IRS survey of competency frameworks


IRS survey of competency frameworks

Although much vaunted as an alternative to merit pay, competence-related pay has never really taken off. Only one in three organisations that have adopted competencies now tie them to reward, according to a survey by IRS.

As Neil Rankin, the author of the report, points out: "The relatively low usage of competency-related reward among organisations with established competency frameworks, together with the failure of most would-be users to translate intent into action, provide indications of the difficulties that have to be overcome in making such a link and the controversial nature of this approach."

The research by the IRS journal Competency & Emotional Intelligence found that most employers with a competency-reward link do so via their performance management systems. "Typically, the existing outcome/objective-based system is expanded to include an additional assessment of individuals' behavioural competencies (so that the way in which tasks are performed is considered alongside what is achieved). Then the review leads to a reward decision."

Key research findings

  • How competencies are being used: The most commonly found use of competencies relates to performance management and appraisal systems (mentioned by 70% of respondents to the IRS survey), followed by personal development plans (64%).
  • Types of competencies in use: IRS reckons there is a trend away from the use of competencies that focus solely on behaviours or soft skills towards "broader or richer frameworks". So, while almost all respondents (95%) have introduced behavioural competencies, two-thirds (67%) use technical, job-related competencies.
  • Most popular competencies: An analysis of 49 employers' core competency frameworks containing a total of 533 competencies shows that there are seven behavioural competencies in widespread use, being found in at least half of all frameworks evaluated by IRS: team orientation or teamworking communication skills people management customer focus results orientation problem-solving leadership planning and organising. According to the figures gathered by IRS, a typical framework contains nine competencies.

What you will find in this IRS report

This 48-page IRS survey of employers' use of competency frameworks outlines major trends and analyses practitioners' experiences about the key issues involved in introducing and using competency frameworks.

It includes an analysis of the different ways in which competencies are used, an overview of why employers embark on this challenging path and an assessment of how well competencies are performing.


The report also contains a directory with extracts from the competency frameworks used by named employers. It is divided into two main parts:

  • numerous examples of named employers' lists of competencies
  • examples from employers' frameworks of the definitions, behavioural indicators and performance levels, as appropriate for particular competencies.

Want to know more?

Title: "The new prescription for performance: the eleventh benchmarking survey", by Neil Rankin, Competency & Emotional Intelligence Benchmarking, 2004/05.

Methodology: The study draws on a survey questionnaire completed by almost 100 employers, conducted by IRS in June and July 2004.

Sample size: The main survey sample is based on 76 employers that are current users of competencies or, in a few cases, are far advanced in the design or development stage of their implementation. These 76 survey organisations have a combined workforce of 408,650 people.

Availability: To subscribe contact IRS, tel: 020 8662 2000 or email:

To find out more about the quarterly journal Competency & Emotional Intelligence visit

Posted 27 October 2004