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6 Tips for Merging Competency Models in Healthcare

by Michael Ganeles

Merging Competencies in healthcareDear DDI Healthcare,

My organization recently merged with another large healthcare organization, and we’re about to embark on an initiative to create a system-wide leadership competency model. As you might imagine, we’re anticipating several challenges including the fact that both organizations already have leadership competency models in place (and are quite different from one another). Can you share some best practices and potential pitfalls?

Merging Competency Models

Dear Merging Competency Models,

Oh boy! What an exciting topic for our first “Ask DDI Healthcare” blog. In all seriousness, this might not be the sexiest topic, but I can tell you many organizations are grappling with the same question. With so much M&A activity taking place in healthcare over the past few years, many organizations are beginning to prioritize systemness to truly realize the benefits of coming together as one healthcare system.

Fair warning to our readers: I can really “geek out” about competency modeling and lose sight of the fact that not everyone (i.e., every member of my family who asks, and then regrets asking, how my day was) is as excited about competency modeling as I am. So, I’ll do my best to keep my response practical and at least somewhat concise. In that spirit, here are 3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts.

DO: Align with the organization’s strategy

My first piece of advice? Resist the temptation to simply merge competency models together.

Why? Think about the ultimate value a leadership competency model brings to an organization. It articulates the behaviors you need your leaders to exhibit to execute against your strategic and cultural priorities. Once defined, you can then use those leadership competencies as the foundation of your talent management processes (e.g., selection, development, succession, performance management). That being the case, it doesn’t make much sense to merge two competency models that were developed for two separate organizations that likely had disparate strategic priorities before merging.

Stop dwelling on the past and start focusing on where the merged organization is headed and what your leaders will need to do to support that future direction.

DON’T: Build your leadership competencies in the backroom of your HR department on the back of a napkin.

Please, please, please don’t just get a group of HR leaders together to determine the leadership competencies for your organization. If you’re reading this and asking, “Who still does that?” I can tell you that there are still plenty of organizations using this approach. I can also share that these same organizations will then ask us how to gain buy-in and broader adoption of the competency model they built behind the curtain.

Stop the insanity! Make sure your system-wide competency model is driven by input from subject matter experts (e.g., senior leaders, as well as leaders across various levels and functions). HR is not the subject matter expert on what the competencies should be–but they are the subject matter expert on how to collect the necessary information to develop clearly defined leadership competencies. When leadership competencies are built by leadership for leadership, they’re less likely to be viewed as just another HR tool.

DO: Find executive sponsors across the system

Have you ever gone on a family vacation without getting your spouse’s buy-in on the destination? If you have, I’m guessing that vacation was pretty unpleasant (actually, this is an educated guess based on personal experience). If the desired end state of your competency modeling journey is to have the entire system adopt the same model, then it’s probably not the best strategy to just identify an executive sponsor from one part of the merged organization.

Think about your successful system-wide initiatives. I’m guessing there was executive support across the system. Your system-wide competency modeling initiative should be no different.

DON’T: Build leadership competencies that sound compelling but aren’t actionable

“We need people with grit and intellectual horsepower.” This sounds cool, but what does it even mean? More importantly, do leaders have a common understanding of what it means?

Many competency models place a priority on having scintillating names but when you look under the hood, the competencies aren’t actionable. If the desired end state is to use them as the foundation for how you select, develop, and manage leadership talent, then it’s critical to make sure they’re clearly defined. They should be specific, behavioral, observable, and measurable.

Need an example? Think about an organization that has “coaches and develops others” listed as a competency without any additional detail behind it. Many leaders view coaching as, “providing guidance around the day-to-day tasks,” and often overlook the long-term development of the talent on their team. Without articulating more specific behaviors, your competencies will mean different things to different leaders, thereby undermining the original intent of a system-wide competency model—to drive consistent leadership behaviors and talent management practices.

DO: Differentiate by leadership level

“One size fits all” is rarely accurate for clothing, let alone leadership competency models. Some organizations attempt to define one set of leadership competencies for all leaders, but that limits the value the model can bring to the organization. DDI research has shown there are key differences and transition points between frontline, mid-level, and senior leadership roles. If your system-wide competency model doesn’t capture these differences, you’ll get limited use from the model when using it in your talent management processes.

For example, if you want to use your leadership competency model for succession purposes, how will you know which competencies you need to develop to get people ready to take on more senior-level roles? If the competencies are the same across all levels, there’s no roadmap outlining how talent needs to be developed to grow leaders across the pipeline.

DON’T: Take an eternity to develop your leadership competencies

No joke: I once worked on a competency modeling project that lasted so long that my wife and I had a baby before it was complete. That project gave new meaning to labor intensive (See what I did there?). But, seriously, while building a leadership competency model is important work, it shouldn’t take years to complete.

Sometimes organizations spend so much time reviewing and socializing their competencies, by the time they finalize and begin using them, a drastic shift occurs in the industry or organization that warrants a new set of competencies. With healthcare changing rapidly, it’s imperative for organizations to accelerate their competency modeling efforts.

Remember, competencies are just words and you don’t get value from them until you begin using them as the foundation of your talent management processes. Resist the temptation to spend an eternity on building them and, instead, spend more time on incorporating them into the ways you select, develop, and manage talent.

If you have additional questions or want to hear more, feel free to reach out via e-mail or LinkedIn. Good luck!

Read how Epworth HealthCare used the right competencies to help build a nurse leader pipeline.

Michael Ganeles is the Practice Leader for DDI’s healthcare practice. When he’s not helping healthcare organizations with their talent initiatives, he receives stretch assignments from his wife and children, who are always willing to provide developmental feedback. A native New Yorker, you’ll find Michael rooting for the New York Mets, Rangers, Giants, and Knicks, which continually helps to eradicate his fear of failure. Send your comments, sports trash talk, and questions to

Posted: 10 May, 2019,
Talk to an Expert: 6 Tips for Merging Competency Models in Healthcare
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