Competency Modeling – Research or Intuitive Approach

 

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Research Approach

Research approaches to competency model building emphasize systematic data collection and analysis, and a priori decision rules about how much evidence is sufficient to warrant inclusion of competencies and behaviors in the model. Research approaches also emphasize identifying coherent constructs of personal characteristics that are conceptually and empirically separate from each other. The earliest competency models built by McClelland and his colleagues used a research approach. Traditional job analysis, as practiced by industrial psychologists, also uses a research approach.

The principal advantage of a research approach is the validity of the resulting competency model. A research approach can accurately identify the behaviors currently demonstrated by superior performers and the beliefs by jobholders and other subject matter experts about what is currently important to superior performance. Because of its validity, a competency model developed using a research approach can withstand potential legal challenges.

Intuitive Approach

But research approaches are not as useful for identifying what will become important in the future, especially when only a few individuals in an organization have a clear strategic vision. Nor will a research approach generate a competency model that is linked to a leader’s vision of where he or she wants to take the organization.

Intuitive approaches rely heavily on the judgment and insights of the model building team. There may be little, if any, data collection and analysis, and the results of the analysis do not determine what is included in the competency model. Instead, the model building team generates ideas about what to include in the model and, after discussion, reaches consensus on the content of the model. Intuitive approaches are driven more by values than by empirical results.

The main advantage of intuitive approaches is that they can produce competency models that include all of the elements that the model building team and upper management believe are important in the model. Intuitive approaches are also less expensive, since they do not require collecting and analyzing data.

The chief disadvantage of intuitive approaches is that they risk creating competency models that describe behavior appropriate for a desired future state, rather than for the current reality. In addition, the lack of methodological rigor in constructing the models makes them vulnerable to legal challenges.

Balancing Research & Intuitive Approaches

Few competency models today are constructed with a pure research approach or with a pure intuitive approach. Most HR staffs want to collect and analyze data as part of the model building process. But they also want the freedom and flexibility to add competencies and behaviors to the model to ensure that it reflects the organization’s values and strategic direction, and to demonstrate responsiveness to the concerns of key stakeholders. Finding the right balance between research and intuitive approaches depends on the values of the internal HR team, the preferences of external consultants (if they are involved), and the extent to which the team feels a need to be responsive to the desires of upper management and other stakeholders in the model building process.

One method for balancing research and intuitive approaches is to use a research approach to develop a draft competency model and then to review the model with key stakeholders. If one or more of the key stakeholders urges a change in the model, the internal HR team may decide to make the change (e.g., by adding a competency to ensure that the model is more closely aligned with the chief executive’s values).

This method was used in building a competency model for managers of consultants in an information services consulting firm. When we reviewed the initial competency model with one of the senior executives of this firm, he suggested that we add a competency called “Managing Through Processes.” The firm had grown rapidly through acquisitions and by hiring staff from many other organizations, and it needed to integrate and control this diverse talent. The consulting staff was being taught to manage projects using a few standard methodologies. The addition of the proposed competency, which had not been evident in critical interviews with outstanding performers, supported the organization’s expansion strategy.

Another hybrid method involves using an intuitive approach to develop a prototype competency model and then collecting data and revising the prototype model based on analysis of the data. This methodology, developed by a colleague, Susan Ennis, was used in developing a leadership competency model for a large financial services company. The CEO of this company wanted to change the company’s culture to ensure continued competitiveness in a faster-moving marketplace. In the future, this organization would need to develop products and services more quickly, to form more business partnerships with other organizations, and to demonstrate more teamwork and open communication.

The external consultants, working with a team of internal HR staff, used an intuitive approach to develop a prototype model that reflected the values and behaviors that leaders would need in order to implement the desired cultural changes. The intuitive approach involved reading speeches to clarify the CEO’s values and strategic direction and helping the HR staff to articulate their own views of the current leaders’ strengths and weaknesses. We integrated this information with our knowledge of generic competencies for senior leaders to produce an initial draft version of the competency model. The behavioral indicators for this model were mostly drawn from a set of generic competencies that we had distilled from our experience creating many other leadership competency models. Then, over a one-week period, we held a series of telephone conference calls with an HR team to revise and refine the prototype model. Since the prototype model had to be shared with the CEO and other senior leaders, it was critical that the model be credible. In addition, the HR team believed that the model should have no more than ten competencies.

After using a purely intuitive approach to develop the prototype model, we shifted to research to validate and refine the model, interviewing 12 outstanding senior managers. The HR staff selected a sample of high-performing senior managers who were also thought to demonstrate at least two of the competencies in the prototype model. Since one purpose of the interviews was to clarify the behaviors by which the prototype competencies were demonstrated, some of the interview questions were designed to elicit critical events involving demonstration of specific competencies that the interviewee was thought to possess. For example, if a senior manager was thought to possess the competency “Influence Skill,” she might be asked to describe a situation in which she needed to get another person or group to provide resources or support for an initiative.

