Matchmaking Through Competencies

Competency models no longer need to prove their effectiveness within the recruiting process. Most organizations know that by utilizing a competency model customized to their future needs, the selection process becomes all that much more efficient.

Yet, many continue to rely on competency models as a preliminary tool, rather than an ongoing development tool, thereby recruiting candidates based on their readiness to demonstrate the skills required to perform in a given role. But some competencies can more easily be developed than others, and by overlooking a person’s potential to acquire new critical skills, employers may be closing the door in the face of future top performers.

What’s more, recruiting on the basis of competencies that can be taught on the job entails having implemented the right development programs to ensure that these employees really do have the opportunity to evolve into the bar raisers they were hired to become.

Selecting for (the right) competencies

In general, competencies at the motive or trait level (e.g., initiative) are more difficult to develop than competencies that resemble skills (e.g., persuasiveness, communications); the latter of which might best be developed through a combination of training and on-the-job experience. It is those harder-to-develop competencies that should be the criteria for selection or career pathing to a job, rather than the competencies that can be learned.

The table below is an extract from an actual competency model completed for a Project Manager position. It summarizes recommendations regarding selecting for or developing the competencies in the position.

project_manager_compentency_extract-table

You’ll notice that seven of the competencies are recommended as selection criteria, due to the fact that they are deemed difficult to acquire on the job. These form the basis of your selection process and should be the primary skills assessed by your interviewers in their decision-making.

The competencies under the Train column are less critical than the others in the recruiting process, as they can be acquired through experience and on-the-job training. The competencies under the ‘Develop’ column refer to skills that can be further developed with proper coaching or mentoring, granted that the interviewing candidate demonstrates learning abilities and motives to do so.

Ideally, all the competencies in the model should be criteria of selection. However, what this exercise shows is the value of rating competencies once your model has been developed. Doing so provides a means of determining the relative importance of each competency in the decision to hire or promote.

For example, given two candidates who each possess 9 of the competencies, the candidate who lacks Self-Confidence (a competency recommended for selection) is much less desirable than the one who lacks Managing Performance (a competency recommended for training). The operating principle behind these guidelines is to select or promote into the target jobs according to the competencies that are most difficult to develop, and not to give excessive weight to the other, more developable competencies.

Developing your employees’ competencies

Understanding that your selection process should account for candidates who not only possess the right skills but also show great potential in developing additional competencies is one thing, but the process doesn’t stop there.

To ensure that you and your employees derive value from a competency-based assessment, it is important to ensure that further to the selection of qualified applicants:

  1. You implement and utilize the right development and performance evaluation programs
  2. Your employees make use of these assessments to plan their own growth

Your competency-based system therefore needs to define a process by which development and other related activities will occur. The process should describe a sequence of activities and expectations of the participant, the participant’s manager, HR, and the participant’s coach, if any.

Two tools are needed for this purpose: a development planning form and a resource guide with ideas for developing each competency.

The development planning form usually includes the following features:

  • A requirement to target a small number (2-4) of competencies for development
  • Specific activities to develop or practice each targeted area
  • Dates set for the accomplishment of the activities
  • Criteria or processes by which the participant will assess his/her mastery of the targeted areas

The resource guide is a book that provides general guidance on ways to develop competencies, including:

  • Books, articles and other readings explaining a competency and describing ways to use it effectively
  • Internal courses offered by the organization
  • External courses endorsed by the organization
  • Ways to practice the competency or apply it on the job
  • Ways to learn from experts (by observing or interviewing them)
  • Coaching suggestions for managers

Workitect’s Competency Development Guide and eDeveloper™, The Successful Manager’s Handbook and The Successful Executive’s Handbook are great support tools in this area. However, if your competency models use competencies that differ significantly from the generic competencies presented in these manuals, you may want to develop a customized resource guide, so that your employees can easily find ideas for developing each competency.

Remember that consultants who specialize in competency-based assessment and development can also create a customized resource guide for you. Furthermore, if your program involves coaching, you may want to consider bringing in professionals to work with your employees (typically six months to a year) to help with their development plan and improve their skills on the targeted competencies. Professional coaches can add tremendous value in motivating your employees to reflect on their behavior and think through challenges they are experiencing in their jobs and their careers. Here again, remember that coaching should be tailored to the needs of each participant, and The Executive Coaching Forum website offers many excellent free resources on this topic.

