The Right Choices for Successful Workforce Planning

Staff turnover can be costly, not only in terms of the hiring and training process, but also as you transition between employees. That gap slows down your productivity and can harm your team’s morale. So it’s important that you prepare for an eventual turnover by forecasting your future needs and establishing models that will allow you to minimize that transition period.

Again with competencies?

Well, yes. Competencies play a key role in workforce planning efforts. They are the measurable and observable knowledge, skills and behaviors that are critical to successful job performance.

Competencies go hand-in-hand with workforce planning, allowing you, the employer, to:

  • Plan your organizational structure and deploy your workforce
  • Determine which job classes best fit your business needs
  • Recruit and select the best employees
  • Design training budgets, development and individual performance plans
  • Develop your staff to fill future vacancies (a demand forecast)

So, what exactly is workforce planning?

Workforce planning is a “coordination” process of identifying gaps between your workforce of today and your human capital need for tomorrow.

Organizational success depends on having the right employees with the right competencies at the right time. Workforce planning provides you with a strategic basis for making human resource decisions promptly and accurately, thus allowing you and your HR staff to anticipate change, rather than being surprised by it!

“How to” make it work

Many HR professionals like the idea of workforce planning, but few really understand how to get a grasp the ‘how to do’ part. Here are three basic steps:

  • Review the competencies/employees presently available, along with their probability of staying in that role (whether they are striving to access other positions within your company or may be prone to looking elsewhere)
  • Access what competencies/employees will be required in the future, based on your company’s growth as well as on your turnover forecast
  • Review the gaps (the sum of comparing current and future supply), and establish a contingency plan

While basic, these steps are not easy to take if you are starting from scratch or are not sure how to forecast accurately. To learn more on how to create innovative applications of competencies in workforce planning, review our Advanced Competency Modeling Workshop.

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Competency-Based Succession Planning

Businessmen Listening to a Female Ceo Talking in a Meeting RoomFor most employees, the potential to access other, oft-higher positions within an organization is a great incentive to maximizing performance. As an HR professional, it is therefore important that you maintain this motivation and invest in their development through adequate training and coaching. It is equally essential to properly assess employees’ current skills as well as potential for growth.

To do so, there are several “intangibles” to evaluate to determine if an employee can succeed in a new role, typically requiring a new set of competencies. Yet, how does the human resource function attain transparency – the knowledge of what exactly those intangibles are?

In comparing an employee’s performance and potential, a competency model can provide a consistent, objective and valid framework. Once designed, not only such a blueprint benefit your employees by providing them with a “reset button” – that is, a continued opportunity to fulfill career aspirations, but it can also save an organization thousands of dollars in turnover expenses by simply reusing the current employee within a more desired, or better suited, role.

A Measuring Stick for Retaining Optimal Performers

With defining job competencies in succession planning, it’s all about ensuring the right individual is placed in the right job at the right time. However, like many things in life, it is not a perfect science and employees reserve the right to perhaps either change their mind or simply wish to advance differently within an organization.

With the right competency model (i.e., suited to your reality and needs), your organization is equipped with a solid measuring stick for evaluating those previously mentioned employee intangibles, and can therefore help ensure certain desired outcomes, such as:

  • Few people fail
  • One, preferably two, well-suited internal candidates are qualified for each key position
  • Few superior performers leave because of lack of opportunity

The result: A well-prepared, high-performing HR team, an organization that retains optimal performers who already grasp the internal corporate culture, processes and procedures, and employees who are motivated to succeed in making a difference for the company, much thanks to their own individual growth potential.

To learn more, please visit our webpage on Competency-based Career and Succession Planning.

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Competencies: The Foundation for Performance

Meeting_b&wcolor_646x220-1Do your employees need their peers to outperform? Is their work environment motivating them to push their own limits, or is it motivating them to perform “on par”?

Consider this…when used during the HR selection process, competency models have proven effective in identifying certain behaviors that affect the welfare of other individuals within an organization. In fact, these behavior traits offer a better means of predicting occupational success versus traditional IQ or aptitude tests.

Furthermore, competency models can be highly beneficial when used for training and employee development within an organization. Serving as a foundation for performance, they become “position-specific” competencies that can increase engagement and overall workplace well being.

Beyond Happy and Satisfied

Employee engagement often times is assumed to be synonymous with ‘employee happiness’ or, simply, job satisfaction. Defined, employee engagement is actually an emotional commitment an employee has to an organization and its goals; meaning they actually care about their work and the company’s success.

