The role of competency frameworks in professionalizing humans.

Ram Mohan R _ Professor, Institute of Management in Government
Thankom Arun _ Professor, Essex Business School, University of Essex


The global evidence suggests the regular need for instituting Government structures to improve public service efficiency, crucial for citizen-centric governance. For instance, the UK uses the civil service competency framework in 2012 for recruitment, performance management and development discussions, and decisions about progression. The core values of civil service values such as honesty, integrity, impartiality, and objectivity are placed at this framework's heart. OECD and Developed countries have developed a bouquet of mutually complimenting, harmonious and dynamic measures that focus on results, provides more information on governmental goals, priorities and schemes, provides transparency on planning goals with links to departmental objectives and schemes. In many contexts, governance philosophies influence competency frameworks. In Western countries, the competency framework's adoption is linked to sound HRM systems' pursuance, widely known as "human resource bundles" (Gooderham, Parry and Ringdal, 2008). However, Knies (2018) suggest that using governance as a framework to structure civil servants' competencies shed light on deficiencies in the HRM literature and contributes to a contextualized perspective of HRM in government organizations. An appropriate Human Resources Framework is required to afford benefits to the public and is a pre-requisite for successfully pursuing reforms that foster development and inclusive governance.

The regular restructuring of public management and administration practices is a genuine need for any modern administration. The effectiveness in any Government's performance depends upon the entry behavior of the employees, their competencies, and the prevalence and quality of their job-related knowledge and skills. Therefore, modern public management reforms stress dovetailing and professionalizing human resources for strengthening of performance orientation of public governance and management. Over the years, the departments' mandate has undergone a sea-change with the expansion of the business portfolio and several duties and responsibilities encompassing the public's increasing expectations. Newer technologies, adoption and adaption of new management practices have co-existed with the existing work force pattern and practices in all the departments. Newer work practices as outsourcing of work, recruitment of contract staff are resorted to as short-term measures to bridge operational and performance problems. In states like Kerala, almost all the departments have no validated human resources and management strategy to address their performance and operational issues and address the emerging challenges.

The typical governmental functions discharged through regulatory departments like Police, Revenue, Excise, Forest etc., and that of developmental departments like Education, Health, Panchayati Raj etc., have developed in tune with the demands and needs of citizenry fuelled by soaring citizen expectations, innovations and changes and the possibilities afforded by technology on the other. The vision, mission, objectives and outcomes of the departments must be re-drawn periodically to keep up with the changing needs. Human Resources Management practices ought to be aligned with the departmental vision, mission and goals. This also means that each department's management and Human Resources Management framework ought to be tailor-made for achieving the end objectives. What holds suitable for one department's staffing and generic functions may be different for another department and would be different at the secretariat level.

Since each position's competencies from the lowermost level to the Secretariat are closely related, it may be better to assess and validate the duties and responsibilities at all levels. This can be done only after each position's duties and responsibilities are agreed upon, flow of authority charted and delegation of duties agreed upon, and the organogram with positional dependencies worked upon. This is an intense activity engaging stakeholders and transforms the passive management of the government departments.

The recruitment to the public workforce is presently attempted solely by academic meritocracy. The present recruitment mode does not adequately accord importance to entry-level competencies: the resident attitudes and behavior (below the water mark traits) that influence the dedicated and passionate functioning of the employee. A case in point that the public could relate immediately with is recruiting to Civil Police Officers' positions in our state. This is normally done through a Public Service Commission (PSC) test stipulating entry-level academic requirement and subject to fulfilment of physical conditions, nothing to check on their passion or engagement skills with the public. However, job-related competencies are essential in shaping and modelling the employees to take up designated governmental positions. For instance, in the army, while screening aspirants for entry at the National Defence Academy, the aspirants are evaluated not only on their academic attributes but also on psycho- metric and competency parameters deemed a sine qua non for an aspirant to transform and mature into an officer.

Is there a role for training in moulding the recruited people? Capacity development is a must for transforming recruited persons for discharging their duties and responsibilities. However, the training serves its purpose only if the aspirant is chosen and positioned in an assigned position subject to his/her competencies, attitudes, and skills deemed appropriate to discharge the responsibilities.

It is a fact that we can use competency frameworks across an employee's life cycle from the stage of recruitment till one's retirement and even beyond. The personnel appointed by competency profiling can be logically positioned, trained effectively, professional, incentivized, and promoted to specialized positions matching their competency and skillsets with their job profiles.

Competency Frame Works

The Competency Frameworks currently attempted in India were spawned under the Pathways for Inclusive Administration (PIA) project partnered with UNDP under a project of Department of Personnel and training (DoPT), Government of India. However, a competency dictionary that the UNDP prepared for the Indian Civil Service officials was more oriented for officials at the higher echelons of public administration and not for the cutting-edge level officials. Following this, a Competency dictionary brought out in 2012 and widely disseminated across the country. A copy of the competency framework dictionary was circulated to the Chief Secretaries by the DoPT, drawing inspiration from the initiatives implemented in three offices viz., the Project Monitoring Unit of the PMO, a few sections of the DoPT and Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India.