The value of a competency-based approach to talent management and workforce planning isn’t just in what it can do for your recruiting process, but how it can be integrated to every one of your HR processes: selection, assessment, performance management, training and development, succession planning, etc.

Read more about the different applications of competency models, or contact a Workitect consultant to discuss your particular situation.

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Behavioral talent management: Not everyone wants to be boss

motivatorsTalent management, in its purest sense, refers to a high-level HR strategy that sees to the optimal utilization of human capital to maximize an organization’s chances of success. But when it comes to managing a workforce, the human variable of the equation isn’t always easy to define and as such, predicting an outcome can be extremely arduous for managers who overlook important human behavior concepts, including motivation and aspiration.

Success probably carries as many definitions as there are people walking the earth. To some, it’s a general disposition in life while for others, it is mostly centered around a specific aspect, such as career, finances or love. This diversity in the very definition of success is part of what makes developing and implementing a talent management approach so difficult for executives attempting to optimize workforce performance.

After all, your ‘incentives’ to performance must be broad enough to allow for a cost-effective, streamlined process, but they also need to be sufficiently customized to the varying needs of your employees.

Performance: A question of satisfying needs?

Most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how each level affects an individual’s behavior in life. But the continuation to this story, developed by David C. McClelland, is a little more obscure, despite the fact that his Need theory is often considered a major contributor to understanding human behavior in an organizational setting.

McClelland’s theory claims that humans possess three main needs, or motives – Achievement, Affiliation and Power – each of which dictate specific behaviors in the workplace.

Motives Characteristics
Achievement
  • Need to be challenged
  • Need for a sense of accomplishment
  • Need for regular feedback
Affiliation
  • Need to belong and be appreciated
  • Need for collaboration/interaction
  • Aversion to uncertainty
Authority/Power
  • Need for control/influence
  • Motivated by competition
  • Propensity for status/recognition

Unlike Maslow’s theory under which it is understood that a person will not intentionally seek out to fulfill a need for as long as other more pressing, or basic, needs haven’t been fulfilled, the McClelland theory states that most people possess a combination of the above motives, to varying degrees based on culture and life experiences.

Based on this knowledge, the Need theory can help you optimize your talent management processes in a manner that is consistent with both your employees’ social ‘motives’ and your organizational need to maximize their performance.

Identifying your employees’ real motivation to performance

In a recent article, we discussed the importance of tapping into your workforce’s potential and interests to develop their competencies and create a culture of bar-raisers. According to this system, it is only “once employees understand the gap between their own skills and the competencies required by the position they aspire to attain” that training for optimal results begins to occur in the workplace, driven by employees’ need to succeed.

But success, as we previously mentioned, is a subjective matter, and it is ludicrous for an employer to assume that all employees aspire to be boss one day. Many are very content with fewer responsibilities in their careers, placing more emphasis on achieving success elsewhere in their life. What’s more, it is critical to have a diverse workforce to ensure performance at all levels of the organization.

McClelland’s theory assists us in accurately identifying your employees’ dominant need so that you may set appropriate goals (and expectations!), as well as provide the right feedback and incentives to get the best results out of every employee.

For instance, realizing that an employee possesses the potential to develop certain competencies required to access superior roles within your organization does not mean that your talent management system will succeed in unleashing it. Rather, McClelland’s study reveals that if the dominant motive of an employee under consideration for a managerial role is affiliation, presenting the benefits sought after by authority-driven individuals is unlikely to yield the intended results.

This can easily be compared to the effects of a customized value proposition on your business development strategies, relative to a generic proposal that doesn’t highlight the benefits sought after by the potential client. The potential of a new collaboration may be great, but failing to understand the motives of the person on the other side of the deal is unlikely to translate into the results you seek.

What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander

By integrating and analyzing the most dominant need in your employees, you place yourself in a situation where you can adjust your own behavior and talent management approaches to drive superior results.