Although competency models cannot claim all the kudos in helping an organization fully achieve employee engagement, they certainly aid in laying the necessary groundwork.

The Higher the Results, The Higher the Engagement

Establishing performance-based competency models are key tools in any human resources system. It provides a clear signal to employees regarding encouraged behaviors and attitudes, further guiding them toward higher performance.

Its benefits can be defined as:

  • Improved communication
  • Job and employee satisfaction
  • Organizational effectiveness
  • Increased employee engagement

The How of Performance

Competencies serve as the ‘how’ of performance, and must be present to ensure long-term success. Through establishing individual employee performance competencies, you can increase productivity and personal job satisfaction – the necessary first steps to achieving employee engagement and workplace well being.

For more information on how competencies can produce superior performance in your organization, please visit our Competency-based Performance Management, Competency-based Training & Development, and Competency-based Talent Management pages.

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The cost of a wrong hire: Competencies to the rescue

When it comes to the recruiting and hiring process, technical knowledge, education and experience, while important initial screening criteria, are not the elements that distinguish between average and superior performance. Behavioral attributes (defined competencies) are the characteristics that are directly associated with superior performance.

The cost of a wrong hire can climb up to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars, depending on the complexity of the role. Because it isn’t all about the cost of the hiring process, but also the training, coaching, and, more so, the execution of wrong decisions made by someone ill equipped for the job to begin with.

Second-round hiring can be costly, but a Competency Model tailored to the employee hiring process can help you get it right the first time.

Starting over, again

Aside from time and money wasted, beginning the hiring process again can also lead to a decline in employee morale, depending on how many people are affected by the situation and how long this search has lasted.

According to recent studies, the typical costs of recruiting and hiring new talent are:

  • $5,700 – $8,900: Average cost to recruit for entry-level positions (higher for executive level considering wider span recruiting and relocation costs).
  • $1,000 – $1,500: Average cost to train a new employee (higher for entry-level considering less previous experience).

Now add another:

  • $5,700 – $8,900: Average cost of second-round recruitment
  • $1,000 – $1,500: Average cost of second-round training

Getting it right the first time

Considering these high costs, the ability for HR professionals to pinpoint characteristics differentiating the average worker from the superior worker is crucial.

A competency-based system will help determine the list of characteristics the role you wish to fill requires, for example:

  • Decision-making
  • Teamwork
  • Organizing
  • Influence
  • Stress tolerance
  • Initiative
  • Etc.

When used correctly, a Competency Model serves as the foundation for narrowing the right candidates down, once the initial screening process is complete. It will not only make your hiring process easier; it will help you build optimal teams.

For a more in-depth analysis, please visit our webpage on Competency Management and learn how to Build Competency Models that will help you to assess and select high performers.

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Looking for great talent? Competencies may be your best ally

The primary mission of HR professionals focuses on four distinct objectives:

  • Finding great talent
  • Minimizing the learning curve to productivity ratio
  • Maximizing employee engagement
  • Reducing voluntary turnover (employee retention)

These objectives can only be successfully achieved once your team understands how your company rates for each of these metrics. Each week, we’ll briefly explore these objectives to help you in your HR functions.

Finding great talent: The importance of a “job blueprint”

Job blueprints, or competency models, are designed to identify specific characteristics that may either cause or predict outstanding job performance. These competencies include:

  • Personal characteristics
  • Motives
  • Behavioral skills
  • Knowledge and technical skills
  • Self-concept (attitude, values & self-image)

Essentially, the more advanced the job requirements, the more important the competencies are in determining the right candidates.

Not having a solid competency model in place when sourcing new candidates can be disastrous for productivity, as well as significantly hamper corporate profits and growth:

  1. Cost – a wrong placement decision is costly, directly affecting your company’s bottom line.
  2. Productivity – a loss in productivity occurring while a new candidate is sought out, or a lack of productivity due to poor candidate selection.
  3. Culture – a heavier workload (due to an inadequate candidate or lack of personnel) may burden the team and affect your corporate culture, both if the placement decision does not work out and while a replacement candidate is sourced.
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Using Competencies To Enhance Employee Performance

In the late ’90s, the American Compensation Association (now WorldAtWork) sponsored a research study titled “Raising the Bar – Using Competencies to Enhance Employee Performance”.  The results were published in a 76-page booklet, which is out of print. What is interesting is that most of the findings are still relevant and insightful today. 

