Case Study
Northumbria Probation Trust

Building Generic Competency Frameworks


Competency Frameworks describe the behaviours required for individuals and organisations to succeed. Competencies are a signal from the organisation to the individual of the expected areas and levels of performance. They provide the individual with a map or indication of the behaviours and actions that will be valued, recognised and in some organisations rewarded. Competencies can be understood to represent the language of performance in an organisation. 

It is widely accepted that a good competency framework should be central to all HR activity from selection, development to appraisal and performance management. However, designing effective generic competency frameworks that are easy to understand and implement in organisations can be a complex process. 

Northumbria Probation Trust required a practical learning workshop to provide delegates with a toolkit of techniques to develop and implement robust, practical and future-proofed frameworks.


The objectives were to equip the Trust’s HR team to build a generic competency framework through knowledge transfer and skills practice and to provide a practical insight into the knowledge, skills and techniques required to successfully develop generic competency frameworks.

This was a team action learning programme. It was designed for anyone involved in the development of organisational wide generic competency frameworks.  Attendees were to be provided with the opportunity to practice competency development techniques and learn how to integrate the information gathered to develop robust competency frameworks.  To attend this programme the team had to have a current competency framework task to tackle.


The Trust decided to approach the building of a competency framework using a ‘borrowed and tailored’ approach. Eliesha supplied one workshop and two ½ day action learning sets over a three month period.

The workshop was highly practical, putting theory into action through structured facilitated exercises and learning.  The theoretical component of the workshop was kept to a minimum and much of the time was spent in practical sessions under guidance. The delegates also undertook pre and post workshop learning activities to support and apply the learning.

To support the learning and knowledge transfer, two facilitated action learning sets were provided.

Workshop Benefits: Learning Objectives (borrowed and tailored approach):

  • Understand how to use design effective competencies for use in your organisation
  • Develop the skills to carry out competency design projects yourself
  • Gain practical experience of designing competency framework structures
  • Learn how to integrate information to develop robust competency frameworks   

Workshop Outline:

  • Background to Competencies
    • Understand competence in the workplace
    • The makeup and characteristics of effective organisational Competency Frameworks  
  • Undertake functional analysis (process of functional analysis and how it is be used to identify and specify competence) and its role in competency framework development
  • Practical sessions: steps to developing a competency framework
    • Defining Competencies
    • Converting core standards to competencies
    • Integrating functional analysis data into competency frameworks
    • Formulate and structure competency frameworks
    • The facilitation skills that developers need if they are to successfully facilitate the development process.
  • Planning effective competency framework implementation - engaging the organisation

Workshop Resources Provided by Eliesha:

  • Competency framework development route map and toolkit
  • A range of sample competency frameworks

The main elements to the Knowledge Transfer in this programme involved learning how to:

  • Define
  • Borrow
  • Prepare
  • Collect information
  • Build the framework
  • Implement & engage

The Action Learning Sets:

Action learning sets are a simple and powerful way for individuals to learn from each other.  Action learning is a process which involves working on real challenges, using the knowledge and skills of a small group of people combined with skilled questioning, to produce fresh ideas and reinterpret familiar concepts. They are one technique within the wider field of action learning. They follow the process outlined in the above diagram of explicitly stopping to reflect back on actions taken, drawing out learning from that reflection, and applying that learning to planned practice.

In structured sessions, participants took it in turns to present a significant challenge (or aspect of challenge) facing them in their day-to-day work. The action learning set members helped work on the problem through supportive, but probing, questioning.

The set was not about members giving advice or trying to provide answers. The focus was on learning from experience and putting it into action immediately.

Skills Development in this Programme through Workshop and Action Learning Sets:

The competencies developed within this programme included:

  • Strategic Thinking
  • Facilitation Skills
  • Planning Skills
  • Design Skills
  • Competency Design Skills

“The competency framework was based around the overall vision of the organisation, its core values and beliefs and the cultural themes identified through the Trust’s Transforming Northumbria initiative.”


Following the successful delivery of the workshop and action learning sets, the Trust team were able to immediately utilise the skills learned and created an organisation-wide Employee Competency Framework using the knowledge and learning transferred within the workshops. 

The competency framework was based around the overall vision of the organisation, its core values and beliefs and the cultural themes identified through the Trust’s Transforming Northumbria initiative. Through looking at these areas the Trust developed a set of competencies that clearly captured the behaviours and actions all employees needed to demonstrate to show they were working effectively and had contributed to the success of the organisation. The framework was developed by members of the Trust’s HR and OD teams with external support from Eliesha and with consultation with trade unions.

The new Competency Framework was published and distributed to every member of staff.

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