For instance, the theory proposes that to succeed in top management positions, a person should have a strong need for power and a low need for affiliation. And while authority-driven individuals are more likely to excel in these senior roles, it is achievement-motivated individuals who are better known for “making things happen and getting results”. But to encourage this behavior, employers need to provide constant feedback, with a fair share of praise. As such, when dealing with these employees, managers need to offer objective and regular performance reviews in order to set the pace for improvement and ultimately, superior results.

When combined with a customized competency-based approach to talent management, these insights into the characteristics of each person’s dominant motive to performance are critical to an organization’s success.

The case of ‘deliberate practice’, or the grooming of top performers

Once you have identified those employees who have 1) the competencies required by a given job role and 2) the motive to succeed in that role, it is important to assess the value of your professional development programs.

Scientific research shows that the quality and quantity of your coaching are as equally important, and that top performance is primarily the result of expert-level practice, NOT innate talent.

K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist and scientific researcher at Florida State University, wrote a paper entitled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, in which he states:

“We argue that the differences between expert (top) performers and normal adults (employees) reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

In other words, top performers – here referred to as ‘expert performers’ – are individuals who are developed to excel and deliver results. And this is where identifying the very motives that will drive an individual to train to become an expert performers becomes highly critical to the process.

To learn more about talent management, we invite you to browse other valuable articles and downloadable PDFs here, or join us at our next seminar, set to take place in May in Washington. 

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Optimize your performance management system

performance2Lately, there’s been a lot of press about the lack of value performance reviews bring to a talent management process. Some claim they are simply too subjective and that as a result, only serve a compensation purpose; while others say that because the process only takes place sporadically throughout the year, with little follow-up, it doesn’t help employees achieve better results.

In a recent post, we also acknowledged that performance reviews can indeed be time consuming for both managers and employees. Yet, our experience shows that the main reason why performance management systems rarely deliver on their intended promise is that management often fails to either 1) understand the true value and purpose of the reviews, or 2) utilize the process in an objective and result-driven manner… Or both.

What’s more, the very results that many companies seek to obtain from performance reviews are often quantitative (e.g., number of sales, revenue generated, etc.), whereas the real value of performance management resides in providing both a qualitative and quantitative assessment of an employee’s skills and competencies within an organizational context. In other words, companies primarily use performance reviews to determine compensation, rather than using them as strategies to generate additional value and optimize their output.

Let’s take a closer look.

The performance evaluation conundrum: Results or competencies?

One of the most common flaws of performance review processes is that they focus on evaluating workers’ quantitative output, rather than their competencies. There’s no denying that your workforce needs to generate value for your company, but are you evaluating your employees’ actual contribution to your success or focusing solely on financial results over which they may have very little to no control?

This line of questioning is critical as we move into a new era of workforce planning, one that is now past most of the hurts and pains caused by the financial crisis, which had many employees suffer the burden of additional responsibilities being assigned to them via employers’ cost-cutting strategies. And as we enter a brand new age of having to do more with less, it is even more critical to focus on the real value (i.e., current contribution and potential for future contribution) that your employees bring to your organization, rather than isolated financial targets.

A competency-based performance management system combines planning, management and appraisal of both performance and competencies by assessing not only results and accomplishments, but also the methods used to get there. This shift from evaluating quantitative results to rating desired behaviors and skills makes the performance management process more valuable in the sense that it becomes a tool to empower employees in their development of new skills, as well as a way to distinguish between ‘performers’ – one who executes as anticipated – and ‘bar raisers’ – one who contributes to the productivity, growth and competitiveness of your operations.

Many organizations shy away from a competency-based performance management system simply because it is easier to hold employees accountable for hitting or missing quantitative targets, rather than attempting to measure their qualitative input, especially when the bottom line is running thin.

But there is a big financial value in assessing overall contributions, as opposed to only focusing on specific financial results. An employee may be highly productive and provide great value for a company – be it in the form of peer motivation/inspiration or taking on additional responsibilities at no additional cost to the organization – but not necessarily hit his/her intended financial targets for the period under review. This ‘bar-raising’ behavior should be remarked and rewarded, as it may be contributing to maintaining a lower turnover ratio and/or overall human capital expenditures.