The project demonstrated the connection competencies make with business strategy, the techniques organizations use to build competency models, and the similarities and differences among com­petency-based human resources applications. Competency-based talent management applications were relatively new; many respondents said it was too early to judge whether competencies ful­filled their potential as a means to improve employee performance and, ultimately, enhance business results. However, respondents’ attitudes toward competencies were largely positive, and a large majority of respondents wanted to expand the role of competencies within their organizations.

The nature of the sample, which lim­ited the ability to draw widespread conclusions about the workplace in general, it was still possible to identify im­portant conclusions based on the data. Based on our own research and experience in the field, surprisingly, most are still valid in 2015.

Following are the key findings of this research effort:

• Competencies are used to “raise the bar” on employee performance. Respondents said “raising the bar” is a key objective of competencies, as opposed to using competencies to establish a baseline for perfor­mance. Also, respondents tailor their HR applications to focus on individual performance. Competencies are defined thoroughly (often using high performers and functional experts as a primary source of input), and they often are supported with scaled levels to illustrate in­creasing levels of proficiency. This provides individuals with detailed road maps for increasing their capabilities incrementally.

For staffing applications, competencies are used to hire, place and promote people with the right capabili­ties to help the organization gain competitive advantage. For training and development, competencies are used to identify gaps in each participating employee’s capa­bilities so these gaps can be remedied. For performance management, competencies and results are assessed side by side, reminding employees that how they do things is as important as what they do. For compensation, both competencies and results impact base pay decisions to reward performance and competency development.

Competencies are used to focus on an organization’s culture and values. Many respondents indicated they use competency-based applications to communicate values to the work force and to build the proper culture for success. While these issues may ap­pear somewhat removed from the bottom line, it appears that many organizations recognize the importance of culture in achieving competitive advantage.

Business strategies drive competencies. Competency information comes from multiple sources, and strategy plays a key role in development. The most frequent source of information is senior management and strategic plans. The next most common sources of information are high performers and functional experts. These sources of information often are used in com­bination.

Competencies focus on how performance re­sults are achieved. Competencies are behavioral mod­els that are built upon skills, knowledge and personal attributes. Furthermore, all attributes of competencies should be observable and measurable, and they must contribute to enhanced employee performance and, in turn, organizational success.

Today’s competency applications are evolu­tionary, not revolutionary. This finding is supported by several observations. First, it appears that many competency-based approaches are treated as add-ons and they are not leading to radical adjustments in HR processes. Sec­ond, with regard to specific HR applications, managers continue to make the lion’s share of performance man­agement and compensation decisions. Furthermore, with the exception of the use of behaviorally anchored rating scales, base salary adjustments under competency-based systems are largely made in a traditional fashion. Finally, for staffing purposes, competencies are rarely used when checking references or as the sole basis for rejecting candidates.

Competencies provide a framework for integrating HR applications. Integrating HR applications is a desired outcome for many organizations. Many respondents have more than one competency-based HR application. Those who have applications in place for more than a year desire to expand compe­tencies into additional HR areas. Lessons learned in one area of competency-based HR should be applied to other competency applications.

Compensation is the least common and new­est application. Compensation is the least cited appli­cation in this study, performance management is the most cited application, and staffing and training and de­velopment are in between. Staffing applications tend to be oldest, followed by performance management, train­ing and development, and compensation applications. This may imply that staffing applications represent starting points for many organizations that are interested in competencies. Compensation is seen as an application that can be added once other applications are in place. One reason for why staffing applications are older may be historical; David McClelland and McBer’s early work with competencies was to examine them for selec­tion purposes.

These findings should not be interpreted as a prescrip­tion for the order in which to install competencies.  Many organizations start competencies in different areas of HR and then gradually work their way to other areas. In fact, many organizations also work on more than one application at once. The key is not the order in which applications are developed, but how these applications ultimately are in­tegrated and linked to business strategy.

Additional findings and other relevant studies will be published in future blogs.


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Build Models With Input From Job-Holders


Observation of Job Holders

Observation of job holders can be helpful in developing competency models, if a limited duration of observation will permit observing highly effective behaviors. For most professional and managerial jobs this is not the case. Job holders demonstrate their most effective behaviors infrequently, and the presence of an observer may affect the behavior of the job holder and others being observed concurrently. In addition, much significant behavior may involve thought processes that are not directly observable.

But if effective behaviors occur frequently and can be seen or heard, observation may be a useful tool to include when building a competency model. For example, it may be possible to listen in on customer service representatives as they respond to calls from customers. Observation may also be useful when studying jobs that involve physical skill or dexterity.

