The First Competency Model

Harvard University

Harvard University

The first competency model was developed in the early 1970’s by the eminent psychologist Dr. David McClelland and consultants from McBer and Company2. McClelland was a Harvard professor who published a paper in 1973 titled “Testing for Competence Rather Than Intelligence”. This launched the competency movement in psychology. The first test of competency assessment methods was with the U.S. Department of State. The department was concerned about the selection of junior Foreign Service Information Officers, young diplomats who represent the United States in various countries. The traditional selection criteria, tests of academic aptitude and knowledge, did not predict effectiveness as a foreign service officer and were screening out too many minority candidates.

When asked to develop alternative methods of selection, McClelland and his colleagues decided that they needed to find out what characteristics differentiated outstanding performance in the position. They first identified contrasting samples of outstanding performers and average performers, by using nominations and ratings from bosses, peers, and clients. Next, the research team developed a method called the Behavioral Event Interview, in which interviewees were asked to provide detailed accounts, in short story form, of how they approached several critical work situations, both successful and unsuccessful. The interviewer used a non-leading probing strategy to find out what the interviewee did, said, and thought at key points within each situation.

To analyze the data from the interviews, the researchers developed a sophisticated method of content analysis, to identify themes differentiating the outstanding performers from the average performers. The themes were organized into a small set of “competencies,” which the researchers hypothesized were the determinants of superior performance in the job. The competencies included non-obvious ones such as “Speed in Learning Political Networks”; the outstanding officers were able to quickly figure out who could influence key people and what each person’s political interests were.

Workitect uses the McBer methodology to build competency models.

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What about Performance Management?

Performance is the true test of survival in the marketplace. High-performing employees contribute superior performance, giving your organization its main competitive advantage. You may have a world-class system in place to create those superior performers, but it’s only as good as the management and organizational objectives behind it.

Ask yourself: Are you so focused on revenue generation or another particular aspect of the business that you forget to nurture your best ambassadors – your employees?

 A system for sustainable growth

It’s important for any organization to have systems in place to identify, recognize, reward, and retain their top performers in order to achieve sustainable growth. An effective performance management system should encourage collaboration, teamwork and communication to identify:

  • Job performance standards and measures
  • Job behaviors required in accomplishing specific job tasks and meeting job responsibilities
  • Competencies demonstrated by average and superior performers in key jobs

CirclesGraphicResults equal rewards

The results of the performance management data you collect can be used for decisions concerning rewards, bonuses and other employee incentives. For example, competency and job behavior data are typically used for decisions about development. So, if an employee is appraised as lacking group leadership skills, they might be asked to attend a course in order to further develop this skill. And… skill-based compensation systems explicitly tie rewards to skills developed. That spells ‘Motivation’!

Invest in your best

Effective performance appraisals essentially turn on the proper use of each type of data given the system objectives and what degree of control employees have over their performance. Having a solid performance management system in place is truly an investment in the people who help drive revenue for your business – and their extra effort can differentiate good organizations from great ones.

To learn more on how we can help, please visit our website.

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The Competent New Human Resources Manager

HumanResources_WordCloud_v2 copyYou most likely already know that competencies help define the basic skills employees need to perform their job duties. But did you know that new managers in the human resources function must also exhibit certain competencies in order to exercise proficiency with their own job functions? These include human resource knowledge, understanding of adult learning principals, time management and leadership skills.

If your organization doesn’t have a competency model in place to facilitate the growth and development of new management, here’s how to address the issue.

The competency connection

It’s essential for your new management – especially those who will be heavily involved in training and development – to work closely with your Human Resources staff to implement training at all levels across the organization. Duties can range anywhere from advising on employee development trends to conducting needs assessments to address employee strengths.

The point here is that not only will your new managers be required to use competency-based approaches in their role, but those same competency initiatives must be in place to decide if the new manager is even the right fit for handling these important, previously noted tasks.

Beyond human resource knowledge…

The benefits of a well-trained new manager can extend well beyond basic human resource knowledge or understanding best practices for encouraging employee participation during the development process.

