Five Types of Competency Characteristics to Predict Future Success

There are many ways to define competencies but in sum, they can be referred to as the very characteristics causally related to criterion-referenced effective and/or superior performance in a job or situation.

Let’s note that a characteristic is not a competency, unless it predicts something meaningful in the real world, such as behavior or performance, hence the ‘causally related’ segment of our definition.

Psychologist William James said the first rule for scientists should be that “A difference which makes no difference is no difference.” A characteristic that makes no difference in performance is not a competency, and should therefore not be used to evaluate people. A competency must be a fairly deep and enduring part of a person’s personality, sufficiently so that it can be used to predict behavior in a wide variety of situations and job tasks.

The causal relationship of competencies in job performance management can be illustrated as such:5 Types of Competency Characteristics to Predict Future Success
But a competency must also be criterion-referenced, which means that it actually predicts who does something well or poorly, as measured by a specific criterion or standard.

Depending on the performance criterion they serve to predict, competencies can be categorized as ‘threshold’, which refers to the basic essential skills that a person must possess to produce at least the minimal output required by a job role, or ‘differentiating’, which distinguish superior from average performers.

Here are 5 types of competency characteristics to understand, identify and measure in your workforce, in order to better assess your employees’ current and potential output.

1. Motive

Last month, we wrote about the importance for employers and managers to be able to determine motive in their staff, as they more accurately predict job performance thank acquired skills and education. The things a person consistently thinks about or desires are drivers of behavior and, ultimately, performance. They determine and explain a person’s actions in the workplace or in a given situation. For instance, achievement-motivated people consistently set challenging goals for themselves, take personal responsibility for accomplishing them, and use feedback to improve on a continuous basis. And while performance management supports the alignment of an individual’s professional development to overall corporate results, it must also factor in the motives behind this person’s actions to understand past behavior and provide the right incentives to superior future performance.

2. Traits

Traits are those consistent physical and behavioral responses to situations or information. For example, reaction time and good eyesight are physical trait competencies of combat pilots. In a 2013 research paper, Routledge reminds us that the extent to which traits actually translate into actual behavior depends, at least in part, on how structured or regulated the situation is. But to predict performance in a workplace environment, traits should be viewed as intrinsic behaviors that people will exhibit without close supervision. Bear in mind however that traits are closely correlated to motives. An individual may choose to activate the necessary traits for a job role at any specific moment, depending on their underlying motive. Since every position comes with behavioral expectations from management, an employee with the motive or aspiration to access higher roles within the organization could choose to develop or exhibit the very traits required to perform in this role, even if they are not aligned with their personal preferences.

3. Self-Concept

Self-concept refers to our personal attitudes, values and self-image. It is the belief of how effective we can be in a particular situation. Psychology tells us that there are four categories of self-concept: the perceived self, the ideal self, one’s self esteem, and a set of social identities. Each of these elements plays a crucial role in understanding how self-concept relates to energizing, directing, and sustaining organizational behavior. After all, a person’s values are respondent or reactive motives that predict what he or she will do in a situation. For example, someone who values being in management, but does not intrinsically like or spontaneously think about influencing others at the motive level, may attain a managerial position, but then fail. If self-concept is partly developed from feedback from others (the very feedback that is then used to shape a person’s actions and behaviors), effective managers know how to accurately identify their employees’ concepts of self in order to:

  • Align these perceptions to the needs of the organization by assigning employees to the appropriate job tasks
  • Provide the right feedback to help employees achieve their ‘ideal selves’ – the driver or motive to performance

This form of motivation, which is achieved through consistent feedback, rewards and incentives, serve to increase the probability of the expected behavior in the future.