When using observation, plan to observe several superior performing job holders for a set period of time (e.g., 2 hours each). Take notes on what you see and hear. If possible, set aside 15 minutes to discuss your observations with the person you observed. You can compare your observations with a set of generic competencies and behavioral indicators, like the Checklist for Noting Themes in Structured Interviews that appears in the Building Competency Models workshop workbook.

Surveys of Job Holders

A survey of job holders can be useful if you wish to validate a set of job tasks identified in Job Analysis Interviews or in a Resource Panel. On the survey, job holders can be asked to rate how often they demonstrate each task, as in the following rating scale.





Rarely or Never



Very Often

Less than once per month

Once a month to once a week

Two to five times a week

Six or more times a week

Job holders can also be asked to rate how important each task is to effective job performance, as in the following rating scale:






Of Some Importance


Very Important

By tabulating the ratings, you can calculate average frequency and importance ratings for each task.

It is not as useful to have job holders rate competencies and behavioral indicators. If, as is typically the case, the competencies have been defined to reflect superior performance, in an average sample of job holders, only a minority will actually demonstrate any competency or behavioral indicator. Yet because of the general human tendency to evaluate oneself highly, most job holders will rate themselves highly on most behaviors.

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Secondary Data Collection Methods

six steps horizontal 3STEP 3 – DATA COLLECTION

In addition to the primary data collection methods that were described in the previous sections, there are several other data collection methods that may be useful in selected circumstances. These secondary data collection methods include:

  • Interviews with Customers
  • Interviews with Industry Experts
  • Observation of Job Holders
  • Surveys of Job Holders

Interviews with Customers

If the job-holders have external or internal customers, the customers can provide useful information about effective and less effective behavior among persons holding this job. External customers often have experience with staff in similar jobs in competitors’ organizations.

Customer interviews can be relatively short (15 to 30 minutes). Possible questions include:

  • What are the skills and behaviors that you have observed in the most effective people that you have dealt with, in this job?
  • In what ways do superior performers in this job differ from average performers and less effective persons in this job?
  • Think of someone in this job that was very effective. What were some of the things that this person did that set him/her apart from less effective persons with the same job.

Interviews with Industry Experts

If a competency model is desired for a new job, especially in an industry that is undergoing rapid change, there will be few people in the organization with much knowledge about the job, beyond the expected job responsibilities. In this case it can be helpful to interview an industry expert from outside of the company. The industry expert should be able to describe:

  • Market and technology trends in the industry
  • Companies that are key players and their relative positions within the industry
  • The challenges likely to be encountered in the new job in the context of the industry

If you understand the challenges likely to be encountered in the new job, you can draw logical inferences about the competencies that will be needed for superior performance.

Learn how our consulting services can help you build competency models >>>


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Conducting Behavioral Event Interviews

six steps horizontal 3


A Behavioral Event Interview is a 1 to 1½ hour interview, in which the interviewee is asked to provide highly detailed accounts of how he/she approached 4-7 important accomplishments or other key events from the past year or two in the job. The interviewer uses a probing strategy to get the interviewee to walk through the sequence of what he/she did, said and thought at key points during each accomplishment or event.

The Behavioral Event Interview is usually conducted with superior performers. The assumption underlying the interview is that studying the interviewee’s actions, thoughts and words in these key situations will reveal underlying competencies responsible for superior performance.

For the analysis, each interview is tape recorded and transcribed. An analyst carefully reads each transcript and notes passages evidencing effective behaviors or thought patterns. These passages are noted on index cards or a spreadsheet template, along with the interviewee’s initials and the transcript page and line number. The analysts classify the themes by using a conceptual framework of generic competencies and behavioral indicators. The analysts then meet to review the evidence from their individual analysis and to identify competencies and behavioral indicators for the competency model. This process usually demonstrates that the superior performers used certain generic competencies and behavioral indicators from the conceptual framework used to classify the themes. But the process often reveals new behavioral indicators and competencies that were not part of the original conceptual framework.

Typical Structure of a Behavioral Event Interview

  • Introduction explaining the purpose of the project and of the format and purpose of the interview
  • Brief section on interviewee’s main responsibilities to provide orientation for the interviewer
  • “Event” questions asking the interviewee to provide detailed accounts how he/she approached key accomplishments and other work experiences
  • Follow-up probing of the interviewee’s response to each “event” question, to:
  • A closing question asking for the interviewee’s views about the personal characteristics needed for effectiveness in the job
  • Follow-up probing for examples from the interviewee’s experience