Another purpose of the interviews was to reveal competencies and behaviors that were contributing to effectiveness but were not part of the prototype competency model. For this purpose we developed several questions to elicit more general critical events. For example, one prompt was, “Tell me about a time when you believe you demonstrated leadership within the work unit that you manage.”

We tape recorded and transcribed the 12 interviews. We analyzed them by coding each interview for each competency and behavioral indicator in the prototype competency model, and for a set of additional generic competencies not included in the prototype. The coding enabled us to tabulate the frequency of demonstration of all of these competencies.

The results of the coding analysis led us to recommend some changes in the prototype model, including the addition of one competency: “Motivating and Energizing People.” The HR team, after much discussion, decided to include the new competency, even though this meant having one more competency than the desired ten in the final model.

This topic is included in Key Questions to Answer before Building Competency Models Adapted From “Practical Questions for HR Professionals Who Are Building Competency Models—a Consultant’s Experience” By Dr. Richard S. Mansfield

Also included in Workitect’s Building Competency Models Workshop and applied in our consulting practice to help organizations develop job competency models and HR and talent management applications, including performance management, succession planning, assessment and selection, and training and development.
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Developing the Competency of Fostering Diversity

Group of Multiethnic Diverse Mixed Occupation PeopleFrom Workitect’s Competency Development Guide, a 280-page resource guide for developing thirty-five competencies. This competency is also Functional Area Competency #11 in SHRM’s Body of Competency and Knowledge.

Importance of Fostering Diversity

Diversity has a serious and direct impact on business results. Successful organizations are able to tap into the brainpower of talented and diverse workforces in order to serve a diversity of customers. Innovative thinking and problem solving is more likely to come from teams comprised of people with different cultural and demographic backgrounds, i.e. people with different points of view. Organizations need to optimize the use of talent at all levels with behaviors that reflect that talent comes in different packages, i.e. color, sex, age, etc.

Fostering Diversity is closely related to three other competencies in Workitect’s Competency Dictionary – Global Perspective, Fostering Teamwork and Interpersonal Awareness.

Definition of Fostering Diversity: Working effectively with all races, nationalities, cultures, disabilities, ages and sexes; Promoting equal and fair treatment and opportunity for all.

An employee demonstrating this competency:

  1. Proactively seeks information from others who have different personalities, backgrounds, and styles. Includes them in decision-making and problem solving
  2. Communicates and cooperates with others who have a diversity of cultural and demographic backgrounds
  3. Makes it easy for others to feel valuable regardless of diversity in personality, culture, or background
  4. Includes in conversations people with diverse cultural backgrounds, and invites them to be part of informal work-related activities, such as going to lunch or attending company social events
  5. For a manager or team leader, hires and develops people with a diversity of cultural and demographic backgrounds.
  6. For an employee, helps recruit and orient employees with a diversity of cultural and demographic backgrounds

General Considerations in Developing this Competency

Learning to value the diversity of people requires that you first understand your own values and beliefs. Those beliefs contribute to making you who you are and contribute to your worldview. It is important to recognize that other people may not agree with your beliefs or understand them. One of the best ways to learn about the value of diversity, and to foster it, is to work on a team of members with diverse backgrounds. Push yourself beyond your current environment and interactions to develop sensitivity to issues of diversity, contributing to a less ethnocentric self. Doing so can help you more fully understand, appreciate, and maximize the talents of others.

Both managers and non-managers are able to develop and demonstrate ‘fostering diversity’. Executives and managers, however, have the ability to make a greater impact, by ‘managing diversity’ – through staffing decisions and personal behaviors that motivate others to value and foster diversity.

Practicing this Competency

  • Learn more about your own cultural values and background to gain a better appreciation for how they may impact your decision-making style, values, and reactions to different views.
  • Actively solicit input from a wide variety of people and functions. Learn about the backgrounds, experiences and education of team members.
  • Draw together diverse groups when discussing issues, solving problems, and developing opportunities. Look at issues and opportunities from other people’s viewpoints before making a decision.
  • Slow down or use easier vocabulary when communicating with nonnative speakers so they can more easily follow and offer their own thoughts.
  • When asking someone to explain a point of view different from your own, be sure to say that your intention is to understand the person’s viewpoint, not to have him or her justify it.
  • Seek to understand diversity from a global, not just a national, perspective, if appropriate to your business and location.
  • Remember that some people want their national, philosophical, or other differences to be recognized openly, while others do not.
  • Partner with an individual whose background and experiences are different from your own and contract to both learn and teach one or two skills that will improve your performance in some way.
  • Build a support network with colleagues who are interested in more effectively leveraging diversity. Explore ideas with each other and implement them.
  • Learn more about other cultures and their values through travel, books, films, and conversations with those who have experienced other cultures, and by attending local cultural events and celebrations.

Obtaining Feedback

Ask subordinates, colleagues and your coach to describe their perception of the degree to which they see you “fostering diversity”. What are you doing that is positive and what are you doing that is not positive, or may in fact be sending the wrong signal? Ask for ongoing feedback and help. Also, how can you accelerate your fostering of diversity in your workplace? How can you all, as a group, do more to create a more diverse team?