When you integrate competency models into your performance review process, it becomes easier to evaluate the metrics that really make a difference. Plus, it motivates employees by providing them with both feedback that takes notice of their input at many levels and opportunities to develop and advance; two distinct drivers of superior performance.

All things being equal: Past performance as a deterrer of future output

We cannot and won’t argue that past performance isn’t an important metric, or that it shouldn’t be included in a performance review process. But penalizing an employee for failure to meet a quantitative target may also come at a cost – as mentioned above, this employee may be adding tremendous value in other ways and not recognizing it can lead to a lack of motivation or desire to ‘go the extra mile’.

Where performance reviews solely or mainly based on past results fail is that they typically go on the assumption that management can predict an employee’s future performance based on what has been accomplished in the past. This ‘ceteris paribus’ assumption rarely bears any credibility in matters of human capital because while it is possible to draw fairly accurate conclusions when attempting to predict the behavior of individual X when placed in context Y, this assumes that we already know the characteristics of X and Y.

Yet, in an organizational context, these values (particularly Y – which can be time, operational processes, or workforce turnover, to name a few) are in constant movement. As a result, we are no longer attempting to predict the behavior of, say, an entry-level employee of 25 years of age with a college degree (etc.) to a specific environmental context. Rather, we are attempting to predict the behavior of an evolving individual as he/she experiences variations of Y, thereby making the ‘ceteris paribus’ assumption obsolete. It is therefore nonsensical to ‘bet it all’ on your managers’ ability to predict an employee’s future performance based on what has been observed in the past.

Competency assessments to ensure organizational success

The success of competency models as a basis for performance reviews is that they work to describe emerging and anticipated skill requirements, rather than skills that have been effective in the past. As such, customized competency models allow you to rate an employee’s strengths (competencies, skills, behaviors and interests) in accordance with what is required for your organization to succeed going forward.

This process makes it a lot easier to optimize your workforce planning strategy, as it helps you determine whether or not an employee is

1)     Suited to the organizational culture and strategic direction

2)     Possesses the competencies to master his/her current role or the potential to develop skills required by a different role (one in which he/she would deliver more value)

But evaluating competencies does not only serve the needs of the organization; it also allows employees to feel valued within their professional environment, as they are given an opportunity for development and mobility, in accordance with their skills and interests.

We recently wrote that one of the most common myths of succession plans is that companies believe a successor has to be ready now. This also applies to your performance management system, on the basis that a viable top performer is developed with this very purpose in mind.

Granted, this has important implications for management, as it explicitly commits them to provide employees with formal training, coaching, and other competency development activities. But the rewards are significant. In fact, this sort of competency-based system uses the principles of the “self-directed change” theory, which holds that adults change only when they:

  • Feel it is in their own best interests to do so
  • Feel dissatisfied with their existing situation or level of performance
  • Are clear about a “desired” situation or level of performance
  • Are clear about action steps they can take to move from the actual to the desired situation or level of performance

So where do I start?

Implementing a competency-based performance review system from scratch is a complex process, but here is an overview of the steps involved:

  1. Design the core of the performance management process, including the objectives of the process, senior management expectations, frequency of performance discussions, etc.
  2. Determine weighting for performance on the competencies, and identify the competencies required for superior performance in present jobs.
  3. Train managers and employees in the new performance management process. The training should include all the information identified above, as well as the competencies used as part of the performance management system.
  4. Provide training in performance coaching to all supervisors, including how to assess employees on their “actual” levels of competence. Managers should be able to objectively explain the reasons for their ratings, and show that they have considered feedback from peers to establish the ratings.
  5. Organize formal sessions during which employees are given the opportunity to identify their “desired” levels of competence to meet their career goals.
  6. Implement or enhance corporate professional development tools and programs to ensure that employees are given the tools they need to develop the competencies they need to succeed in both their current and future job roles.
  7. Schedule regular coaching sessions during which developmental progress is evaluated.

Of course, these steps only serve as guidance. You can learn more about competency-based performance management on our website’s dedicated area, where you will find valuable articles and downloadable PDFs, or by contacting us for a private consultation.

If you are ready to start developing a competency-based system, we invite you to read more about our onsite workshops and consultancy support for building and implementing competency models for a variety of applications in your organization.

