Competency models have been considered the best way to assess talent risks drive employee development for nearly 20 years. The trouble is that competency models alone do not actually solve talent problems or actually reduce an employer’s workforce risk. The newest and best thinking around talent management and workforce planning solutions today is structured knowledge transfer, which preserves and moves a company’s secret sauce from head to head among the right coworkers. If your business organization doesn’t already use competency models, you can start with knowledge transfer and skip competency models. But if your organization has made considerable investments in these models, then knowledge transfer is the best and most logical step. It will help you take that groundwork to the next level and ensure you get the most out of your team, have sufficient backups in critical skills, and reduce risks associated with talent and experience loss.

Here’s a recent story from one the world’s major manufacturers that explains why:


The Shortcoming of Competency Models

My consulting company is doing an exciting, global project right now that is a model for how knowledge transfer can move business organizations beyond the basics of competency modeling. The client builds half billion Euro projects that bring together design, engineering, and manufacturing teams from all over the world. Due to strategic shifts and large new orders for a certain type of project, my client needed to duplicate about 80 skilled workers in one-third of the time it normally takes to train them on-the-job. Because of the client’s highly specialized work, these needed skilled workers could not be purchased or poached from elsewhere. The client had already embarked on a competency framework when we entered the scene, so it only made sense that we would build on that work as we implemented our 3-step Knowledge Transfer Solution to solve their talent problem. The competencies that were outlined for Project Managers on the client’s huge manufacturing jobs included: Health and Safety, Change Management, Claim Management, Communication Planning, Cost Budgeting, Formal Project Closure, Integrated Project Planning, Interface Management, Procurement and Contract Management, Project Charter Development, and Project Execution and Control.

Each of these competencies was critical to the successful delivery of the manufacturer’s product, and company executives had been able to make a list of their employee experts in each of these fields. But then, their process stalled. Leadership had this list of competencies and experts, but no clear next step for moving forward. 

The Knowledge Transfer Approach

My team took these competencies and named them as Project Manager knowledge silos (relevant knowledge areas) in the first of our knowledge transfer tools, the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM). Next, we added into the KSM framework the experts (mentors), plus a list of the organization’s career ambitious employees or new hires who had the capacity to learn the needed skills (the apprentices). Then we set up interviews with each of the named experts to create Skill Development Plans (SDP) for each competency/knowledge silo.

In effect, we answered a key, differentiating question between competency models and knowledge transfer solutions, “What does it mean to be an expert in a given competency? What do you have to know how to go and DO?”

To illustrate this difference, below is an example of a few of the 42 skills and tasks that the client’s Project Manager must master to be considered an expert in the Project Execution and Control silo.

  • Set up and conduct hand-over review [Gate Review #1]
  • Write baseline budgets and schedule for PMT
  • Lead weekly internal project team meeting
  • Lead client weekly meeting
  • Analyze monthly data from cost & engineered quantities reports
  • Write and issue Internal Monthly Report (IMR)
  • Present CMR at the client monthly review meeting
  • Select team members to relocate on site
  • Verify systems turnover plan requirements, including quality control, are in place
  • Call and lead commissioning/turnover readiness review [Gate Review #4: 60 days before pre-commissioning start]
  • Issue mechanical completion certificate for client signature

This partial list—and the knowledge transfer step it represents—is then the foundation for ensuring that managers, mentors, and apprentices can go beyond a rough, vague discussion of competencies to a clear, productive discussion of job performance expectations. It also shines a bright light on the Emperor’s New Clothes moment that so often comes when solely relying on competency models: just because an employee or new hire has competency in a given area doesn’t mean they will actually usethose skills on the job or understand what is expected of them to learn and DO. Our knowledge transfer tools gives workers this job role clarity and also guides your experts as they transfer their knowledge.

SUMMARY: If you want results, move your talent management conversation beyond competency models to the contemporary, practical approach of knowledge transfer. Competency models alone fail to solve most talent problems, but the models can be the foundation of a great knowledge transfer solution. Knowledge transfer will take your models to the next level by making them clear and actionable.