Learning from Experts

Ask people from a variety of backgrounds for help in understanding their experiences, perspectives, and culture. Try to understand the individual as a person, and not just as a representative of a particular group. Looking at the person either as an individual only or as a representative of a group usually leads to wrong assumptions.

Establish relationships with people who are different from you. Although it is a natural tendency for people to surround themselves with others similar to them, connecting with people of different backgrounds will help you learn about the unique perspectives and contributions others have to offer.

Many large organizations have a diversity officer, usually in the human resources department. Meet with that person and ask for their advice. Interview managers and executives who have created diverse, successful teams. Observe what they do and determine how they achieved success.

Coaching Suggestions for Managers

If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop this competency, you can:

  • Model the “fostering of diversity” in everything you say and do. Adopt a learner, versus judger, mindset. Utilize the differences in team members to accomplish organizational goals, and challenge assumptions and practices that limit opportunities.
  • Encourage the person to push beyond their current environment and interactions to develop their knowledge of, and sensitivity to, issues of diversity. Doing so can help the person more fully understand, appreciate, and maximize the talents of others.
  • Encourage participation in company or community programs that focus on learning about and valuing different cultures, races, religions and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Observe the assumptions the person appears to make about people and ideas. Such assumptions may be based on both external, easily identifiable differences, as well as on more subtle, invisible differences. Share your observations.

Sample Development Goals

By February 1, I will partner with an individual whose background and experiences are different than my own and contract to both learn and/or teach several skills that will improve my performance in some way.

By October 1, I will interview Dave Murphy about the things he has done to build a successful, diverse team.

By March 1, I will fill at least one of our three openings with an individual who will expand the diversity of our team.

By May 1, I will create a support network with colleagues who are interested in more effectively leveraging diversity. At least two ideas will be explored and implemented by July 1.

At the next staff meeting on October 15, I will ask for everyone’s ideas on increasing and leveraging diversity within our group.

Resources for Developing this Competency are listed in the Fostering Diversity page of the Competency Development Guide.

Let Us Help You

Organizations can provide every employee with the content of the Competency  Development Guide, and customize it to their needs, through the purchase of an intellectual property license.

Workitect is a leading provider of competency-based talent development systems, tools and programs. We use “job competency assessment” to identify the characteristics of superior performers in key jobs in an organization. These characteristics, or competencies, become “blueprints” for outstanding job performance. Competencies include personal characteristics, motives, knowledge, and behavioral skills. Job competency models are the foundation of an integrated talent management system that includes selection, performance management, succession planning, and leadership development. Contact our experienced consultants to learn how we can improve all areas of your talent management processes.

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What will key users of a competency model need from it? 

Business People Using a Laptop --- Image by © 2/Ocean/Corbis

The planning of a competency model requires identifying the most important stakeholders and users and considering how they will want to use the model.

People in the job often want to use a competency model to provide a recipe for success. These users are asking, “What could I be doing differently that would make me more effective?” They are likely to value very specifically worded behavioral indicators that describe what to do, with whom, and in what circumstances. A matrix linking the competencies to major job tasks is also helpful to job incumbents.

Supervisors can use the same detailed information to assist in coaching jobholders. Since part of a supervisor’s job is also providing detailed feedback about effective and less effective behaviors, descriptions of less effective behaviors associated with each competency are beneficial. For the same reason, supervisors may find it useful to have a matrix linking the competencies to key performance criteria and measures. Because supervisors are also in charge of hiring for the position, they need a competency model that includes all of the important skills and qualifications required for the position, including technical skills and educational credentials that are baseline requirements for all jobholders. Here is an example of such a model, one developed for a Marketing Representative position in an insurance company.

Human Resources professionals who will be using a competency model have a different set of needs. HR staff may need to build a shared conceptual framework of competencies and a common language for describing the competencies. They can then facilitate matching skill profiles to different jobs through selection, promotion, and career-path planning; and the creation of training and development programs for people across a broad range of jobs. HR staff also need easy ways to compare the requirements of different jobs in the organization. It is useful for the human resources staff to be able to say which competencies are required for a job and the level at which the competencies need to be demonstrated, to achieve effective performance. Since Human Resources staff often need to communicate and explain a competency model, competency models that are clear, simple, and written with powerful language are preferred.

Key Question to Answer before Building Competency Models                                 

When planning the development of a competency model or models, there are practical considerations that affect the design of the project, the format and content of the competency model, and the success of the project’s implementation. The following seven questions may be useful to Human Resouces professionals responsible for planning and implementation:

  1. What HR application should be included in the initial model building project?
  2. What will the key users of the model need from it?  (covered in this blog)
  3. How should key stakeholders be involved?
  4. How extensive should the data collection be?
  5. How should research be balanced with intuitive approaches?
  6. What format of behavioral descriptors will best suit the application?
  7. How can additional, future competency models be accommodated?
Included in Workitect’s Building Competency Models Workshop and applied in our consulting practice to help organizations develop job competency models and HR and talent management applications, including performance management, succession planning, assessment and selection, and training and development.
 
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