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Dr. Carl Binder presents:How Competency Modeling Undermines Performance Improvement and What We Can Do to Help

  • July 15, 2021
  • 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM (PDT)
  • Online(PT time)
  • 23


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Competency modeling is ubiquitous across organizations of all kinds. Vendors have persuaded organizations to build learning management systems, curriculum architectures, performance management tools and processes, and other elements of human resources infrastructure based on competency models. Investments over time have surely been in the billions of dollars. As performance professionals, we might be encouraged to turn a blind eye to the fact that competency modeling undermines performance improvement and shifts measurement of performance into the domain of "refined opinion." Competency modeling began as a way to label clusters of behavior because lists of different forms of best practices behavior exhibited by, for example, successful leaders, were too long to manage. So they sorted the types of behavior into piles, labeled the piles, and used the labels as "competencies." Adding voodoo math to an inherent level of abstraction, performance management became a process of rating people based on competencies. Managers would have to ask themselves, "How much of a strategic thinker is she? A 3 or a 4?" Senior executives often had to limit the number of 5s they awarded, to allow "grading on the curve." In such a context, what hope is there for data-based performance improvement? Part of the problem, beside how much money is sunk into these systems, is that senior HR leaders don't have a viable alternative to competency models. In private conversations, they will often admit that competencies are bunk. But they don't know what else to do. Those of us in the accomplishment-based performance improvement field know what's better: we should focus on accomplishments, the valuable products of behavior. In this talk, Carl will show how the legacy of Tom Gilbert and Joe Harless, two of the late great pioneers of ISPI, has led us to an accomplishment based approach to talent development and performance management, including performance coaching. You might leave the session stunned to think that such a simple paradigm shift can cut through the fog of abstraction (if not the financial protection) of competency-based human resource development methods and systems.


Following this session you should be able to:

  • Describe how competency models are constructed and used.
  • Explain how competency-based training and performance management are harmful.
  • Define and give examples of accomplishments as valuable products of behavior that can be described as "countable nouns."
  • Explain how an accomplishment-based approach to defining performance can improve training, management, coaching, and overall talent management.


Dr. Carl Binder has been a thought leader in performance improvement and talent development for more than 40 years. He is CEO of The Performance Thinking Network ( ) which offers certification programs and tools for Performance Consultants, Leaders, Managers, Supervisors, HR Business Partners, and Coaches in organizations worldwide. His clients have included Amazon, Amgen, Anthem, AT & T Wireless, Aurora Healthcare, Easter Seals Bay Area, Facebook, Fifth Third Bank, Genentech, Gore Medical, GS Caltex, Kaiser Permanente, LG in South Korea, Medtronic, Microsoft, Oracle, Orange County Register, Qatar National Bank, The Al-Futtaim Group, and many others. A widely published author and frequent invited speaker, he communicates to diverse audiences in straightforward language.

Starting at Harvard as a doctoral student with B.F. Skinner, Carl ran a learning research lab for ten years before moving into corporate consulting in 1983. The Performance Thinking® approach, which he has been refining with his colleagues and clients since 1982, provides a “viral” approach to driving continuous performance improvement across the enterprise. It uses two simple models with 21 plain English words to communicate principles and applications from behavior science and performance engineering, applicable by people in all levels and functions.

Carl has received the Fred S. Keller Award from the American Psychological Association for contributions in fluency-based instruction, The Thomas Gilbert and Lifetime Member Awards from ISPI, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organizational Behavior Management Network.

Follow him on LinkedIn at, view him on YouTube at, and contact him directly at

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