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Competency Models for Succession Planning

Business MeetingSuccession planning is an ongoing system of identifying competent employees who are ready to move into key jobs in your organization, as well as those who, with specifically identified development, will be ready to assume key jobs at some stated point in the future.

Succession planning is one of the most complex responsibilities of CEOs and board members. And while it ranks high on the list of priorities of the great majority of companies, it is often written off as part of the executive’s ‘to-do’ list, with very little coherence to both the organization’s long-term objectives and the evolving nature of the role and the business.

At a time when more and more companies need to find ways to do more with less, particularly with respect to hiring, it is imperative to ensure that your succession-planning processes are optimized in order to avoid unnecessary turnover and development costs.

Succession planning: Whose job is it anyway?

Before we discuss how a successful succession plan should be developed and implemented, let’s first determine who should own this process.

Executives may appear to be best suited for the job, given their exposure to the pool of candidates and their understanding of the competencies required to be successful in their role. Yet, tasking executives with finding their own replacements can lead to unintentional yet avoidable turnover costs, and a considerable delay in anticipated profits.

We have indeed noticed that certain executives have a tendency to show bias in their decision to find a successor. Some, to maintain their ‘legacy’ by selecting candidates who can’t outperform them; others, by choosing their right-hand person, with disregard toward the potential of other employees who may be poised (i.e., have the potential) to develop into successful leaders.

Considering the above, many would assume that the board should be granted ownership of the succession planning process, if only to veto the short list of candidates brought forth by executives. But let’s remember that such a decision would be based on documented past performance, a measure that is, on its own, insufficient to assess the true potential of a candidate.

Research also shows that when a board is tasked with selecting successors, it tends to primarily look externally for candidates, rather than considering the company’s existing pool of talent. Yet, internally available and adequately skilled candidates present a much lower risk when compared with hiring an individual who has very little knowledge of the organizational processes and may not be a great fit for both the existing culture and the teams he/she will need to manage.

Conversely, omitting to look externally is a risk of similar consequences. “Having a viable internal candidate doesn’t ever excuse the succession planning process from looking outside to ensure that the best candidates for the job are considered.” Running internal and external searches concurrently is simply good governance.

Finally, there are organizations that leave this decision in the hands of the HR department. According to Workforce magazine, HR can indeed build a great talent development plan but “without active support from leadership, it won’t have the desired impact.” For instance, while HR may be aware of the main responsibilities of a particular job role, it may not have all the information pertaining to the position’s intricacies and the behavioral traits required to manage them successfully.

What HR can do however is “align (the company’s) talent management efforts with strategic plans, and educate executives and managers about the business value of succession planning efforts.”

Succession planning needs to be regarded as an organizational effort, which requires the input, vision and expertise of a diverse group of individuals. At times, it may even involve getting your top talent to the table. Nevertheless, the key is to gather your best experts in order to develop a comprehensive, stress-tested strategy that can then be implemented with ease.

Accuracy, objectivity and flexibility: The makings of a successful succession planning strategy

There are three main obstacles to a successful transition strategy:

  1. Accuracy: Identifying the most critical competencies for the job
  2. Objectivity: Knowing how to find and evaluate candidates
  3. Flexibility: Trusting in the development potential of existing talent

Accuracy: Getting the job done right the first time around

Not taking the time to accurately identify the competencies successors need to possess is by far the most common and the main reason why succession-planning strategies often fail. The Society for Human Resource Management puts this into perspective by saying:

“It is not enough to select people who seem “right” for the job. Not only should the experience and duties be considered, but also the personality, the leadership skills, and the readiness for taking on a key leadership role.”

Competency models serve to determine the skills that your successors 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 options. Leaders may seem easy to identify but as businesses change, grow, adapt and evolve, objectives are revised, and skills and competencies must follow course. The success of competency models is that they work to describe emerging and anticipated skill requirements, rather than skills that have been effective in the past.

To achieve the objectives of a succession plan, we believe that the single-job approach is the most effective, as this approach uses extensive and rigorous data collection to ensure that the model contains highly specific behavioral descriptions of what a potential leader needs to do and how in order to achieve the desired results. Because of its complexity, it is also received with great credibility by top management and senior executives.

