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

six steps horizontal 3SECONDARY DATA COLLECTION METHODS

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.

1

2

3

4

Rarely or Never

Occasionally:

Often

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:

1

2

3

4

Unimportant

Of Some Importance

Important

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

STEP 3 – DATA COLLECTION

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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Conducting Job Analysis Interviews

six steps horizontal 3Step 3 – DATA COLLECTION

Job Analysis Interviews are usually conducted with capable job incumbents, but they can also be conducted with managers of job incumbents. The interview starts with a question about the four or five most important main responsibilities in the job. When these have been identified, the interviewer asks focuses on each main responsibility and asks about: (a) key tasks for this responsibility, (b) skills and knowledge required to perform the tasks for this main responsibility, and (c) performance criteria or measures used to assess performance in the job. The interviewee may also be asked to review a list of generic competencies and their definitions and select the 10 most important competencies for the job.

Job analysis interviews are essential if the competency model will be presented as part of a broader job model that includes a breakdown of the main responsibilities and their related tasks. Job analysis interviews are also needed if the competency model will be used to develop training courses or programs for job incumbents. If you plan to facilitate a Resource Panel or conduct Structured Event Interviews, it is useful to have conducted at least a couple of Job Analysis Interviews, so that you have a concrete understanding of job. A final benefit of Job Analysis Interviews is that they provide most of the information needed to prepare a job description.

Implementing Job Analysis Interviews

Plan to conduct three or four of these interviews, allowing about one hour per interview. The interviewees should be capable performers, but they do need to be superior performers. Begin the interview by explaining the purposes and scope of project and the format of the interview. Then the use or adapt the Job Analysis Interview protocol provided in this workbook. Ask follow-up questions when this is necessary to clarify the interviewee’s responses. Take detailed notes on each interview but also tape record the interviews so that you will be able to listen to the tapes to clarify your notes later, if necessary.

Analyzing Job Analysis Interviews

Interviewees will vary in the way they describe main responsibilities, tasks and skills. One way to analyze these interviews is to use the outline of the interview protocol to prepare a composite set responses that reflect common themes across interviewees. To identify competencies based on these interviews, you can (a) look to see which of the generic competencies were selected by two or more of the interviewees, and (b) draw logical inferences about which generic competencies are required, based on the tasks and skills needed to perform each main responsibility. For example, if people management is a main responsibility, it is likely that the competency model will need to include one or more of the generic competencies related to people management, such as Performance Management, Empowering Others, and Developing Others.

Conducting job analysis interviews is taught in Workitect’s Building Competency Models workshop.

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Identifying a Set of Generic Competencies

Why should you use a dictionary of generic competencies when you can develop your own dictionary?

Because so much competency modeling has been done over the past 40 years, it is not necessary to develop a new competency model from scratch. Consultants and researchers who have done extensive competency modeling work have prepared dictionaries of generic, or frequently occurring non-technical competencies. Each competency in the dictionary usually contains a definition and a set of conceptually related behavioral indictors.  For example, the staff of Workitect has developed several developmental resource guides that include generic competencies. Selecting or adapting a set of generic competencies streamlines the process of competency modeling.

To identify a set of generic competencies for a particular project, the project leader selects relevant competencies from a generic competency dictionary and reviews these with the project sponsor and other appropriate staff. The goal is to identify a set of competencies that will encompass all personal characteristics and skills relevant to the jobs under consideration and all other jobs for which will competency models may be built. Sometimes it is desirable to adapt the names of the competencies and the language used in the definitions and behavioral indicators to reflect language and concepts used in the organization.

If it is important to identify technical competencies, you can consult one or more subject matter experts within the organization to help identify and draft a set of technical competencies for use in the competency-modeling project. The technical competencies should also be reviewed and revised with the project sponsor and other appropriate staff.

Identifying a set of generic competencies is especially important when the Multiple Jobs Approach is being used. The generic competencies are common building blocks used to construct each competency model. These generic competencies ensure use of a consistent conceptual framework across jobs.

The generic competencies are also useful when using the Single Job Approach and the One Size Fits All Approach. For example, if a resource panel is used as one of the data gathering methods, the panel members may be asked to rate the importance of each of the generic competencies to the job under consideration.

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Collecting Data to Build Competency Models

Introduction

The project plan that is completed in Step 2 (Project Planning) will have included one or more methods of data collection that are appropriate for the project. This blog presents different data collection methods used in building competency models, along with suggestions for implementing each method.

Step 3, Data Collection, includes several general tasks common to most data collection methods.

