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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Conceptualizing a Model Building Project

six steps horizontal 3Conceptualizing the Project is the first step in Workitect’s competency modeling process, and is taught in our Building Competency Models certification workshop.

What This Step Involves

The key components of conceptualizing the approach are:

  •   Thinking through the need
  •   Clarifying the need through discussions with the sponsor and other key stakeholders
  •   Developing an approach
  •   Gaining the sponsor’s support for the approach

A. Thinking through the Need.    In thinking through the need, it is helpful to consider the following questions:

  •   What is the business need for the competency model(s)?
  •   What HR applications will be built using the competency model(s) to address the business need?
  •   What is the organizational context?
  •   What business or organizational changes have occurred?
  •   What other competency models exist or are planned?
  •   Has the organization developed a mission or values statement?
  •   What is the organization’s strategic plan or direction?
  •   What aspects of the organization’s culture should be taken into account when considering this work?
  •   What HR applications and programs are already in place for selection, professional development, assessment, and performance management?
  •   Who will sponsor this work? What are the sponsor’s needs and concerns?
  •   What other key stakeholders will be affected by the competency model and its applications? What are their needs and concerns?

B. Clarifying the Need.   You probably will not have answers to all of the above questions and it is likely that the sponsor and other key stakeholders will have perspectives and concerns that you have not thought of. By talking with your sponsor and with some other key stakeholders, you can clarify what is needed. In addition, sounding out key stakeholders and demonstrating interest in their needs, you will begin to build support for the project.

C. Developing an Approach    There are three main approaches to competency model building. When deciding how to approach a competency model-building project, it is useful to consider these 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 approaches will be described in detail in the next three issues of this series.

D. Gaining the Sponsor’s Support for the Approach     Before you can begin a competency-modeling project, you need to have your sponsor’s support, first for the general conceptual approach and later for a project plan that specifies the time, money and other resources that will be required. Before developing a detailed plan, it is useful to ensure that the sponsor supports your general conceptual approach. Therefore, you need to share your approach with the sponsor and check to see if you have your sponsor’s support. You can do this in an in-person or telephone meeting.

Question for readers: What challenges have you had in following these steps? Are there steps that should be added?

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Key Concepts of Career Development

Career GoldWhether functioning as a supervisor, coach or employee, a review of several concepts relating to career development helps pave the way to new levels of understanding, insight and growth – and the development of competencies needed for success in an organization.

1. Not Just For Promotion — It is important to recognize that employee development is not limited to upward mobility. Becoming more knowledgeable, proficient and professional in the performance of current responsibilities can represent career development just as much as moving to a different assignment. Also, there is potential for increasing the responsibilities in a position as the employee grows into them.

2. Personal Responsibility For Growth — The employee must assume responsibility for career planning and personal development. The company cannot help to develop an employee who does not wish to develop. Consequently, it is important that the employee know him or herself. He/she must define personal goals, determine whether these goals are attainable, take time to evaluate the skills and knowledge needed to achieve these goals and set priorities for starting on the chosen path. Only the employee can answer the crucial questions of “Where do I want to go?” and “How much of myself am I willing to invest in order to get there?”

3. Interdependent Roles — There is a dual effort in this process. While it is the individual’s responsibility to achieve the level of success desired, the organization has a responsibility to provide the necessary coaching, counseling, personnel structures, and other support to the individual, so that he/she can make progress toward his/her goals.

4. Honesty — Both the organization and the employee must be honest with themselves. The employee must realistically assess his/her abilities, skills, knowledge, and potential as well as the level of his/her personal commitment to the chosen career path. At the same time, the company must be honest with the employee as to whether career objectives are feasible or probable in terms of future organizational needs. The manager needs to make it very clear that the company cannot make any promises to the employee. All the company can guarantee is that it will do its best to provide resources that will facilitate employee growth that is in keeping with the attainment of corporate objectives.

Source: Competency Development Guide, page 19

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The Evolution of Competency Modeling

The first ten years of competency modeling were dominated by consultants trained in the McBer approach. This approach involved a rigorous research methodology, which included identification of criterion samples of superior and average performers, behavioral event interviews, thematic analysis of transcripts of half the interview sample, and cross validation through coding and statistical analysis of the other half of the interviews. During this period, competency models were most often used to guide selection and professional development. Workitect uses the same methodology to develop job competency models.

Today, 40 years after the first competency model, more than half of the Fortune 500 companies are using competency modeling. Consultants working in the McBer tradition are still building many models, but these consultants have been joined by many other consultants using different methodologies. With market pressures to build models more quickly and less expensively, there is less emphasis on methodological rigor.

Over the last two decades, organizations have begun to use competency models in new ways. Many organizations that have redesigned their work processes and restructured their jobs have developed competency models for newly designed jobs for which there are few, if any, job incumbents with experience. These new competency models, of necessity, describe emerging and anticipated skill requirements, rather than skills that have been effective in the past. Many organizations have taken a “one size fits all” approach to competency modeling, by developing one competency model, usually for leaders, and applying this model to a large set of jobs, sometimes even non-managerial ones. Other organizations have moved in the opposite direction, by simultaneously developing multiple competency models for different jobs within an organization.

Competency models are still most often used to support selection and professional development, but developmental assessment – “360 feedback,” competency assessment by self, manager, peers, direct reports, and customers – has become a significant human resources application in its own right.

In the past twenty years, there have also been changes in the workplace which affect competency model building. Because organizations are changing more rapidly, the “shelf life” of a competency model has diminished. Frequent reorganizations change job roles and make existing job descriptions and competency models obsolete. Competency models are often needed for new and critical jobs, even though there are few employees with experience in these jobs and fewer still who could be considered outstanding performers.

Staff functions, such as human resources, have become leaner, so that the remaining staff have more responsibilities and job pressures and less time for discretionary, additional activities such as investing time in competency model building. Thus, more of the model building work falls to external consultants. At the same time, human resources staff are under more pressure to produce results quickly, and this means implementing a useful human resources application, not simply developing a competency model. The budget for the development of a new competency model must therefore compete with the budget for its applications.

Organizational changes have also affected employees, who are the “end users” of competency models. The increased intensity and pace of work make it more difficult to get employees to participate in model building activities, especially resource panels and focus groups. Perhaps because of the pace of work, employees’ attention span, their tolerance for complexity, and their willingness to read have diminished. As a result, competency models need to be leaner and simpler, with high-impact language that holds the reader’s attention.

What has impacted the way you do models today? How are you doing them now?

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