Developing the Persuasive Communications Competency

From Workitect’s Competency Development Guide, a 280-page resource guide for developing thirty-five competencies.

Definition: The ability to plan and deliver oral and written communications that are impactful and persuasive with their intended audiences.

  1. Identifies and presents information or data that will have a strong effect on others
  2. Selects language and examples tailored to the level and experience of the audience
  3. Selects stories, analogies, or examples to illustrate a point
  4. Creates graphics, overheads, or slides that display information clearly and with high impact
  5. Presents several different arguments in support of a position

Importance of this Competency – Persuasive Communication is important for professionals in sales and marketing. It is also important for leaders, who need to gain support for a new vision of the organization, for an operational plan, and for changes in structure and work processes. This competency is also important for anyone who needs to gain others’ support for initiatives.

General Considerations in Developing this Competency – This competency involves developing two skills. The first of these is designing and developing communications that will have a persuasive impact. This skill requires thinking about and anticipating the impact of various communication strategies. Two kinds of information can be used to achieve a persuasive impact: (1) identifying and highlighting arguments or data that are logically compelling; and (2) identifying and highlighting arguments or data that address specific interests, concerns or fears of the audience.

An excellent way to enhance your ability to design and develop persuasive communications is to work closely with someone who is skilled in this ability. Books and courses on presentation skills can also be helpful.

The second skill involved in Persuasive Communication is presentation delivery. A course in presentation skills is likely to be especially helpful, because it combines specific instruction with practice and feedback. There are also books, videos and self-study courses to develop presentation skills.

Practicing this Competency

  • Look for and take advantage of opportunities to prepare and deliver presentations. In designing a presentation, identify and highlight information that will have a persuasive impact because it is logically compelling.
  • In designing a presentation or preparing for an influence meeting, try to anticipate the interests and concerns of the audience. Before the meeting or presentation, call someone in the audience and ask what kind of information would be most helpful and what the audience will be most interested in hearing.
  • In constructing a presentation, use examples or analogies based on the experience of your audience. For example, if you are talking to manufacturing staff, you might use examples dealing with production runs.
  • Take time to find and develop interesting stories to illustrate points in a presentation.
  • Use presentation software to develop attractive, high-impact graphics for your presentation.

Obtaining Feedback – Before delivering a presentation, review the content with someone whose judgment you trust and ask for feedback and suggestions.

Ask someone to observe you delivering a presentation and to give you feedback and constructive suggestions.

Have someone videotape you delivering or rehearsing a presentation. Then view the video and note specific things you can do to improve your presentation delivery.

 Learning from Experts – Observe someone skilled in creating and delivering presentations. Note the content and organization of the presentation. What ideas could you use in your presentations? Study the person’s delivery of the presentation. Note the person’s verbal and nonverbal behavior. What does this person do that you could do in your presentations?

Coaching Suggestions for Managers – If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop this competency, you can:

  • Provide opportunities for this person to observe skilled presenters. Discuss what the person noticed in the skilled presenter’s presentations.
  • Help the person plan the organization and content of a presentation. Share the reasons underlying your thinking.
  • Observe the person deliver a presentation and provide specific, constructive feedback, both positive and negative.
  • If you are managing several persons who have opportunities to give presentations, debrief each presentation and ensure that each person receives useful, constructive feedback.
  • Provide opportunities for presentation skills training.

Sample Development Goals

By June 10, I will read How to Present Like a Pro, by Lani Arredodo, and identify a list of ideas to build into my presentation at the Western Marketing Region Meeting.

By June 5, I will have Cindy Spier videotape me rehearsing a presentation, and I will ask her to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.

By July 10, I will learn to use Microsoft Powerpoint to prepare a sales presentation to Omega Company.

By July 25, I will complete a course on presentation skills.

Books

Artful Persuasion: How to Command Attention, Change Minds, and Influence People, by Harry Mills. New York, NY: AMACOM, 2000.