4. Knowledge

Knowledge consists in the information a person has in specific content areas. While the definition may appear to be quite simple and straight forward, knowledge is a complex competency. Scores on knowledge tests often fail to predict work performance because they fail to measure knowledge and skills in the ways that are actually used on the job. Many knowledge tests measure remote memory, when what is really important is the ability to find information. Memory of specific facts is less important than knowing which facts exist that are relevant to a specific problem, and where to find them when needed. Knowledge at best predicts what someone can do, not what he or she will do. So once again, knowledge alone cannot accurately predict an employee’s output or performance but rather, it must be interpreted as part of a whole, along with motive, traits, self-concept and skills, to name a few. It refers to the basic requirements to attain a given job role, but cannot be the sole criterion to recruiting.

5. Skill

Skill is the ability to perform a certain physical or mental task. For example, a dentist’s physical skill to fill a tooth without damaging the nerve, or a computer programmer’s ability to organize 50,000 lines of code in logical sequential order. Mental or cognitive skill competencies include analytic thinking (processing knowledge and data, determining cause and effect, organizing data and plans) and conceptual thinking (recognizing patterns in complex data). We’ve already discussed the difference between skills and competencies; skills refer to a person’s ability to learn in order to accomplish a task. They are acquired through education and hard work, and can be regarded as somewhat tangible. Competencies extend a bit further to include the behaviors, motives and knowledge required to utilize those skills to produce the desired results. They can therefore be defined as a group of measurable traits that allow an organization to assess an individual’s probability of superior performance, with respect to the skills he/she already possesses. Like knowledge, skills are often perceived as the ultimate requirements to attain a given job role, but they do not guarantee future results.

Hitting the bull’s eye: A customized competency model to performance

multiple-level-art_wht_bkgBuilding a competency model requires more than listing the traits or motives desired within a certain job role. An “off-the-shelf” model is likely to fail to recognize the unique aspects of your company’s unique strategy, culture and values. These generic tools are critical to the competency modeling process, as a starting point in your development process, but competency modeling should also look inward, at where your specific organization is, what it intends to accomplish, your competitive landscape, and the obstacles that may stand in your way over time.

We invite you to join us at any of our upcoming workshops to learn to develop a tailored competency dictionary, build a competency model in six steps, without external consultants, and adequately integrate off-the-shelf lists, such as PDI, Lominger, DDI, etc.

You will also learn how to successfully implement a sustainable competency system, which can be applied to almost every one of your HR processes, including succession planning, performance management, professional development, assessment, selection, retention, and many more.

Learn more here, or click here to register!

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Poor Talent Management Costing $Billions

Poor “Talent Adaptability” Costing $BillionsMost of us already know that high turnover rates can be extremely costly for companies – to the tune of some $10 billion a year in the U.S. alone. But a new study has revealed that poor “talent adaptability” – the ability for people to retrain for new skills or switch industries – is costing the global economy billions of dollars in lost productivity.

PwC had indeed conducted an extensive study, combining data from LinkedIn’s 277 million members with employer information from its database of people and performance metrics, which covers more than 2,600 employers across the globe, in order to determine how better alignment between talent and opportunity can drive economic growth.

Money talks: The facts aren’t always what they seem

According to Gallup, of the more than 100 million full-time workers in the U.S., only 30% are engaged and inspired at work, and roughly 20% are actively disengaged. It is in fact estimated that approximately 2 million Americans quit their jobs every month.

According to the Center for American Progress, the average cost to find a new employee for a non-specialized position that pays $50,000 per year can be as high as 20% of salary ($10,000. Not considering lost knowledge and productivity, it is clear that companies need to work intensely on retaining their staff, even if this means giving way to a 5% raise.

But is salary all that matters?

The most important question to ask yourself as an employer isn’t whether or not to acquiesce to a raise request from an average-performing employee, but rather to determine why your employees are quitting.

In its study, PwC found that out of all the reasons employees choose to leave their jobs, compensation only comes in third place, preceded by lack of career advancement opportunities and poor management/leadership. Other factors included boredom with responsibilities, work hours and lack of recognition.

Putting compensation aside, as it can be difficult for some companies to radically make a difference in that area, every one of the other reasons stated by exiting employees could have been avoided with the proper talent management strategy.

Remember: Talent doesn’t always come naturally. By investing in your workforce to develop their competencies, and rewarding them adequately for their achievements, you ensure your own success as a company.