While this process requires a considerable time investment, your HR department can easily get started using a generic competency dictionary, which can then be passed on to senior management and board members for customization to a specific role within the company. You can also call on competency modeling experts to help you build a sustainable model for your needs.

Objectivity: More than intuition

Companies often overlook the importance of objective competency models in the succession planning process. After all, they know what leadership looks like, and will be able to recognize successors without having to rely on a list of descriptors. But this subjective way of identifying leaders can deter change and stump future growth, as it is human nature to tend to seek people who are like us. In other words, foregoing objectivity is a great strategy to maintain status quo and preserve current leaders’ shortcomings.

On the other hand, relying on the board to make that decision means short-listing replacements based on past performance – in a different role, no less. Considering that board members rarely have a chance to interact with entry or mid-level employees, they often find themselves in a position where they must bank on employees’ track records to make a decision. This backdated assessment of candidates’ future potential may appear as objective as can be, but it provides very little insight as to how these individuals will perform in the future, in a different role, especially given the right development tools. We discuss this some more in a recent article on the cost-effectiveness of combining workforce management processes.

Flexibility: Providing a roadmap to excellence

Another great flaw of many succession plans is that the successor has to be ready now. Truth is, there is no way of knowing if a candidate is ready for the job, unless he/she gets a fair chance at proving that they possess the right competencies. At the very best, the candidate has demonstrated certain skills in his/her current job, under that role’s scope of constraints and responsibilities. But a true, viable successor is developed with this very purpose in mind.

“In order to prepare potential leaders, the gap between what they are ready for now and the preparation they need to be ready for the job when it is available needs to be determined.”

This advice from SHRM is critical. Companies cannot wait until they need a successor before beginning the ‘grooming’ process. With a competency model in place, aspiring leaders can develop their skills over time, preferably with the help of mentors, i.e., your best executives. Once employees understand the competency requirements for higher jobs and the gaps between their competencies and those required by the jobs they want, they ask for training or other developmental activities to close the gap. Similarly, once an organization is aware of the competencies it needs to be successful and the gaps between these needs and the capabilities of its existing or projected staff, it seeks selection or developmental programs to close these gaps.

You may even want to complement this professional development path with an annual assessment, by senior management, of your current talent pool, including performance and potential of direct reports and other high potential people within other groups.

Remember that the degree of readiness of a candidate depends on your reality, the risks you are willing to take, and the underlying job roles.

Building your succession plan using competency models

Understanding that the objective of succession planning is not only to provide you with a system for identifying a pool of replacements, but also to provide your candidates with a clearly defined career path to their advancement is half the battle; the other half entails finding and implementing a solution.

To develop a customized competency-based succession planning system, begin by listing the core competencies that are required to take over your key roles. Use competency dictionaries to save you time and effort; these are a highly effective starting point to customization.

Another great tool to help you find potential successors are behavioral event interviews (BEIs). In a BEI, the candidate is asked to describe how he/she approached a specific past experience of a particular type. The interviewer then uses a probing strategy to elicit detailed descriptions of behavior, and to keep the interview focused on what the candidate thought, did, and said at key points during the sequence of the event. Each “event” question is selected to elicit evidence for one or more of the competencies being assessed. BEIs may take from 30 minutes to two hours or more. To save you time, you may want to consider using competency interview guides; these help you interpret positive and negative behavioral indicators via key questions and answers.

Once you have identified a few potential replacements, don’t just sit back expecting them to become the person you want them to be. Rather, coach, develop and work to improve their competencies. Our development workbook provides instructions on setting competency development goals, along with specific suggestions for developing 35 competencies. The guide contains a variety of worksheets and information for each competency, including definitions, behaviors and general considerations in developing and practicing specific competencies, obtaining feedback for development, coaching suggestions for managers, and other similar resources.

The final step: Evaluating your succession plan

Once you have developed your succession plan, it is important to test it. Begin by asking yourself if your current system…

  • Presents the job requirements in a structured, focused and precise manner?
  • Explicitly describes the competencies a candidate should possess?
  • Accounts for a way to test your selection process?
  • Plans competency development actions with potential successors?
  • Identifies the most important competencies and requirements on your list?