  1. Developing key communication points about the project, to be shared with persons from whom data will be collected
  2. Identifying a set of generic competencies from which competencies will be selected or adapted
  3. For each data collection method, developing a protocol with standard questions and procedures for recording responses
  4. Training or preparing data collection staff
  5. Selecting participants for each data collection method
  6. Communicating with participants to invite their participation
  7. Scheduling data collection activities
  8. Implementing the data collection method (e.g., holding interviews, resource panel)

General Data Collection Tasks

1. Developing Key Communication Points

In order to get the support of people from whom you are gathering data, you need to be able to explain what you are doing and why. For this purpose it is useful to outline some communication points that you can use in emails, presentations, and conversations with the participants and other project stakeholders. The communication points should include:

  • A description of what you are developing (the competency model and the initial application of the model
  • The name(s) of the project sponsor(s)
  • How the competency model and application will be used in the organization
  • How this will benefit the organization
  • Main project steps and timeline
  • How people were selected to participate
  • What the participation involves for each data collection method
  • Assurances of anonymity and/or confidentiality where applicable

You can draw on these communication points to develop specific communications as needed.

2. Identifying a Set of Generic Competencies

Because so much competency modeling has been done over the past 30 years, it is not necessary to develop a new competency model from scratch. Consultants and researchers who have done extensive competency modeling work have prepared dictionaries of generic, or frequently occurring non-technical competencies. Each competency in the dictionary usually contains a definition and a set of conceptually related behavioral indictors.  For example, the staff of Workitect has developed several developmental resource guides that include generic competencies. Selecting or adapting a set of generic competencies streamlines the process of competency modeling.

To identify a set of generic competencies for a particular project, the project leader selects relevant competencies from a generic competency dictionary and reviews these with the project sponsor and other appropriate staff. The goal is to identify a set of competencies that will encompass all personal characteristics and skills relevant to the jobs under consideration and all other jobs for which will competency models may be built. Sometimes it is desirable to adapt the names of the competencies and the language used in the definitions and behavioral indicators to reflect language and concepts used in the organization.

If it is important to identify technical competencies, you can consult one or more subject matter experts within the organization to help identify and draft a set of technical competencies for use in the competency modeling project. The technical competencies should also be reviewed and revised with the project sponsor and other appropriate staff.

Identifying a set of generic competencies is especially important when the Multiple Jobs Approach is being used. The generic competencies are common building blocks used to construct each competency model. These generic competencies ensure use of a consistent conceptual framework across jobs.

The generic competencies are also useful when using the Single Job Approach and the One Size Fits All Approach. For example, if a resource panel is used as one of the data gathering methods, the panel members may be asked to rate the importance of each of the generic competencies to the job under consideration.

3. Developing a Protocol for Each Data Collection Method

A protocol is a document developed to guide the data collection process. It always includes questions for participants. It may also include instructions for the interviewer or facilitator about points to explain and procedures to use to collect and record data. The purposes of the protocol are to (a) ensure consistent communication about the project, (b) maximize the chances of full, honest participation from participants, (c) ensure that all planned questions are asked (d) ensure consistency when the data gathering method will be used with more than one person or group, and (e) ensure consistency of capturing or recording data by the interviewers or facilitators. Interview guides, resource panel outlines, and survey forms are all examples of data gathering protocols.

4. Training or Preparing Data Collection Staff

If two or more persons will be conducting interviews or facilitating resource panels, it is important that these persons use a consistent process. Most of the methods we will discuss do not require special training for staff who have had experience interviewing and facilitating groups. But it is important to hold a meeting of the interviewers or facilitators and to walk through the planned process and ensure that everyone is clear about the procedures for asking questions and for capturing participants’ responses.

5. Selecting Participants for Each Data Collection Method

The first thing to consider in selecting participants is who will provide the most useful data. Also important is the breadth and credibility of the participant sample taken as a whole. If the job has incumbents in several regions or business units, you should try to select participants from all of these regions or business units.  In addition, ensuring diversity among the incumbents selected is important.

6. Communicating with Participants to Invite Their Participation

Before communicating directly with participants, it is important to communicate first with their management. You may need to prepare a draft communication for the project sponsor to send out for this purpose.

Use the communication points described under Task 1 to prepare appropriate communications for the participants. Most likely, you will use an email for this purpose, but you may also need to prepare and deliver one or more brief presentations about the project.

7. Scheduling Data Collection Activities

This is a necessary step that requires little explanation. If you are conducting interviews, you should allow at least 15 minutes between interviews and, if possible, hold them all in a room booked for that purpose.

8. Implementing the Data Collection Method

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

Specific implementation procedures will be discussed in subsequent blogs on each data collection method.

Q – Which step is the most difficult one to carry out?

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The One-Size-Fits-All Competency Model

SINGLE JOB MODEL > ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL MODEL > MULTIPLE JOBS MODELS

1. ModelBuildingGroup_298x224In the One-Size-Fits-All Approach, a competency model is developed for a broadly defined set of jobs that may have very different responsibilities and knowledge requirements. Most often, the competency model is developed for one level of jobs, such as managers, associates, or senior leaders.

The competency model often includes competencies selected for alignment with the company’s values and strategic direction. Thus competencies may have names like “Respecting All People” or “Bias for Action.”

The competencies are often described in general terms that are not job specific, since the competency model covers a broad range of jobs which may have significantly different responsibilities.

