What Is Competency Mapping? Methods and Why It Matters

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Competency mapping helps your business identify skills and abilities employees need to perform their roles effectively. Learn more about what competency mapping is and how it adds value to an organization.

[Featured Image] Employees are at a conference table discussing a competency mapping strategy for their business.

Over the last 50 years, organizations have taken a competency-based approach to talent development. Competency mapping defines and identifies the skills and talent employees need to perform their roles effectively. This helps tailor training and continuous learning options to fit organizational strategy and support business objectives.

In this article, we’ll explain what competency mapping is, how it works, and what skills you’ll need to perform effective competency mapping.

Empower teams with access to world-class content from 325+ top companies and universities

Watch now

What is competency mapping?

Competency mapping is a process organizations use to identify and define the skills, knowledge, abilities, and behaviors their employees need to be successful at work. The mapping process involves creating a comprehensive framework that outlines the specific competencies required for different job positions within an organization.

This approach first gained momentum in the 1970s when Harvard psychologist David McClelland suggested intelligence and traditional achievement scores may not be the best way to anticipate job success. Since then, many others have expanded on his argument with models and methods for competency mapping across industries.

Types of competency mapping

You can map competencies from various perspectives. This leads to frameworks with many different competencies. However, in professional settings, the competencies mapped typically fall under three main types:


Mapping technical competencies allows you to focus on the specific skills and knowledge required to perform tasks related to a particular job. For instance, a software developer needs to know programming languages, and a mechanic requires knowledge of how engines work.


Along with technical know-how, people often require certain traits and attitudes that can support success in specific roles. For example, depending on the role, an individual may need better communication skills or more creativity.


Organizations want to identify their future leaders. This area of competency mapping looks at attributes such as embracing diversity, nurturing innovation, and inspiring others to define essential leadership skills. 

How do competencies add business value?

Competency mapping can help a business by aligning talent development and organizational strategy. Clearly defining the competencies required can:

  • Improve performance and productivity as employees understand expectations

  • Support effective talent management by providing a focus on training and development initiatives 

  • Enhance recruitment with a more effective assessment of candidate-job match (by both candidates and recruiters) 

  • Reduce turnover as people feel well-equipped for jobs they have

  • Drive effective succession planning by anticipating potential shortages within the workforce

  • Increase employee engagement as individuals have a clear path for career progression

Steps in mapping competencies

The competency development process has several steps. Use these four aspects of competency mapping to help improve skills at your company:

1. Define the purpose.

Generally, you can expect to begin by defining what you want to accomplish with your framework. Are there particular roles you want to understand? Do you want to map skills and behaviors for all organizational functions? 

2. Collect data.

Once you’ve decided your purpose, you’ll need to identify the key competencies required for each role. This typically involves input from subject matter experts, managers, and employees themselves.

3. Define competencies.

Create a framework that identifies competencies and the associated behaviors. Align the competencies you have uncovered with observable behaviors and measurable skills so that you can objectively evaluate whether an employee has that competency or is developing in that area. 

4. Integrate competencies.

Make competencies part of job descriptions, and help employees understand how this framework supports their career progression. Ensure managers, HR teams, and those in recruiting and selection integrate competency assessments into performance reviews and the recruitment process.

Make talent your competitive advantage

See what it could look like to train your team.

Learn more

Pros and cons of competency mapping

Competency mapping offers various advantages and benefits, but it also has potential drawbacks. This section explores the pros and cons.


Competency mapping can bring substantial benefits to an organization. These include:

  • Sets clear expectations for employees, helping them understand what is required for success in their roles

  • Enhances performance and productivity as employees possess the necessary skills for their roles

  • Highlights skill gaps to enable targeted training and development initiatives

  • Aids in identifying and selecting the right candidates for specific roles

  • Aligns employee skills with organizational goals, contributing to overall strategy execution

  • Helps identify and groom employees with the right competencies for future leadership roles

  • Provides a structured career path and opportunities for skill development, which can enhance employee satisfaction and engagement

  • Supports a more objective and comprehensive assessment of employee performance

  • Reduces bias by ensuring objective criteria for decisions

  • Drives competitive advantage as the business can use competency maps to develop the competencies required for new roles or changes in job responsibilities


Balancing the advantages of competency mapping with the drawbacks is important. Potential pitfalls include:

  • Developing and implementing a competency framework can be complex and time-consuming, especially for large organizations.

  • Assessing competencies might involve subjective judgment, leading to potential bias in evaluations and decisions.

  • Measuring certain competencies, especially behavioral ones, can be challenging.

  • Overemphasis on specific competencies might discourage innovation and adaptability in employees.

  • Employees might feel pressured to acquire competencies quickly, potentially leading to stress or burnout.

  • Ensuring consistent application of competency assessments across the organization can be difficult.

  • It may not account for future needs and how competencies shift.

Who uses competency mapping?

Various entities use competency mapping to achieve goals related to talent management, skill development, and performance improvement. Businesses of all sizes and industries use competency mapping to align the workforce with organizational strategy. Human resources often spearheads the initiative to identify and map competencies. Managers and supervisors can use the mapping to set expectations, provide feedback, and make informed decisions about promotions, transfers, and skill development initiatives.

The employees and job candidates also benefit from competency mapping by understanding the skills and behaviors needed for career advancement or to gain the role in the first place. Recruiting teams using competency mapping can help create more accurate job descriptions and job advertisements and better assess candidate suitability for specific roles.

You might also find industry associations, professional groups, and government and regulatory bodies relying on competencies to define industry standards, certifications, and best practices. Educational institutions may also use competency mapping to align their curriculum with the job market to enhance their graduates’ employability. 

Skills needed for competency mapping

With competencies having applications in so many areas, you may need to build your proficiency in mapping skills and behaviors. Whether you’re in human resources, organizational development, leadership, or another role that requires proficiency in competency mapping, you may want to hone the following:

  • Analytical skills to analyze job roles, identify required skills, and evaluate employee performance

  • Communication skills to gather information from stakeholders, explain the competency mapping, and convey the results to employees, managers, and leadership

  • Data collection skills to research job roles, industry trends, and skill requirements

  • Attention to detail to help you create accurate competency frameworks

  • Project management skills as mapping involves multiple stages, from data collection to implementation. 

  • Strategic thinking to ensure that the mapping process supports your company's future direction.

Getting started with Coursera

Developing the necessary skills can greatly enhance your ability to effectively perform competency mapping tasks and contribute to the success of your organization's talent management initiatives. Coursera for Business is ready to help your team succeed.

You might start by enhancing your skills in Project Management Communication, Stakeholders, and Leadership with a six-module course on Coursera. You can also learn about the foundations of Managing Talent with the University of Michigan on Coursera.

Let's talk about making talent your advantage

Connect with our team to learn how you can prepare your business for rapid change.

Learn more

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.