Competency modeling: Think through the business needs

150x150_logo-no_textCompetency modeling is a mainstream HR management practice that has evolved considerable over the past 30 years, mainly in response to changes in organizations and the workplace.

Although not the objective of this article, it is interesting to understand why competency modeling took hold and became widespread. Of course, personal characteristics are, to many, more interesting than tasks, and insights about outstanding performance are more interesting than those about effective performance. But beyond personal preferences, the success of competency models is that they work well as unifying frameworks for a variety of applications in HR management. A manageable set of personal characteristics can serve as a conceptual framework for selection, assessment, professional development, performance management and other human resources programs.

What’s more, competency models describe emerging and anticipated skill requirements, rather than skills that have been effective in the past, which serves the needs of new or restructuring organizations.

Approach and applications: What’s your style?

If you’re contemplating building a competency model for your organization, you first need to identify the applications of the model (selection, assessment, professional development, performance management, etc.), as well as your business needs and culture in order to determine whether you need to implement a single-job model, a one-size-fits-all approach or a multiple-job model.

a. Single-Job approach

The single-job approach focuses on a single, narrowly defined job that is important to the organization’s success and for which there are at least 10 employees. This model may apply to more than one role, but the jobs covered by the model should have similar responsibilities and performance measures. For instance, this approach would be appropriate for sales representatives, customer service representatives and project managers.

Compared to the other two approaches, the single job approach is more time consuming and expensive to implement. Yet, it also has high face validity and high credibility with jobholders and their managers. The model provides a recipe for superior performance, and the specific behavioral descriptions are useful when developing training programs.

b. One-Size-Fits-All approach

The One-Size-Fits-All approach is typically applied to a broadly defined set of jobs that may have very different responsibilities and knowledge requirements, but share the same level, such as managers, associates or senior leaders. It serves to send a clear and simple message about the personal characteristics and skills that the organization considers to be important.

The competencies of this model are often described in general terms that are not job specific. As a result, employees may not feel that it applies well to their particular role. Yet, this approach is particularly appropriate when management wants to promote alignment with vision, values and strategy, with little complexity or when the budget for developing competency models is limited.

c. Multiple Jobs approach

In the Multiple Jobs approach, competency models are developed simultaneously for a set of jobs (e.g., all professional jobs in marketing; all R&D jobs, or all the job in a small organization).

To ensure consistency among the models, it is crucial to first identify a set of building block competencies from which each competency model will be constructed. One source of building block competencies is a generic competency dictionary, which is then adapted to fit the organization’s language and culture. These dictionaries typically focus on non-technical competencies so if the competency models need to include technical skills and knowledge, as is often the case, a set of relevant technical skill/knowledge competencies can be identified with the help of subject matter experts.

This approach is appropriate when HR staff plan to apply the competency models for career planning and succession planning, which involve matching employee assessments to the requirements of multiple jobs. One advantage is that the models cover many jobs in an organization, thus achieving a broad impact. Plus, the building block competencies can become a common conceptual framework for the requirements of different jobs and from which HR can develop a training curriculum and other developmental experiences applicable across jobs.

The right tools

Regardless of the approach or application of your model(s), you need to acquire the right tools to get you started. As previously mentioned, generic competency dictionaries are indeed a crucial tool for creating a framework of competencies within a job role or level. Furthermore, they allow the organization to build and implement integrated talent management systems.

Beyond the dictionaries, you may also want to look into acquiring competency development manuals, eDeveloper, 360° survey instruments and interview guides. Many of these tools can be purchased or licensed, and can prove to be indispensable to your modeling process.

To learn more about competency modeling steps, customizing a dictionary to your needs, or the tools that can further assist you in the process, click here: http://www.workitect.com/Products-and-Licenses/index.html

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Competency models: Key to motivation and success?

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It’s a rather natural response for employees to become either curious or suspicious – or a healthy combination of both – when a new project or job role is created in an organization. While some may see it as an opportunity to possibly transition to a higher role, or at least one that appears more in line with their goals, others may fear for their own usefulness within the organization, particularly if they do not receive sufficient or adequate feedback on their performance.

Yet, when employees are given the transparency needed to understand a new project, where their level of involvement lies, and what the potential benefits of this project are to them and to the company, it becomes easier to turn ‘cautious optimism’ into support. After all, without adoption of a project by your workforce there can be no successful outcomes.

Job competency models are great tools to help companies become more transparent in their communications, allow employees to fulfill their own professional aspirations, and drive growth and development. In return, what you see is an increased level of motivation and higher performance ratios… if done right.

Skip the guessing games

Wouldn’t it be nice to skip the guessing games and know exactly what you need to do to be successful at work? Another key benefit that job competency models provide to employees consists in clear job requirements.

Competencies indeed serve to outline the key skills needed to perform at a high level within a job role, thus creating realistic expectations for your employees. For example, the role of a manager can be rather broad and complex, depending on the industry, but a well-developed and customized competency model provides this employee with explicit objectives within the context of your organization and industry, in addition to the skills required to excel in this role.

The road to career mobility

In addition to providing a road map to performance within each job role, a competency model allows your employees to understand what they need to access other positions within your organization, which in turns fosters motivation, performance, growth and development, not to mention greater collaboration and support.

What’s more, HR and managers are better equipped to provide useful performance assessments, as such a level of transparency allows everyone to understand performance evaluation criteria. The result is a clear impetus for professional growth and overall success.