The Institute of Management in Government (IMG) piloted a competency framework for 32 cadres of officials at the cutting-edge level across three departments’ viz., Social Justice, Police and Scheduled Tribes. It was felt that developing a competency framework for the cutting-edge level officials will afford much-needed clarity on the duties and responsibilities that these officials have to shoulder, and the outcome could be included in the Right To Service (RTS) charter. The RTS 2012 stipulated publicizing the duties and responsibilities assigned for each position and the time frame within which such service could be provided to the citizen. The competency framework profiling had to go beyond benchmarking competencies and identify critical and job-based competencies apart from those listed in the UNDP dictionary. One had to assess the proficiency level expected from a job position to discharge such duties and responsibilities effectively.

For achieving the chartered objectives, the IMG team partnered with departments and constituted task forces in each department for each position. The concept of competency frameworks was familiarized and disseminated to the task force members. Each department's task force comprised the best possible resources across various irrelevant cadres, which provided insights on the cadres' duties and responsibilities, authority entrusting such duties and responsibilities, specific competencies, behaviour, attitudes, and skills set which differentiate a model employee from an ordinary one. The task force members worked with the IMG project team for more than 15 months. The information shared and collected were analyzed and presented, and disseminated to the decision makers and stakeholders. We may also ensure that best performers in each task force were incentivized and recognized during the Dissemination Seminar course. Subsequently, IMG brought out handbooks and duties, responsibilities of these selected cadres, and stand-alone volumes and circulated soft copies. Taking in to consideration the enthusiasm generated in the departments and under advice from the then Chief Secretary to Government of Kerala, the Secretary to Government, Personnel& Administrative Reforms Department, hand books on duties and responsibilities were brought out in Malayalam (local vernacular) indexing the duties and responsibilities with statutes, GOs, Circulars, Orders, directions etc., which empowered an employee in a specific position with such duties and responsibilities.

The concept of competency framework also has been owned up by the Personnel and Administrative Reforms Department which included that as a vital part of the new State Training Policy (STP 2017) by dedicating a specific Para viz., Para 10 under the policy detailing the scope and potential of the same for the capacity development of the civil services in the state. About this period, the IMG started professional interaction with the University of Essex, which provided a mutually rewarding platform to orchestrate and draw academic and practical insights, bridging learning curves and imbibe best practices from across the globe. This work concluded promptly, improving upon the method above and drawing from the professional interactions with the University of Essex, United Kingdom. These outcomes were followed up by a Malayalam version of the selected cadres' duties and responsibilities with a detailed reference and indexing of the statutes, acts, orders, circulars, and GOs that empowered the discharge of such functions. These handbooks were disseminated, widely distributed and circulated to the departments concerned through the head of the department. This was done in a manner that all offices at the cutting-edge level inevitably obtain at least one volume of the report. 1500 copies of the handbooks, 10 copies of soft copy of the handbook and the competency framework were made available as a free resource to Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) and uploaded on the web portal of IMG. The Administrative Reforms Commission commended Competency Frame Work as an essential criterion for human resources development and the state's human resources management in a chapter in its second report. It reinforced the importance of human resource management in the state. The idea was mentioned in the Governor's address to the assembly in 2016. The concept of developing competencies for specific positions is well established through this study.

Where to next?

The increasing demand for governmental accountability is a current reality. In the Kerala context, training is perceived as a placebo for all ills affecting governance without addressing the other aspects of human resource management. Arun, Adhikari and RamMohan (2020) argued that projects such as the ones on competency framework would be rendered meaningless without reinforcing the learning accountability aspect. Even with the high levels of social development and awareness in Kerala, the challenges faced in establishing a culture of learning accountability seems to be huge. Further to this, the expenditure on training systems and infrastructure is not to the optimal level and not owned up by the departments and affects the quality of infrastructure and training delivery heavily. The need for advocating the right competency and skill set for each position and the role of successful training outcomes at each level/stage in the career progression are crucial steps in human resource management. There is an emergency need for the government to take actions on these reports and support the recruitment and development of human resources according to the prescribed skills and requirements.


  •  Arun, Thankom, Pawan Adhikari and Ram Mohan (2020) Learning accountability in the public sector: The experience of Kerala, Financial Accountability and Management
  • Eva Knies, Paul Boselie, Julian Gould-Williams &WouterVandenabeele (2018) Strategic human resource management and public sector performance: context matters, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, DOI: 1080/09585192.2017.1407088
  • Gooderham, P., Parry, E., & Ringdal, K. (2008). The impact of bundles of strategic human resource management practices on the performance of European firms. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 19(11), 2041–2056.
  • Ram Mohan R, (2012). Civil Services Competency Dictionary, Institute of Management in Government.
  • OECD (2011), Public Servants as Partners for Growth: Toward a Stronger, Learner and More Equitable Workforce.
  • Ram Mohan R, (2016). Competency Framework for Civil Servants At the Cutting-edge Level, Police Department, Institute of Management in Government
  • Ram Mohan R, (2016). Competency Framework for Civil Servants At the Cutting-edge Level, Scheduled Tribes Development Department, Institute of Management in Government .
  • Ram Mohan R, (2016). Competency Framework for Civil Servants At the Cutting-edge Level, Social Justice Department, Institute of Management in Government.
  • ARC, Kerala (2018). Capacity Development of Civil Servants.
  • Ram Mohan R, (2018). Competency Framework for Functionaries At the Cutting-edge Level, Local Self Government Department – Panchayats, Institute of Management in Government.

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