January 10, 2023

Competency frameworks: what they are and how we built ours

How does your company measure your team's individual performance? Our Head of Talent, Mark Harbottle, explains how he built a competency framework that's used across all departments at Cronofy.
9 min read
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Mark Harbottle
Head of Talent
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At Cronofy, we prioritize our team's personal development. We want everyone to feel that they can do anything and go anywhere. Last year, we pinpointed there was a lack of clarity in terms of how team members could reach the next stages in their career, and wanted this to change. It was a question of, how can we outline the different career paths, the skills required, and the support needed for our team members on their individual journeys?

The answer for us was a competency framework. The CIPD defines a competency framework as "a structure that sets out and defines each individual competency (such as problem-solving or people management) required by individuals working in an organisation or part of that organisation." They're unique to every business, being shaped by your company culture, so it's important to use this as a guide when creating your own.

Defining and planning

As a starting point, we set out the following aims:

  • Define existing roles at Cronofy, and show what is required to excel in these positions
  • Identify (and help provide) learning and development opportunities for progression
  • Show the different career routes people can choose
  • Help with creating and defining new roles we need to hire for
  • Assist with objective interviewing.

At its core, this was about providing clear career paths and environments that encourage personal development.

Setting out a structure of progression is useful at this point, so you can attach competencies to defined seniority levels. We came up with this:

There are factors to our process that could differ depending on the size of your business, as we’re too small a company to have VP’s, Chiefs and Directors. Larger businesses would add these levels after “Head of”. We also ensured there was some flexibility to this framework – stepping into a management role can be done from any IC level, and an IC1 junior could jump to IC3 if they were excelling in the competencies of their role. We also designed this career path to fit into any department to provide consistency across the business.

Deciding progression requirements

We had to define the behaviors for each level that were transferable across departments. When researching other competency frameworks, many of them felt impersonal. Lots of large companies use KSB (Knowledge, Skills, Behaviors), while many startups use a variety of competency titles like ‘Leadership’ and ‘Influencing’ with behaviors to describe them.

We wanted something simple that could be accurately measured, easily defined, and assessed from interview through to a career at Cronofy. We settled on three pillars that were going to define our competency framework:

  • Individual competencies: The skills required at that specific IC level
  • Collective competencies: Their ability to work/engage with other people and teams
  • Cultural competencies: We hire against our Principles, so it’s important an employee shows evidence of adhering to them in their approach to work.

When looking at our successful employees, they perform well in all three areas. The bad hires we’ve encountered in the past have often had high technical ability but low alignment with our Principles, which hammered home just how important this pillar is to our framework.

Building the Competency Framework

Creating the content for a competency framework is challenging. For us, it came down to a few things: firstly, defining the difference between a job description and a competency.

A job description encompasses the duties you do day to day, a competency is the skills and behaviors required to perform those duties to a high standard.

As a management team, we agreed that we wanted to incorporate six areas into our competency framework template - something that would fit every role in the business.

Hiring: Almost everyone in the business has some sort of responsibility for hiring - whether that’s supporting with interviewing, right up to sourcing talent

Feedback: Honest, transparent 360 feedback is paramount to our culture

Principles: Alignment with or demonstration of our principles (depending on seniority)

Ambition: Everyone should have ambitions but they will all be different. It might be to become a Manager, or maybe just succeed in their IC level

Communication: Because we’re a remote-first business so solid team and cross-team communication is vital

Use of data: Being a fast-growth startup we look to the data to make improvements and come up with experiments.

Once we had this information we created the below master competency framework template:

This template forms the foundation of every IC role in the business. It was designed to be individual for each role so it can be used by anyone in the business.

One of the challenges we continue to have comes when we hire for a new role. We aim to create competency frameworks to help assess candidates fairly and equally – you can find our ‘how to guide’ on creating these here if you're looking for guidance on creating your own.

Measuring success

Measuring the success of a competency framework shouldn’t be overly complicated. In our case, we created 3-5 statements against each competency pillar which would be assessed on a scale 1-4:

Does not meet expectations: Isn’t meeting the expectations that are appropriate for the role. Additional direction and support are needed, as is a willingness or ability to improve

Meets expectations: Achieves core goals for the role

Exceeds expectations: Sometimes exceeds expectations, requires little or no additional direction to achieve the core goals of the role

Consistently exceeds expectations: Exceeds expectations and consistently delivers beyond the goals of the position. Influences others to perform better

During a review, each statement would be assessed on the above scale, and the employee would receive a total score. They’d agree between themselves and their manager how far into an IC level they were, and subsequently what needs to be achieved / demonstrated to reach the next level, thus creating learning and development opportunities as well as clear career progression.

It also provides a reflection of not only competency level, but also the fairest compensation.

Here’s an example to demonstrate based on a fictitious role at Cronofy:

Let’s say you’re a Business Analyst at Cronofy at IC2 going into your review. You’re being paid £45K per annum, and the band for that role is £40-50K.

As your competencies are assessed, your average score is 3 (exceeds expectations). That would put you 75% of the way through your IC2 band, which means you should expect to be earning 75% of the budget.

Using this method, we’d increase your salary to £47,500 to represent experience and performance.

With the above example, it meant that we could be absolutely transparent to someone about how much they're being paid and why. Since the rollout, we've given many of our team members a pay rise to reflect the level they're at.

This is what a competency framework should look to achieve – analysing performance resulting in fair, equal pay with complete transparency.

The assessment of performance needs to be agreed by both employee and manager. The whole purpose of our review process is that it’s a discussion and mutual agreement. Two way communication is absolutely vital to making this a success.

Final thoughts

It was a long journey to building a competency framework for Cronofy that encompassed all team functions and seniority, but we’ve reached our ultimate goal - clarity on what success looks like at Cronofy, a fair and equal assessment process, but most importantly transparency on how and where people can progress with us.

Over time we’ll be refining this, and working hard to hold ourselves accountable for making sure people are as successful as they can be at Cronofy.

If you’d like to get in touch to discuss this model or your own approach to competency frameworks, you can contact Mark at mark@cronofy.com.