Consider what the following more advanced skill sets competencies can bring about with new management training:

  • Polished verbal communication skills when it involves facilitating focus groups, seminars or workshops
  • Empowerment of management, where company goals are actively supported
  • A catalyst for driving corporate change – management who can draw more willing participation from employees at all levels
  • A motivator – leading to increased productivity and cost reductions. Management committed to corporate effectiveness as a means of self-improvement

Wish to learn more? Click here to discover how a competency approach can successfully facilitate the development of new management within your organization.

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The Analytics of Managing Performance

PerformanceWorth4:cThe demand for performance-driven analytics has never been greater. By understanding the power of analytics within the human resource function, you can become predictive, and thus provide the answers to key questions, such as:

  • Who will be the most successful employee in the organization?
  • Which HR initiatives will most impact the bottom line?
  • Which top performers are at possible risk of leaving the company within the next year?

Yet, the journey to establishing HR analytics has proven long, with most organizations only just beginning to scratch the surface. You have metrics, analytics and big data phases to consider – each playing a significant role within the daily HR function of decision-making. The issue facing human resource professionals today is what do they all mean, and how exactly can you make sense of it all? How can you measure your success in managing performance?

Metrics, analytics, big data… Oh my!

Metrics are simple measurements that track activity, but do not show a causal relationship. You cannot anticipate understanding what affects engagement or what drives performance based on metrics alone.

Analytics examine the effect of HR metrics on organizational performance – essentially, this type of measurement seeks to identify patterns of similarity between metrics.

Big data refers to a collection of data “sets”, which are larger and more complex, requiring on-hand database management tools vs. time-consuming traditional methods.

Predicting top performance to manage your bottom line

By implementing the right set of metrics, analytics and big data, you can gain a competitive advantage and prevent turnover from hurting your bottom line. If you wish to begin to raise the bar on employee performance, you can start by browsing the advice we publish on our website or contact us for a brief consultation.

We also invite you to sign up to our newsletter to receive more information on ways we can help you in this process.

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Better Hiring, Less Firing

Interview iStock_000019777981_SmallHiring employees is one of the most crucial decisions an organization or business owner will make. Compensation certainly is a large expenditure, especially when an employee ends up not being the right candidate for the job. That’s why it’s important that before hiring, no matter how pressing the need, you take a step back and ask yourself: “Are my hiring practices hurting our bottom line?”

Competencies guiding the way

Consider this: People have unique and characteristic ways of dealing with life situations – work and personal. This fact gives to a preferred way of operating where certain abilities become competent in their everyday lives. These abilities and competencies are quite significant in determining individual job success.

With the use of a competency-based interview guide that is focused on specific behavioral questions, you can truly gain a sense of a prospective employee’s personality, as well as whether or not they are the right hire for the job.

There are many factors to consider when hiring employees, including:

  • The fit with your company’s culture
  • The level of enthusiasm about your vision
  • The attitude and willingness to learn new things
  • The career goals of the individual (do they want this job or are they looking for a transition?)

These traits are, of course, not all that matters, and that’s why it’s crucial to have a competency model for each position; to ensure that your hiring process is cost effective and adapted to each role.

The foundation for performance

When used during the HR selection process, competencies have also proven effective in identifying certain behaviors required for a job that would affect the welfare of other individuals or groups within an organization. These behavioral repertoires, such as motive and personality traits, offer a better means of predicting occupational success.

Employees are both a challenging and expensive investment, but hiring the right employees the first time can make all the difference.

To learn more about how you can build a solid competency-based system for employee assessment and selection, please visit our website.

Also, for a more in-depth discussion on the cost of a wrong hire, check out our blog archive: The Cost of a Wrong Hire: Competencies to the Rescue.

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Talent Management: The Strategic Connection

Standing_b&wcolor_646x220_v2There is one key element that defines the effectiveness of implementing competencies into a talent management system, and that is a strategic connection between business objectives and said competencies. Essentially: careful planning and shrewd strategizing.

To achieve this, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do my HR functions share a common language?
  2. Are they organized to reinforce and compliment each other?
  3. Are presently established selection and training programs producing average or superior performers?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, it may be time to rethink your organization’s talent management approach.

Achieving the right competency levels

Careful planning begins with determining the area(s) in which the organization has to be competent so as to better differentiate itself from the competition.

Then, you must assess the fields in which your employees need to be proficient – and efficient – if they are to support your organizational success. Those “achievements” that you seek in their profiles are where the competency levels are built and implemented.