Advantages of Behavioral Event Interviews

  • Provide specific, high-quality behavioral data describing what superior performers do to achieve superior results
  • Surface non-obvious effective behaviors that job incumbents and their bosses may be unaware of or unable to articulate
  • Provide strong evidence for a competency model’s validity – evidence that is especially important if the model will be used for external selection
  • Provide excellent case material that can be adapted for use in developing training materials

Disadvantages of Behavioral Event Interviews

  • Are time consuming to conduct
  • Require extensive interview training and practice to ensure that high-quality data will be obtained
  • Are time consuming to analyze
  • Require training and practice to ensure the quality of the analysis

Structured Event Interviews

The Structured Event Interview is a simplified type of Behavioral Event Interview developed by Workitect to provide many of the benefits of Behavioral Event Interview, while significantly reducing the time and cost required to conduct and analyze the interview. This interview takes about one hour to conduct and focuses on three accomplishments, each of which is related to performance of a different main responsibility. The Structured Event Interview Protocol includes both “event” questions and specified follow-up questions that guide the interviewer through the process of probing each accomplishment. The protocol includes spaces to capture key information in response to each specified question.

This interview is taught in Workitect’s Building Competency Models workshop.

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Using Resource / Expert Panels to Build Competency Models

six steps horizontal 3Step 3 – DATA COLLECTION

A Resource Panel is a three to six-hour facilitated meeting with an agenda that is to similar to but broader than the one covered in a Job Analysis Interview. The participants usually include 3-4 capable job incumbents, 3-4 managers of job incumbents, and 1-2 HR staff who work closely with job incumbents. A Resource Panel has three main purposes: (1) to gather data needed to identify the competencies for the job, (2) to build consensus among a set of key stakeholders about what the job requires, and (3) to build support for the project.

Typical Agenda for Resource Panel

A typical agenda for a Resource Panel includes the following components:

  • Explain and sell the project.
  • Identify and reach consensus on four or five main responsibilities for the job.
  • For each responsibility, identify:
    • Key tasks
    • Performance measures or criteria
    • Skills and personal characteristics needed
    • Future scan:
    • – Identify ongoing or anticipated changes in the organization, industry, and relevant technology that may affect the job.
    • – Identify what each change implies, in terms of additional skills and personal characteristics that job incumbents will need.
    • Individually review a set of generic competencies and select a subset of these that are most important in the job.
    • Review individual rankings of competencies and reach consensus on a set that panel members consider to be most important for the job.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Resource Panels

Resource Panels have many advantages. They involve stakeholders early in the process and build support for the competency model and its planned applications. Conducting a resource panel is an inexpensive way to build a solid basis for a competency model. But Resource Panels also have some disadvantages. It can be difficult to obtain participation from job incumbents and their managers, especially if people are geographically dispersed. The standard agenda involves an analytical process that is too detailed and time-consuming for many senior managers. Resource Panels are a good method for identifying required competencies, but they usually provide little help in identifying behavioral indicators for the competencies judged to be important.

Considerations in Implementing Resource Panels

Since a Resource Panel may be seen as an important event within an organizational unit, there is a possibility that leaders and other key staff may feel snubbed, if they are not invited. Since the Resource Panel may make decisions that all staff will need to live with, the composition of the panel must have credibility, and key sub-groups within the organizational unit should be represented on the panel.

Facilitating Resource Panels

    • Among the challenges for facilitators are:
    • Capturing detailed responses quickly and legibly on flip chart pages and   posting the completed pages around the room
    • Ensuring a clear conceptualization of the main responsibilities
    • Keeping the process moving
    • Intervening appropriately if the group bogs down or goes off on a tangent
    • Maintaining control of the process

If possible, use two facilitators: one to facilitate and the other to capture responses on flip chart pages. The two can switch roles for different parts of the agenda.

Analyzing Resource Panel Data

Usually, only one Resource Panel is conducted to gather data about a job. After the panel session, the facilitator should transcribe the notes so that each question is listed, followed by the group’s responses. The result is a document that can easily be reviewed by the project team. Another useful addition to a Resource Panel is an administrative person to transcribe the flip chart pages onto a laptop computer, as the pages are being generated.

Variations on the Resource Panel Agenda 

  • Tailor agenda to the needs of the project and to constraints in the availability of panel members.
  • Devote a portion of the Resource Panel’s time to a planned application.
  • If the competency model needs to include technical competencies, members of the project team should spend some time with subject matter experts prior to the Resource Panel.
  • Use a virtual resource panel to allow panel members to provide the information individually and at their own convenience and in their own work location.
  • Focus on a set of jobs within one organizational unit and identify required levels for both technical and non-technical competencies.

 Learn more in Building Competency Models workshop.

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