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March 15, 2023


5 min read

Competency mapping: A quick-and-easy guide for HR leaders

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From the frontline to the C-suite, every role within a company calls for a unique combination of competencies — or hard skills, soft skills and behavioral traits — to do the job well. 

To make smarter hiring decisions, it’s important to have a deep understanding of what it takes to be successful in every role. Not just what’s written in a job description, but rather a fuller, more nuanced picture. 

That’s why many leading HR departments rely on competency mapping as a critical practice. This exercise helps to identify skills gaps in individuals or departments, informs your L&D initiatives and lets you hone in on what kind of talent you need to look for both in and outside the organization. 

Let’s take a closer look at competency mapping and the strategic value it can bring to your long-term talent management strategy.


What is competency mapping?

Competency mapping is the process of identifying and defining the knowledge, skills and personal attributes required for a particular role. Think of it this way:

  • Knowledge is the expertise an employee needs for the role.


  • Skills are what enable employees to do or accomplish the responsibilities of the role. 


  • Personal attributes are how an employee will successfully approach or respond to any given situation. This might include characteristics such as attitude, business acumen, sense of ambition, empathy, leadership or other traits.


Of course, some things are harder to measure than others and some characteristics can never be improved through learning and development. But the more opportunity you provide for growth and improvement, the more you open doors for employees to step up to their fullest potential. These criteria lay clear what competencies a job requires, which can guide both L&D and succession planning. 


The importance of competency mapping

There is no greater asset to a company than its human capital, and companies who know how to make the best use of their workforce’s skills, knowledge and attributes have the strongest chances for success in the marketplace. But to capitalize on your employees’ strengths, you have to know what they are — and how they fit into the employee’s particular role, their department and the organization as a whole. Competency mapping answers this question. 


How people teams can benefit from competency mapping

Done correctly, competency mapping can support a number of different business concerns, including critical areas such as recruitment, succession planning and L&D. Let’s dive in.


Improved hiring and recruitment processes

Talent acquisition is where we see competency mapping’s most obvious application. To successfully source the right talent for the right role, hiring managers and recruiters need to know how to craft a strong job description, what interview questions to ask and what skills to test or look for during the hiring process. Through competency mapping, you can find out what those are. 

Competency mapping also allows you to drive company culture during the hiring process by underscoring which values and behaviors need greater representation within your workforce. 


Inform learning and development strategy

Competency mapping can also inform your L&D strategy by outlining what competencies you need for specific roles, and then assessing where skills, knowledge and behaviors are falling short. 

Having a strong grasp on critical core competencies and skills gaps within your workforce allows you to take a more strategic approach to L&D and pinpoint exactly which learning initiatives are going to be the most impactful for addressing the unique skills needs of your workforce.

Additionally, this level of clarity allows people managers to chart a clear path to advancement for their direct reports, including recommendations for specific education or other development opportunities to help get them to the next level in their careers. This transparency also empowers workers, giving them the tools needed to take the lead on their own career advancement and develop the competencies required for their desired career path.  


skills gap analysis template cta


Enable succession planning 

Just as competency planning can help chart a course for an employee’s advancement, it also plays a role in succession planning. After all, you can’t plan to fill a position if you don’t know what competencies are required for it.

Further, training for succession doesn’t start one position down — it often starts two or three levels earlier in a career path. By creating competency mapping for all levels of employees, from entry-level to C-suite, HR teams (and employees) can easily see the progression needed to move up, across and throughout the company.


When combined with skills assessments and performance reviews, you can identify high-potential talent early on and work with them to upskill or fill competency gaps to get on the path to leadership.


Competency mapping process

Now that you’re familiar with the benefits of competency mapping, it’s time to walk through how to kickstart the process in a way that’s scalable and easy to replicate in the future. While this may require some time investment upfront, the end result is well worth it.


#1: Define 

Start by drafting the competencies required for each job position. Make sure these include the key knowledge, skills and personality or behavioral traits most suited for the job. Lean on managers and other members of leadership for input — after all, these are the subject matter experts on the roles within their respective teams.

You may want to create a skills taxonomy to establish a baseline vocabulary and consistent wording for competencies across your organization. And don’t over-focus on skills and knowledge. Be sure to consider personal characteristics such as emotional IQ, ambition, adaptability or attitude. 


#2: Assess

Once you know what competencies each role requires, you can assess how well an employee is fulfilling that role. For the most reliable data, you may want to use a variety of tools, such as skills assessments, self-assessments, manager or peer reviews or customer input. The more intangible factors may be gathered through surveys and interviews. 


#3: Analyze and take action

This exercise is only beneficial if you’re able to take meaningful action using the insights you’ve gathered. Once the heavy lifting is done, it’s time to share out the information and collaborate with others in the organization to determine what improvements can be made based on these learnings.


#4: Revisit

With technology and roles evolving at ever-faster speeds, so do the competencies required for them. Revisit competency mapping on a pre-defined basis to stay ahead of skills gaps — and stay competitive. 


The value of competency mapping

When considering roles within an organization, companies often rely on job descriptions based on skills, tasks and responsibilities. Competency mapping brings full context to the role and allows organizations to define their talent needs while providing a transparent process for employees wanting to improve their performance or move up in the company.

Success requires far more than skills — it requires knowledge, abilities, engagement and more. Competency mapping provides a framework for capturing this data and putting it to work for you.

Put your competency mapping findings into action: Download this step-by-step guide to learn how to develop a skill-building program that drives results for your business and people.