These are, of course, just a few of the key elements that a successful succession plan entails. Simply put, you need to know 1) what you need 2) what you have access to and 3) what you can develop. Without this information, it will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to identify the right leaders to ensure your future success.

Read more on what it takes to build and implement a competency-based succession plan, or contact us for more information on the tools available to assist you in the process.

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Workforce Planning: Do More with Less

mentoring_leaders

The latest criticism to come out of the Affordable Care Act relates to the idea that the law is motivating workers to work less in order to retain their eligibility for federal subsidies. Conversely, some companies – particularly small businesses – have been reported as claiming that the ACA may force them to either halt their hiring/growth strategy or cut their employees’ hours, both in order to avoid the penalty for not offering health coverage under Obamacare.

And to top it off, the prospect of minimum wage increases now has several employers squeezed between having to absorb increased costs or raise prices, either of which could lead to a reduction in labor and/or consumer demand.

The debate rages on and whether the widely anticipated workforce reduction will come from workers’ decision, the aging of the population or a drop in businesses’ demand, the fact remains that numerous organizations are now faced with the conundrum of having to do more with less in order to remain competitive and relevant in today’s highly globalized marketplace.

Here are 3 solutions to consider:

Don’t reinvent the wheel; learn to use it better

Research shows that when dealing with limited resources, companies find more benefits from repurposing their existing processes, rather than attempting to create new ones, which too often only serve to further weigh down operations.

Case in point: Performance reviews are a time-consuming chore for both your managers and employees and while many argue that it is quickly becoming a dated practice, our experience shows that the main challenge of performance management resides in understanding its true value and purpose: i.e., not just evaluating past performance but mainly improving an individual’s productivity, which in turn, leads to improved organizational performance. (Read more about how performance reviews can actually add value for your company.)

What’s more, since the financial crisis, many mid-level employees have been assigned additional responsibilities in light of their employers’ cost-cutting strategies, and most now claim they can’t physically sustain the pace at which they have been working. This is extremely unhealthy for companies because while your bottom line may not yet suffer the consequences, the resulting costs can be exponential over time, namely in terms of healthcare, as well as the impact of stress and fear of layoffs on employee morale and productivity.

One counter measure to this scenario consists in combining processes, for instance, by merging your performance reviews with your recruiting strategy. The concept is rather simple: Performance reviews, when done right, serve to assess your current workforce’s output and plan for future actions that will allow you to reach your business objectives. By using the data gathered through performance reviews to pinpoint the specific areas where you are lacking talent, you can quickly identify the very competencies that are necessary to your future success. Your performance reviews could therefore be used to support your coaching and professional development needs, as well as identify those competency gaps that are preventing you from achieving an optimal output rate, i.e., your recruiting needs.

In other words, combining your workforce planning and management processes into one globally strategic practice is a much more cost-effective solution than requesting that your already-overloaded mid-level managers attempt to define your company’s needs – a costly hit-or-miss strategy when not based on real insights. In fact, by using the data already gathered through an existing process, rather than handling recruiting, reviews and development separately, companies are more likely to observe an amplified workforce planning, reduction, and management ROI for minimized and more targeted efforts – a win-win strategy for both employers and employees.

Achieving this isn’t all that complex, but it does require a thorough understanding of the variety of competencies and what they mean for your organization and business sector.

If you already have a competency-based recruiting or evaluation approach in place:

  1. Start with your most comprehensive competency model
  2. For every position, combine the skills, behavioral traits and objectives you may have spread across different documents (performance evaluation, recruitment, salary revisions, succession planning, etc.)
  3. Eliminate duplicates and remove obsolete data
  4. Streamline the competency descriptions with the use of a competency dictionary, and try to narrow it down to a maximum of 10 competencies per position (the higher the responsibility level, the more competencies you may require)
  5. Stress test your new model across different processes with the use of resource panels and event interviews
  6. Implement!

If your company doesn’t use competency models, first begin by determining the approach that is best suited to your needs. Then make sure you have the right tools at your disposal; generic competency dictionaries are often times crucial to the development of such a framework, and they allow you to build and implement integrated talent management systems. But beyond the dictionaries, you may also want to look into acquiring competency development tools, such as 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.