These are of course only but a few examples of how a tailored competency model can work to improve your overall performance and employee satisfaction. You can learn more about the benefits of a competency-based talent management process by visiting the consulting section of our website (http://www.workitect.com/Consulting/competency-based.html), or by contacting us for an initial consultation.

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Looking ahead to a year of professional development

150x150_logo-no_textAs 2013 comes to a close, most companies have begun assessing their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth and improvement. Most reports that have so far been published indicate that professional development is likely to be a primary focus for many organizations.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Companies have gotten used to adapting to emerging technologies and an incessantly growing set of tools for every facet of business management. Yet, for a few years now, it seems this environment has led to the neglect of professional development, to the benefit of new recruits who bring new skill sets to the workplace. While this may sound like a great impetus for innovation, it also comes at a high cost.

As a result and out of a need to maintain – and hopefully reduce – costs to remain competitive, organizations are now refocusing their efforts in preparation of this important resurgence of renewed competencies and skills.

Defining the right competencies for now and the future

The first step to improving any talent management process entails acknowledging that an effective model requires both a clear understanding of the competencies required for success in each role, and an accurate assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of current employees.

As businesses change, grow, adapt and evolve, employees must follow the course. Superior performers drive superior results, and that in itself is what defines professional development. But because objectives are revised regularly, skills and competencies must also be reassessed and restructured.

How to fill the gaps and avoid excessive turnover costs

Once a company has identified the job skills that are lacking and those that are in abundance, the question inadvertently leans toward how to effectively fill in the gaps. An organization can choose to recruit new employees with the ‘lacking’ skills, or identify high performers who can acquire these skills. Both solutions carry implicit costs but to choose the most cost-efficient for your situation, you need current and well-developed competency models.

Job competency models serve to determine the skills that your employees must possess to perform to your expectations – and beyond. It is only once you have clearly listed these skills, knowledge and personal characteristics that you can truly evaluate your needs, and choose the solution (recruiting vs. coaching) that best fits your organizational goals and budget.

Furthermore, with competency models in place (granted they are maintained and kept up to date), you can better plan your succession and performance/compensation programs in order to attract, develop and retain top performers, and eventually achieve your objectives in terms of sales, productivity and profits.

Building models and producing superior results

One of the best starting point to building effective competencies models and improving performance is through professional development – i.e., by attending seminars or workshops.

Yet, there’s an important learning and acceptance curve, and several factors to consider before embarking on the competency journey – factors that can make or break your best efforts. We invite you to browse through our Consulting section to read more about competency models, or contact us for a consultation.

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Gaining executive sponsors for competency modeling

150x150_logo-no_textTimes are hard, and businesses continue to look for ways to minimize costs. That’s not news. But how can HR improve and support organizational growth if no case is made as to the true benefits of building, implementing and expending talent management processes?

Prior to diving into any substantial project, such as a competency model, you most likely must seek executive and/or board support, initially for the general concept, then later for the project plan itself. Whether or not you’ve tried before, you probably already know that there are tangible challenges to gaining your board’s full backing of a theoretical, long-term HR project. It’s one thing to gain their understanding for this ‘nice to have’ concept, but entirely another to obtain the official green light when it comes to the specifics dealing with time, money and additional resources.

Step up and take a seat at the table

In this age of predominantly electronic communications, if you’re looking to plead your case for a competency model, we recommend avoiding the risks associated with the telephone game by speaking face-to-face with the people who have the authority to sign off on your project.

Don’t rely on lengthy reports and emails, which may easily be discarded and if possible, bypass mid-level management who must then represent you to a higher tier without truly understanding the benefits of your project.

Focusing on the big picture for broader support

Once you’ve been granted some time to present your project, make sure you’re thoroughly prepared. There are two very important things to consider:

  • Know and understand your organization/sponsor’s needs, objectives and concerns
  • Know and understand how your project can meet those needs and objectives, and address those concerns

Remember, what you ‘want’ and what you ‘need’ are two very different things. Addressing a need is far more effective than filling a ‘want’. Your sponsor might want to see improvement within a specific area of the organization, while what they need is in fact a competency model to find the right worker to create that outcome. For instance, if your company is seriously aching over a department that has experienced a substantial downturn in sales, be fully aware of why, and present facts and figures as to how a competency model would help bring about positive change. It is your job, as HR professional, to understand your company’s most pressing needs, and to present your project as the ideal solution.

Focus, focus, focus: Gathering the right insights

There are many business reasons for developing a competency model: talent and performance management, succession planning, training and development, recruiting, etc. You’ll have much better results if you demonstrate the value of your competency modeling project by providing case studies, insights and data that are appropriate for your company’s current challenges, than if you dilute your message by listing all of the benefits of models.

Remember to focus on how this project can help move the company closer to its goals and overcome its challenges, instead of talking about how HR wishes to improve its internal processes. Your project must be in-line with company objectives, and not just HR objectives – that is a crucial difference that will help you in the sponsorship process.

Research, tools and support

As HR professional, it is your responsibility to communicate with sponsors not just to obtain their support for your project, but also to build and maintain solid relationships throughout the process.

For additional tips to help you build a case for your model, click here. Module 1 of our Building Competency Models workshop addresses business needs to help you gain your board’s support and choose the best approach for your organization.

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