. These competencies are important to Human Resource positions around the state. Examples include Influencing.

The Statewide Leadership Competencies are specific to supervisory and management positions throughout Washington state government, and describe the different competencies necessary to lead, supervise, and manage people and programs.

All positions classified in the Human Resource Consultant series will have a mix of HR Professional Core Competencies and HR Disciplines (see question 14) related to the specific position.  Those specific positions that have supervisory or managerial functions will also have specific related Statewide Leadership Competencies.  Specific state agencies may also have an overlay of agency-specific competencies that will apply to their own positions.

5.  My agency has other or similar competencies.  What is the relationship to the HR Professional Core Competencies?

Some agencies already have competency models in place that apply to human resources staff.  You will need to look to your HR Director or chain of command for specific direction, but in general, it is anticipated that the competency models will be complementary.  The HR Professional Core Competencies will be useful as a common language for identifying recruitment and developmental opportunities for HR staff as they grow their careers in Washington state government, while agency-specific competencies, where they exist, will do the same for that specific agency.

6.  What are distinguishing behaviors?

The distinguishing behaviors are observable or measurable actions that demonstrate an employee possesses a particular competency. The distinguishing behaviors are examples, they are not an all-inclusive list of the multitude of ways that an individual may express a competency.

7.  How do I assess my proficiency level of any particular competency?

First, read the definition of the competency and the distinguishing behaviors that describe how employees may demonstrate that competency.  Then read the Required Proficiency Level page. Determine, based on your position description form and/or discussion with your supervisor, the required proficiency level for your position.  After self-reflection and your own personal assessment, schedule a discussion with your supervisor.  Then, employees and supervisors can develop a plan for increasing competency levels, if warranted.

8.  How can employees increase their proficiency levels?

This can be done in many ways. For example, employees may take formal training to help build their proficiency levels. Employees may participate in developmental assignments on the job or on an assignment to another job, read articles and books, participate in activities of a professional organization, take e-learning courses, be coached, be mentored, etc.  Some general examples are included with the description of each HR Professional Core Competency, under the header “Personal Growth Activities.”

9.  Will other developmental activities, beyond training, help me to gain proficiency in a Statewide Leadership Competency?

 Yes!  Training is only one option out of several development activities for an employee. Other activities that can help employees develop their level of proficiency in a competency include, but are not limited to (each Competency has a detailed list of related “Personal Growth Activities”):

  • reading/studying
  • being coached/mentored
  • shadowing
  • participating in a committee/group
  • completing special project(s)
  • leading special project(s)
  • conducting/presenting at seminars
  • leading training sessions
  • leading or chairing a committee/group
  • volunteering as a mediator
  • coaching/mentoring

10.  How have competencies been used by other organizations?

For many years, competencies have been used effectively in both the private and public sectors. They play a key role in organizational development and improvement by articulating the capabilities required for individual and organizational performance. The HR Professional Core Competencies serve as a solid foundation for the more technical human resource areas such as recruitment and hiring of talent, job assessment, employee development and training, performance management, career planning, and succession planning. Depending on the organization’s choice, it can choose to apply competencies to all of these human capital areas or some of them. Competencies may be incorporated into position descriptions, interview guides, hiring criteria and methods, assessment processes, individual development plans (IDPs), performance management processes, and employee development opportunities, e.g. training.

11. Why are competencies useful to supervisors?

Competencies help supervisors to better:

  • screen prospective employees during the hiring process, which results in better hiring decisions
  • discuss with employees their strengths, areas for growth, training, and developmental activities
  • distribute work more efficiently by using the knowledge of employees’ proficiency levels.
  • acquire training and development opportunities systematically and efficiently, e.g., develop training partnerships between organizations, bringing tailored training to employees, etc.
  • determine what type of skill sets are needed in the future, which helps support succession planning.

12.  Why are competencies useful to employees?

Competencies help employees to:

  • understand the competencies expected in their job, the key behaviors they should demonstrate, and the steps needed to increase their proficiency levels
  • discuss with their supervisors the employee’s strengths, areas for growth, and suggested training, and developmental activities
  • focus on specific training and development opportunities that will help them grow and strive for excellence
  • understand the competencies they would be expected to have to move into a new job, particularly for employees who are interested in becoming supervisors / managers

13.  How can employees use competencies to develop their career?

First read the definition of the competency and the distinguishing behaviors that describe how employees may demonstrate that competency, at the level you are aspiring to. Then, using the required proficiency area chart, assess your current proficiency level, as well as your target proficiency level.  It is recommended that employees discuss with their supervisors the plan for increasing their proficiency levels. This plan could include activities such as performing special projects and assignments, training, shadowing, etc.

14.  What are the HR Technical Disciplines?

The HR Technical Disciplines are specific to a particular HR job or group of jobs and describe the technical, specialized knowledge and skillset that is important to successfully perform that job. Examples may include Recruiting, Employee Development, or Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity.  The HR Disciplines complement the HR Professional Core Competencies.

15.  What is an Individual Development Plan (IDP), and how does it relate to competencies, performance, and promotions?

An Individual Development Plan (IDP), (incorporated into the state’s Performance and Development Plan [PDP] Part 2), as used by most state agencies, outlines an employee’s individual career goals within the context of organizational objectives. Please note that some agencies may utilize a different, but similar process.  Whatever the process is called in your agency, it is essentially a developmental "action" plan to move employees from where they are to where they would like to be or need to be. It provides systematic steps to improve performance and build on strengths related to one’s current job, and to meet one’s career goals. The goals of an IDP are developed by the employee with input from the supervisor. The IDP links the individual's career interests and needs to organizational priorities. IDPs are used to help employees:

  • learn new skills to improve current job performance
  • maximize current performance in support of organizational requirements
  • increase interest, challenges, and satisfaction in current position
  • obtain competencies that can help lead to career changes


  • a developmental partnership between the employee and manager. IDP preparation involves feedback, clarification, and discussion about developmental needs, goals, and plans. Manager-employee communication is key to the success of the IDP process. The mutual interests and concerns of the individual and the organization must be considered in the IDP process. The IDP is a vehicle to address the needs of the employee and the needs of the organization. The best IDPs begin with a plan to maximize current job performance. The activities can assist the individual in meeting both personal and organizational goals for success.
  • a broadly defined developmental plan which may include on-the-job assignments, self-development activities, and formal classroom training.
  • an active and ongoing process in the organization. Ideally, IDPs should be reviewed, updated, and revised as needed.


Last updated
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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