Creative Business Solutions: Persuasive Presentations: How to Get the Response You Need, by Nick Souter & John Boyle. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2007.

Effective Presentation Skills: A Practical Guide For Better Speaking, by Steve Mandel. Ontario, CA: Crisp Publications, 2000.

In The SpotLight, Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing, by Janet E. Esposito. Bridgewater, CT: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win Customers, Clients, and Contracts, 3RD Edition, by Tom Sant. New York, NY: AMACOM, 2012.

Persuasive Communication, Second Edition, by James B. Stiff & Paul A. Mongeau. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc., 2003.

Persuasive Writing and Speaking: Communication Fundamentals for Business, by Phyllis Wachob. Stanford, CT: Thomson Learning, 2004.

Speaking With Bold Assurance: How to Become a Persuasive Communicator, by Bert Decker & Hershael W. York. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001.

The Art of Persuasion: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Convincing Power, by Andrew Gulledge. Lincoln, NE: Universe, Inc., 2004.

The Art of Public Speaking, by Stephen Lucas. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

The One-Page Proposal: How to Get Your Business Pitch onto One Persuasive Page, by Patrick G. Riley. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2002.

The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations, by Larry Tracy. North Charleston, SC: BookSurge, LLC, 2003.

Wooing & Winning Business: The Foolproof Formula for Making Persuasive Business Presentations, by Spring Asher & Wicke Chambres. Hoboken, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1998.

Self Study Courses

How to Speak Persuasively. American Management Association. Tel. 800 250-5308.

External Courses

Effective Executive Speaking. Three days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441.

Expanding Your Influence: Understanding the Psychology of Persuasion. Two days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441. http://www.amanet.org/training/seminars/Expanding-Your-Influence-Understanding-the-Psychology-of-Persuasion.aspx

Getting Results Without Authority. Three days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441.

Influencing Skills. Two days. The Hayes Group International, Inc. Tel. 336 765-6764. http://www.thehayesgroupintl.com/workshops/influencing-skills/

Strategies for Developing Effective Presentation Skills. Three days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441.

Let Us Help You

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

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“How to Do HR Right” – FastCompany

Several years ago, the business magazine FastCompany published an article written by Keith Hammonds, titled “Why We Hate HR”.  It was posted in a previous Workitect blog, “Why Do Some Executives Hate HR?”  Most of the article describes where HR falls short in being an effective contributor to business results. The article also includes a list of five suggestions for improving the effectiveness of the human resource function.

Say the Right Thing. At the grand level, what HR tells employees has to match what the company actually believes; empty rhetoric only breeds discontent. And when it comes to the details of pay and benefits, explain clearly what’s being done and why. For example, asks consultant Dennis Ackley, “When you have a big deductible, do employees understand you’re focusing on big costs? Or do they just think HR is being annoying?”

Measure the Right Thing. Human resources isn’t taken seriously by top management because it can’t demonstrate its impact on the business. Statistics on hiring, turnover, and training measure activity but not value. So devise measurements that consider impact: When you trained people, did they learn anything that made them better workers? And connect that data to business-performance indicators-such as customer loyalty, quality, employee-replacement costs, and, ultimately, profitability.

Get rid of the “Social Workers.” After Libby Sartain arrived as chief people officer at Yahoo, she moved several HR staffers out–some because they didn’t have the right functional skills, but mostly because “they were stuck in the old-school way of doing things.” Human resources shouldn’t be about cutting costs, but it is all about business. The people who work there need to be both technically competent and sophisticated about the company’s strategy, competitors, and customers.

Serve the Business. Human-resources staffers walk a fine line: Employees see them as stooges for management, and management views them as annoying do-gooders representing employees. But “the best employee advocates are the ones who are concerned with advancing organizational and individual performance,” says Anthony Rucci of Cardinal Health. Represent management with integrity and honesty-and back employees in the name of improving the company’s capability.