Once you have determined your approach and selected the tools to help you, follow the steps highlighted above.

At any time, you may contact us for advice or the development of a customized solution for your business. You may also attend one of our popular competency model building events, or book one of our expert consultants to visit your head office for a tailored onsite workshop.

Let go of the control

Silos can be destructive to a company’s productivity and as stated in a Forbes article “it is the duty of the executive leaders and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mind-set to break down this destructive organizational barrier”.

Over the past decade, numerous organizations have restructured specifically to avoid this very configuration, mainly because it created an unbalanced workload at the conjunction point of the silos, which was generally at a managerial level (e.g., approvals, sign-offs, strategic planning, etc.).

Such a blockage caused by an individual’s time constraints has dire consequences on the rest of your operations. When your mid-level managers cannot find the time to properly evaluate, review, optimize, and support their teams, they get caught in inefficient labor-intensive processes, and the benefits of having recruited great strategic thinkers are practically – if not entirely – erased.

Instead, try redistributing some the workload in a manner that allows your best non-managerial performers to oversee, or at the very least help manage, your recruiting and development processes. A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses how Amazon has implemented such bar-raising practices, which lie on the following premise:

Bar raisers are skilled evaluators who, while holding full-time jobs at the company in a range of departments, play a crucial role in the hiring process by interviewing job candidates in other parts of the company.

By empowering your top employees to select and coach new talent, you help ensure that your workforce planning, recruiting, reviewing and professional development processes (now that it’s all combined into one) is:

  • Cost-effective (your top performers being ‘on the clock’ already)
  • Fitting to your organizational culture (who better to understand the behavioral traits that will strengthen or harm the welfare of other employees than those who take your success to heart)
  • Optimized to the task at hand (top performers understand what others lack and what is required to get the job done right)
  • Productive (freeing your managers and HR staff of some responsibilities to focus on areas of more pressing importance)

Many companies feel reluctant to implementing such a process when it is first brought to their attention; after all, letting go of the control means giving your employees the opportunity to fail. Yet, keep in mind that those you are giving power to are the same individuals who, day in and day out, exemplify the ability to change, accept extenuating circumstances, ask the tough questions, and earn a reputation for success… all without expecting extra compensation.

When dealing with having to do more with less, this delegation of responsibility opens up a whole new level of job performance, on which it is difficult to place a price tag.

Make time for strategic thinking to boost productivity

According to Mark Sanborn, president of Sanborn and Associates and best-selling author of The Fred Factor and You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader, most executives don’t think as much as they react to their environment.

The ability to think strategically is one of the most prominent competencies sought out in leaders, surpassing innovation; yet, a survey published on Talentlens.com reported that the competency most next-generation leaders lack the most is strategic thinking, followed by vision and the ability to understand the total enterprise, i.e., how the parts work together.

It may seem counter-productive to invest time each day to rethink operational processes when you are struggling to do more with less but remember that if you want to remain relevant with less resources, you need to fully leverage your executive expertise with the objective to draw up more cost-effective solutions.

In fact, a certifiedceo.com article reminds us that:

“Critical thinking enables leaders (…) to understand the impact of their decisions on the business as a whole, and ensures both alignment with organizational goals and accountability for results.”

If you’re not focusing on the big picture, there are very few chances that others will. What results from this are inefficient and outdated processes and reduced productivity for less-than-optimal results.

If there are always 3 sides to a story, there are always 3 solutions to a problem: your way, your competitors’ way and the right way. Critical and strategic thinking allows you to play the devil’s advocate to your ‘old’ ways, critique your competitors’ choices, and gather these results to find opportunities to carve your way forward. Creativity may seem to be key to doing more with less but in order to concoct creative solutions, you first need to sit down and think.

If you find yourself unable to make time to think, consider delegating some of your responsibilities to one of the employees you have identified as a potential successor. Of course, this requires you to have a valid succession planning system in place already, but we can help you with this as well. Click here to read a recent article about the development and implementation of a succession-planning program that ties into your competency-based multi-purpose approach described earlier.

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