The Millennial conundrum: Are your retention strategies tailored to your workforce demographics?

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average tenure of employees – males and females, 25 to 64, combined – was approximately 5 years in 2012. This figure has been relatively stable over the past two decades, with slight variations along the way.

Yet, when we look at Millennials specifically, we see that this timeline drops to 1.5 years, despite the fact that most claim they would rather stay with their employers for 10+ years. Considering the wide gap between intent and reality, it is relatively safe to assume that if Millennials have earned a reputation of career instability, the blame may need to be shifted from employees to employers.

Last month, we discussed how to identify your employees’ real motivation to performance. The article mentioned how employers cannot assume that every employee aspires to an executive position and more and more, younger generations are instead looking for that perfect balance between professional accomplishment and personal well-being. But when it comes to retention strategies, Millennials do want to be boss; they want to have the power to choose rewards that are meaningful to them.

Where there’s a problem, there’s a solution

The real problem with turnover is that the majority of companies don’t really take the time to invest in their retention strategies until they suspect that key employees may be considering leaving. Too often however, it is by then too late to avoid the inevitable. And even if it did save you an employee, you have done nothing to rectify the situation for the future.

The solution to limit turnover entails a multi-step process that begins before recruiting takes place:

1.  Take a look around

Regardless of your short-term hiring intentions, it doesn’t mean that you cannot grow your workforce organically and plan for future hiring needs. As such, begin with a thorough assessment of your industry – trends, gaps, needs, etc. – and benchmark your company against your main competitors: What are you missing? What do you need to outperform? What advantages do they have over you? You over them? Once you have determined all of those elements, you will have a much clearer picture of the workforce you need to succeed looking forward.

2.  Design your path to success

Based on your findings, develop competency models for all the job roles across your company. In the process, sit down with your employees to discuss these models, and to take the pulse on areas that may need improvement. Not only are your employees your best source of data to accurately determine the competencies and behaviors required to succeed in their own jobs, but they will also feel appreciated and valued – a clear detractor to turnover.

3.  Recruiting, training and coaching

Even if you do not intend to hire more staff right away, your competency models are not wasted. Rather, use them against your latest performance evaluations to identify skill gaps and develop professional development programs for your employees. Remember that two of the main reasons workers leave their employers are boredom and lack of in-house opportunities. Your employees want to succeed and excel at what they do so give them the tools to better themselves and feel accomplished in their job.

*Note that while it may sound counterintuitive, research shows  the best way to keep them from leaving is to prepare them to do just that.

4.  Be the motivation

Good managers understand that their responsibilities don’t just reside in overseeing output and processes, but include all facets of leadership. If a great majority of workers who quit a job blame management, it is mainly because of a culture issue. To counter this, implement an executive program by which your managers are encouraged to help their subordinates achieve superior roles, and your recruiters are trained to identify workers who aspire to build a career, rather than just ‘fill a role’. The key is to motivate your employees to stay and plan their careers with your company; it is therefore crucial that you provide the tools and support to how they can achieve their goals with you.

5.  Get personal

As previously mentioned, newer generations of workers have voiced their desire for incentives and rewards that matter to them, and more and more ‘older’ workers have joined in, realizing how smaller things like an extra day off or flexible work arrangements can mean more than a 1% raise. But there’s an art to rewarding employees to improve performance, and the key is to make it personal. Why not offer a wide-ranging package of incentives, and let your employees chose what is most meaningful to them? You’d be surprised how much motivation can come from giving them the power to choose.

Of course, these steps have been simplified for the sake of space, but we have included several links to provide additional information on employee retention and talent management strategies. We also invite you to comment below or contact us with any question you may have.

Ready to take these first steps? Register to attend one of our upcoming workshops! Choose the location nearest you – Washington, Chicago or Fort Lauderdale – or let us come to you!

For a DIY solution, you’ll find a wide array of talent management tools and manuals on our website, as well as external links to studies and white papers that can further help you in the process.

Happy browsing, and hope to see you at one of our seminars!

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