What Encompasses a Competency-Based Approach to HR?

Human resources management in small businesses can be highly structured as in large organizations, or less structured to permit flexibility in workforce planning, staffing and HR control over the employer-employee relationship. In either case, the competency-based approach to HR improves the quality of HR productivity and credibility, both of which are fundamental to sustaining a workforce that supports goals related to profitability and employee engagement.


Many job seekers and recruiters talk about core competencies they’re seeking in viable candidates. For example, sales representatives need strong communication and relationship-building skills, while IT professionals must have analytical and critical thinking skills. It’s the same with HR functionality — you must have certain staff competencies to accomplish HR department activities and goals. A competency-based approach ensures that the HR department is functional and effective.

Training and Development

Within the context of HR, training and development includes new-hire orientation, apprenticeships, leadership training and professional development. For an effective HR training and development component, a competency-based approach starts with conducting a needs analysis to determine the type and extent of training. For example, preparing skilled tradespersons usually requires an apprenticeship program. Likewise, a retail store gearing up for a busy season with mass hiring requires regular new-hire orientation sessions; a company preparing assistant managers to take on higher-level responsibilities must have leadership training and professional development to support its succession planning.

HR Staff

Fundamental to hiring training and development HR staff is locating candidates who are competent in conducting needs assessment and developing training modules that meet the specific needs of the company rather than a generic claim to tangentially-related expertise. For example, a secondary-school classroom teacher may be well-versed in training topics germane to academic standards, but probably not a good choice for joining the the HR staff for training adult learners.

Talent Acquisition

A competency-based approach in HR recruitment involves determining how many vacancies exist, identifying the basic and preferred requirements for each position and how the recruiters will go about sourcing and attracting candidates, and screening applicants to shortlist viable candidates. For example, recruiters might create job descriptions and consult hiring managers to establish job requirements. The competencies used to shortlist candidates might start with social media to source and attract applicants, followed by a two-interview process and skills assessment.

Evaluating Competencies

Over time, you’ll need to reevaluate your competency approach to HR. As the organization grows or declines, your workforce and HR needs change. The change may warrant an increased number of competencies necessary for the HR department to operate effectively, or scaling down your HR staff competencies if you intend to outsource all or part of your HR functionality.