The benefits of effective competencies within a talent management system are not only “nice-to-haves,” they are critical to your success. They include:

  • Empowerment of your managers via an HR system that actively supports company goals
  • Increased motivation of employees who are committed to corporate effectiveness as a means of self-improvement and individual success
  • A process of corporate change that draws more willing participation from employees
  • Enhanced competitiveness and resilience in the marketplace, made possible by smoother internal transitions

Real value means real talent

Again, implementing competencies should always focus on making a strategic connection between those competencies and the objectives of your organization. Without this, competency-based applications cannot hope to influence business results, or truly add real value to an organization.

You can learn more about the process of building a viable talent management system at this webpage.

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The Trainer’s Role in Developing Competencies

Competency modeling provides a truly ideal framework for your training programs.  Studies show that competency-based training offers a return on investment (ROI) nearly ten times higher than the ROI of traditional training methods. Workitect has developed a process entitled the Competency Acquisition Process (CAP) for managing training efforts through increasing levels of competencies. The CAP consists of seven steps, outlined below.


Seven step to improving an individual’s performance.

Identification of Required Competencies:  Job Competency Models supply this information, or a simpler, less detailed system can be used for non-critical jobs.

Assessment:  Employees assess their current competencies and compare them to examples of superior performance.  Performance assessments by managers are obvious tools as well.  Employees and managers then decide which skills to focus on.

Observation and Study:  Employees study examples or models of superior performance.  Trainers provide supporting information to aid participants’ comprehension.

Practice: After acquiring a basic understanding of the concepts involved, participants move to practical, job-related applications of their new knowledge.

Feedback:  Trainers observe participants applying their new knowledge and offer constructive feedback and reinforcement.

Goal-Setting:  Trainers work with employees to set specific goals and action plans for applying new competencies back on the job.

On-the-Job-Support:  Supervisor and peers reinforce and support each individual’s demonstration of newly acquired skills.

When your employees enter this cyclical process of planning their own development and acquiring necessary training, everyone benefits. They take responsibility for their own career paths, their own job security, and you gain an ever more skilled and competent workforce. Improved performance, bonuses, increased productivity, and career advancement spell success for everyone.

Workitect’s Competency Development Guide includes details on how you can use this process to develop thirty-five competencies.

To learn more about how you can implement the CAP process within your organization, please contact us via e-mail or phone.

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Key Ingredients to Organizational Success

RaiseTheBarSliderConversation, Compensation, and Competencies

Do you feel overwhelmed with managing your employees’ expectations? Do they not understand your company culture and what is expected of them to keep progressing? You’re not alone.

Communicating what it takes to achieve the next steps in job advancement provides your employees with the knowledge they need to manage their own careers. Moving up typically depends not only on having the skills and knowledge required for a promotion, but the behavioral attributes necessary to achieve job success.

When it comes to conducting an employee development review and coaching session, did you know that competencies can provide the necessary elements for building a solid career framework model?  Competencies can play a significant role in determining the right conversation points, and even help determine compensation increases when it comes time to have your organization’s annual performance reviews.

 Raising the Bar on Performance Management

Adequate and customized competency assessments can contribute to enhanced performance management, framing employee development reviews and helping to identify:

  • Job performance standards and measures
  • Job behaviors required to accomplish specific tasks and responsibilities
  • Competencies demonstrated by average and superior performers in key jobs

The American Compensation Association (now know as WorldAtWork) sponsored a research study in 1996 called “Raising the Bar – Using Competencies to Enhance Employee Performance.” Much of this 76-page booklet of findings still maintains relevancy with today’s workforce. For example, one of the most frequently cited human resource strategies involves improving teamwork and coordination, and increasing the link between pay and performance.  This is a human resource strategy that supports a broader business strategy.

 Exiting the “Free Agent” Culture

As organizations begin to adopt a career framework model as apposed to the “free agent” culture, employees will be less likely to leave. Why? The reasons are obvious:

  • They will feel encouraged in their path to progress
  • They will understand your expectations more precisely
  • They will stop feeling ‘stuck’ in a position that keeps asking them to do more for less
  • They will remain engaged and dedicated, further preserving your culture and values

In turn, this will satisfy both their drive to access dearly coveted positions and your need for performance and organizational success.

To learn more, click here to read about even more benefits of competency-based performance management.

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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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