When the One-Size-Fits-All Approach is Appropriate

  • When line management or HR wants to promote alignment with vision, values and strategy
  • When key stakeholders prefer simple solutions and have a low tolerance for complexity
  • When HR wants to implement something quickly that will have broad impact
  • When the budget for developing competency models is limited

Advantages of the One-Size-Fits-All Approach

The One-Size-Fits-All Approach sends a clear and simple message about what the personal characteristics and skills that the organization considers to be important. A competency model built with this approach is broadly applicable to a large number of employees, as are applications based on the model. For example, a competency assessment tool based on the model can be used with all of the employees in the job. Finally, the use of this approach promotes a common language and conceptual framework to use in describing key skills.

Disadvantages of the One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Because the model is used with a wide range of jobs, employees may not feel that it applies well to their particular job. If many of the competencies were selected to describe what the leaders would like people to demonstrate, rather than what superior performers actually do, people may perceive the model to be more espoused than true. The One-Size-Fits-All Approach is not as useful as other approaches in guiding selection, since selection of candidates for a specific job may require consideration of job-specific skills, knowledge and experience that are not included in the One-Size-Fits-All competency model.

Data Collection in the One-Size-Fits-All Approach

When using this approach, it is less important to identify responsibilities and tasks. Since the model will cover a broad range of jobs, the only responsibilities that are important are ones that apply to all of the jobs. Since the competency model will usually reflect the organization’s mission, values and strategic direction, it is important to talk to senior HR leaders and senior line leaders if possible, to ensure that the mission, values and strategic direction are understood and carefully considered. For the competency model to have credibility, it is highly desirable to conduct interviews with several superior performers. These interviews should focus on obtaining specific behavioral accounts of what these persons did during key job situations such as accomplishments or performance of important and challenging tasks.

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Example of One-Size-Fits-All models:  Executives
About competencies and competency models.

Taught in Building Competency Models workshop.                                                        Next workshop to be conducted on October 4-6 in Washington, DC.

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The Single Job Competency Model

six steps horizontal 3When deciding how to approach a competency model-building project, it is useful to consider three distinctive approaches:

  • Single Job Competency Model
  • One-Size-Fits-All Approach
  • Multiple Job Approach

A project usually focuses on one of these approaches, although it is possible to use a combination of these approaches within one organization. The first of the three approaches are described below.

Single Job Competency Model

This approach focuses on a single, narrowly defined job that is important to the organization’s success and has at least 10 job holders. The jobs covered by the competency model should have similar responsibilities and performance measures. Any requirements for technical skill or knowledge should be similar across the set of jobs. Examples of jobs for which a single job competency model is appropriate include sales representative, customer service representative, project manager, and plant manager.

The single job approach uses extensive and rigorous data collection, to ensure that the competency model contains highly specific behavioral descriptions of what one needs to do and how, in order to achieve superior results. This approach often includes a detailed breakdown of the main responsibilities and tasks and shows how they are linked to the competencies. Compared to the other two approaches, the single job approach is more time consuming and expensive to implement.

Data Gathering for the Single Job Approach

Usually, in the single job approach, data are gathered in multiple ways. For example, job analysis interviews may be used with job holders to identify main responsibilities, break each main responsibility down into tasks and sub-tasks. A resource panel, comprised of several job holders and several managers of jobholders, may be used to gather the same type of information, as well as information about performance criteria and measures and about changes in the business and organizational context that have implications for new and emerging competency requirements. In order to develop highly detailed behavioral descriptions of the competencies, the Single Job Approach almost always includes structured behavioral interviews with superior performers in the job, in which these persons are asked to provide detailed accounts of how they approached several key tasks or work situations.

Advantages of the Single Job Approach

A competency model built using the Single Job Approach has high face validity and high credibility with job holders and their managers. The model provides a recipe for superior performance. The specific behavioral descriptions of the competencies are useful when developing training programs. The rigor of the methodology ensures that if the organization wishes to use the model for selection, there will be a strong legal justification for doing so.

Disadvantages of the Single Job Approach

Because this approach targets a single, narrowly defined job, the competency model and HR applications built on it affect a relatively small number of employees. As noted earlier, the Single Job Approach is relatively expensive and time consuming to implement, especially if competency models are desired for multiple jobs.

When the Single Job Approach is Appropriate

This approach is most appropriate when:

  • There is an opportunity to gain competitive advantage by improving the productivity of people in a key job
  • The potential productivity gains from applying the model justify the time and expense of building it
  • There is a need to use the competency model as a basis for developing a training program or curriculum
  • The organization currently has several superior performers in the job
  • The job is expected to continue to exist in the organization for at least three years. 

EXAMPLES: These are single job competency models (in several different formats) that were created by Workitect consultants.

  • Project Manager in a high technology company
  • Account Representative in a distribution company
  • Call Center Manager in a telecommunications companyMarketing Representative in an insurance company

 

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