Competency Frameworks FAQ

“Rule books tell people what to do. Frameworks tell people how to act. Rule books insist on discipline. Frameworks allow for creativity.”

– Simon Sinek

Often, these frameworks are misunderstood, so we’ve selected the most common questions to give you a dive deep into competency frameworks and help you understand their value.

As competency frameworks are often misunderstood, you may have concerns about the reliability and validity, and you may have heard some common myths that deserve to be debunked. In this post, we’ll do just that – debunk the myths and give you the facts.

FAQ 1: What is a Competency Framework?

Competency frameworks outline skills and characteristics needed for success in a particular role. The term “model” is also often used to refer to competency frameworks, and you’ll find these models (e.g., leadership models) everywhere from schools to sports to corporate offices.

FAQ 2: Competency frameworks sound good theoretically, but do they actually work?

Competency frameworks certainly look good on paper and sound good in boardrooms, as they can be a rallying point – and that’s worth something in and of itself, but they do more than that. They can be used to create a common language and expectations of key behaviours for what is required to succeed in different roles. This means that these frameworks can also be used to assess and identify talent and competency levels. Finally, competency frameworks can also be used to develop talent, targeting specific skills and characteristics that will equip your leaders for tomorrow.


Competency frameworks work theoretically AND practically.

FAQ 3: Are competency frameworks too prescriptive?

Another myth about competency frameworks is that they are overly prescriptive. This myth suggests that by observing occupational competencies, you may be missing out on great leaders who don’t fit the mold but could perform the job well. While some competency frameworks certainly are prescriptive, frameworks that are well developed allow you to cast your net wide. To find these frameworks, look for the following characteristics:

  • Competencies should be task-based skills (quantitative or qualitative) that suit the role, rather than personality qualities that match the rest of the team
  • Competencies should be learnable, with clear definitions and actionable components that you can use to structure training programs within your organization
  • The competency framework should be supported by objective tools, such as validated assessments

When developmental activities meet the criteria above, you can be confident that they are not overly prescriptive, and that they will identify anyone who is a good fit for the job. That’s because any direction they do provide pertains to qualities that influence the success of a leader, rather than specific behaviors, personality characteristics, or leadership styles that may result in homogeneity among leaders and teams.


Competency frameworks give effective direction, not exclusive prescription.

FAQ 4: Do competency frameworks reduce diversity?

Similar to the previous question, you may have heard people say that competency frameworks reduce diversity. This myth is based on the assumption that competency frameworks reward those who are copies current leaders, thus making hiring and promotion decisions subject to similarity bias (the preference for others who look and act like you). In reality, however, using a competency framework can help decision makers avoid similarity bias. When a learning path is properly developed, it uses objective, task-based competencies. Making decisions based on such data prevents factors like gender, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, or personality and shared experiences from influencing decisions around hiring and promotion. In this way, competency frameworks actually enable diversity among teams.


Competency frameworks enable diversity.

FAQ 5: Is it better to use an established competency framework or to create your own?

With DIY culture booming, a common myth you’ll hear about collections of competencies is that it’s better to create your own. This can certainly be fun; everyone likes having their ideas put on paper. But sometimes you can have too many cooks in the kitchen – especially if they’re not educated and experienced chefs. As subject matter experts, SIGMA (along with other experts in the field) recommends using an academically developed, industry validated competency framework. Most organizations do not have the resources needed to develop such a framework on their own. In this case it may be better to adopt an existing valid, and reliable developmental learning path from another provider. These providers will often have assessments and services built around their framework that make it immediately applicable for you. For example, take a look at SIGMA’s competency framework and the assessments and services that go along with it.


Don’t reinvent the wheel; don’t waste time creating your own framework if there is an existing valid, reliable one that does a great job of addressing your needs.

FAQ 6: Are competency frameworks customizable?

Finally, a myth that certainly deserves debunking is that competency frameworks are not flexible. While some frameworks may lean towards being cookie-cutter, others can be customized to suit your needs. This is especially valuable when applying a general, comprehensive framework to the specific context of a department, team, or individual role.

At SIGMA, we understand that leaders are unique, and that different competencies are required for people to perform effectively in different situations. We believe that decision makers benefit most from customizable frameworks that capture these unique competencies, so we’ve built a benchmarking option into our competency development services. Benchmarking allows you to customize your competency framework to include a collection of competencies that is most relevant to your position, organization, or industry. When benchmarking is applied to an employee selection or development process, individuals all take the same assessment, but the report they receive is narrowed to show only those results that have been chosen as relevant to their particular position. If you decide benchmarking is right for you, SIGMA will work with you to create a customized list of competencies to meet your needs. Here at least is one framework that’s certainly not a cookie-cutter!


Some frameworks may be inflexible, but others (like SIGMA’s) can be customized to meet your needs.

About the Author

Helen Schroeder

Marketing Coordinator

Helen completed a dual degree with Ivey Business School’s HBA program and Western University’s Honours Specialization in Psychology. As a Marketing Coordinator and Consultant she creates and manages content for SIGMA’s webpages, blogs, and coaching resources. Helen also assists in new product development, go-to-market strategy, and client consultation.