To be successful in any project or company, we must ensure that everything is consistently aligned: people, finances, teams, approach, environment, etc. For the Human Resources function to have a proactive approach, it must be aligned with the other functions of the company; the greater the alignment, the greater the probability of success.

Among all the resources to be considered for alignment, the preponderant element of productivity and its ability to provide value are people and what David McClelland, professor at Harvard University, called the “underlying characteristics” of people. This was the beginning of the Competency Model.

By underlying characteristics he meant those characteristics that are part of each individual’s personality and that can predict his or her behavior in a wide variety of work situations and challenges. These characteristics are established based on the sum of their:

  • Knowledge, skills or abilities (Aptitudes)
  • Self-concept, attitudes and values
  • Personality traits

From this scheme, Spencer & Spencer introduce the “Iceberg Model” in which they very graphically divide competencies into two large groups: Those easier to detect and develop such as skills and knowledge; and those less easy to detect and develop, such as self-concept, attitudes and values; and the very core of personality.

Many companies make their personnel selection based on what is observable, knowledge, skills; and assume that the new collaborators have the motivation, attitudes and characteristics necessary for the position or that they themselves as employers are experts in developing those characteristics, which unfortunately is not always true and leads us to think that quite possibly the opposite would be better: Hire based on behaviors and then train on knowledge and skills.

More current concepts such as Emotional Intelligence make us see that the rules of work are changing. The new rules have to do not only with knowledge and skills but also with how we handle ourselves and others. The characteristics that differentiate outstanding workers from those who do things well are found precisely in personality traits, attitudes and values.


Competency-based management is an integrated management model that assesses the specific knowledge, skills and attitudes required for each job position in order to guide the management of people in key processes for the company. It covers all employees, from top management to operational personnel.

In order to design competency-based job profiles, a decision must be made to design competency-based Human Resources processes. This decision must be endorsed by the general management and be led by Human Resources, usually accompanied by external advisors, specialists in the subject, who provide expertise and objectivity.

Generally, companies enter at once to establish the specific competencies of the positions, but when we consider human resources as a strategic value, the first steps to define the competencies that represent the organization have to do with the vision and mission of the company, so this is a very good time to establish or review them and based on them define the values of the company.

Values here are not conceived in their ethical or philosophical sense but in their representation of what is valuable, the drivers that will guide the company to the fulfillment of its mission and vision. These values will define the type of culture to which the organization adheres, so they must be very specific to its reality. When we establish general competencies based on values that apply to everyone, these competencies are called “core competencies”.

Once we have the general or cardinal competencies, which are those that represent the feelings and needs of the organization, comes the definition of the specific competencies by positions or by families of positions, which in turn are organized into 3 levels: managerial or executive, intermediate and operational.  Here comes the definition of the competency and its division into grades to express the range or extent to which that competency is required, which can go from A in its highest grade to D in its lowest or unsatisfactory grade. All this depending on the reality of the company.

Once we have the draft of the specific competencies with their grades, they are validated with the occupants of the positions or families of positions, who are selected based on successful cases or results in the particular context of the organization and culture in question.

Then, the presentation is made to the area management for its analysis and approval, in order to present the final draft to the Management Council or highest governing body of the company to obtain comments, observations and agreements that will allow the final version of the company’s dictionary or competencies manual to be prepared.

The competencies are not static, but allow updating according to the requirements and changes of the organization, which, in addition to allowing effective performance in an activity, establish the requirements and questions required for personnel selection processes, along with the routes and career plans that each person can follow.