Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.


Values are an important shaper of organizational culture. Should they be part of a competency model?

An organization’s mission and values are one reason we choose where we work. When the organization and its people lives up to its values, we tend to be more engaged and productive. This leads to a question, “Should values be part of a competency model?” Before diving into this, please take this short (very short) survey.

Values and Competency Models

Frankly, we had not asked ourselves this question while designing our new Competency Modelling Environment. (This module is now in beta testing and will be generally available in October). It took one of our best customers to ask us this and we are now looking at how we would approach this.

A competency model is a way of organizing the Jobs, Roles, Behaviours and Skills that an organization needs in order to be successful. It provides a lens to look at a an individual or team’s skills and a filter to help find relevant people or jobs or learning and performance support.

As a lens, the competency model can answer questions like ‘Do we have the people with the skills we need to succeed?’ or ‘What skills predict success?’

As a filter, the competency model can answer questions like “What jobs suit my skills?’ or ‘Which people have the skills needed for this job?’

Competency models are becoming a key way to organise learning and performance resources. Mapping skills to learning resources makes it easier for people to find the resources they need to pick up a new skill.

So where do values fit in?

Let’s begin by looking at our own values, and then seeing where we would put them in our own competency model.

Our values …

  • Create value – help our users become more valuable to others and to themselves
  • Act transparently – make it easy for people to understand how and why we make decisions
  • Respect data ownership – make sure the people who create the value from the data own the data
  • Celebrate diversity – teams need all sorts of different people
  • Learn quickly – and share what we are learning so that we can all make better decisions

Each of these would need to be unpacked and mapped to different roles and jobs. The way in which a software engineer creates value is quite different than the way a consultant creates value. People in business support roles, like bookkeeping, create value in a way different than people in revenue generation.

I can see how to map skills to these values. There are some basic concepts around creating value, for example, that would help make this rather generic phrase more actionable.

Skills and concepts for Create Value

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (to frame the level at which we are trying to provide value, from the physiological through to self-actualization)
  • Economic Value Estimation (to help people communicate economic value)
  • User Experience (to bring in focus all aspects of how users interact with our software and with us as an organization)
  • Value Communication (to communicate value)
  • Active Listening (because one can only create value for people if one knows what matters to them)

For many of us, corporate value statements are vacuous because they are not connected to actions. We try to address this by referencing our values when we make decisions, whether these be decisions about who to hire, what customers to target or how we develop software. We don’t have a way to connect values to decisions in our current model, but we can connect them to behaviours.

One proposal is to capture values as behaviours. This makes some sense. If our values are not reflected in our behaviours, then they are not really our values.

Behaviours for Act Transparently

  • Communicates the reasons for decisions
  • Involves people impacted by decisions in the decision
  • Is open to discussions about decisions and their consequences

I can imagine many other behaviours for the value of acting transparently. Conversations about what these behaviours are will go a long way to making the value more meaningful and actionable.

Design decision 1

“Should values be included in a competency model?”

This will be up to the designers of each competency model, but I think we should provide this affordance (an ‘affordance’ is ‘an action possible in an environment’).

Design decision 2

“Should values be coded as behaviours?”

This may be a good place to start. One can include in the model, for each Job or Role, a set of behaviours that demonstrate the value. As this requires no modification to the existing platform, this may be where we start. I am not sure that it is enough though. Perhaps ‘values’ needs to be a first order concept in the platform. If you have thoughts on this, please share them with us.

Design decision 3

“How should values be assessed?” or “Should values be assessed?”

Our default scale for measuring levels of expertise does not make sense for values, or for behaviours for that matter. Fortunately, the scale and label are easily modified. One suggestion is that we could use the following scale for behaviours (and values).

  • Almost always demonstrates this behaviour
  • Frequently demonstrates this behaviour
  • Occasionally demonstrate this behaviour
  • Only demonstrates this behaviour when prompted
  • Resists this behaviour

We have had some pushback on this. Some people I have said (and I am sympathetic to this) is that rather than assessing on values, we should simply invite people to provide evidence of how he or she, or another person, has demonstrated a value. No formal assessment is needed or desired, but evidence is appreciated.

Whenever one makes an assessment, one invites a discussion of how that assessment will be used. This is part of our own value of ‘Act transparently.’ The same applies to a request or invitation that one provide evidence. So how will organizations act towards people who consistently fail to demonstrate, or who even oppose, certain of their values? If, like us, one of your values is to ‘Celebrate diversity’ does that celebration extend to people who do not share all of your values? I don’t think there is any one answer to this question.

On the other hand, if there is no way to assess people or at least to provide evidence of and celebrate the value, the values are likely to wither into irrelevance. A decision not to assess values, or to gather evidence that the values are informing behaviour, is a signal in its own right.