 Make Value, Not Activity. University of Michigan professor Dave Ulrich, coauthor of The HR Value Proposition (Harvard Business School Press, 2005), says HR folks must create value for four groups: They need to foster competence and commitment among employees, develop the capabilities that allow managers to execute on strategy, help build relationships with customers, and create confidence among investors in the future value of the firm.

Related Reading: Teaching Guide for “Why We Hate HR” published by SHRM, “Why We (Shouldn’t) Hate HR”, HBR by Bill Taylor, June, 2010.

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Why Do Some Executives Hate HR?

Scan 2In August, 2005, the business magazine FastCompany published a thought-provoking article written by Keith Hammonds, titled “Why We Hate HR”.  It was meant to be the viewpoint of non-HR executives at the time. We are re-publishing it here to stimulate an assessment and discussion of the points that were made in the article, points that may have or may not have had a ring of truth nine years ago. We encourage you to post your comments. Do some executives still view the HR function this way? How has HR changed and how does it still need to change?

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IN A KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY, COMPANIES WITH THE BEST TALENT WIN. AND FINDING, NURTURING, AND DEVELOPING THAT TALENT SHOULD BE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT TASKS IN A CORPORATION. SO WHY DOES HUMAN RESOURCES DO SUCH A BAD JOB — AND HOW CAN WE FIX IT?

Well, here’s a rockin’ party: a gathering of several hundred midlevel human-resources executives in Las Vegas. (Yo, Wayne Newton! How’s the 401(k)?) They are here, ensconced for two days at faux-glam Caesars Palace, to confer on “strategic HR leadership,” a conceit that sounds, to the lay observer, at once frightening and self-contradictory. If not plain laughable.

Because let’s face it: After close to 20 years of hopeful rhetoric about becoming “strategic partners” with a “seat at the table” where the business decisions that matter are made, most human-resources professionals aren’t nearly there. They have no seat, and the table is locked inside a conference room to which they have no key. HR people are, for most practical purposes, neither strategic nor leaders.

I don’t care for Las Vegas. And if it’s not clear already, I don’t like HR, either, which is why I’m here. The human-resources trade long ago proved itself, at best, a necessary evil — and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change. HR is the corporate function with the greatest potential — the key driver, in theory, of business performance — and also the one that most consistently underdelivers. And I am here to find out why.

Why are annual performance appraisals so time-consuming — and so routinely useless? Why is HR so often a henchman for the chief financial officer, finding ever-more ingenious ways to cut benefits and hack at payroll? Why do its communications — when we can understand them at all — so often flout reality? Why are so many people processes duplicative and wasteful, creating a forest of paperwork for every minor transaction? And why does HR insist on sameness as a proxy for equity?

It’s no wonder that we hate HR. In a 2005 survey by consultancy Hay Group, just 40% of employees commended their companies for retaining high-quality workers. Just 41% agreed that performance evaluations were fair. Only 58% rated their job training as favorable. Most said they had few opportunities for advancement — and that they didn’t know, in any case, what was required to move up. Most telling, only about half of workers below the manager level believed their companies took a genuine interest in their well-being.

None of this is explained immediately in Vegas. These HR folks, from employers across the nation, are neither evil courtiers nor thoughtless automatons. They are mostly smart, engaging people who seem genuinely interested in doing their jobs better. They speak convincingly about employee development and cultural transformation. And, over drinks, they spin some pretty funny yarns of employee weirdness. (Like the one about the guy who threatened to sue his wife’s company for “enabling” her affair with a coworker. Then there was the mentally disabled worker and the hooker — well, no, never mind. . . .)

But then the facade cracks. It happens at an afternoon presentation called “From Technicians to Consultants: How to Transform Your HR Staff into Strategic Business Partners.” The speaker, Julie Muckler, is senior vice president of human resources at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. She is an enthusiastic woman with a broad smile and 20 years of experience at companies such as Johnson & Johnson and General Tire. She has degrees in consumer economics and human resources and organizational development.

And I have no idea what she’s talking about. There is mention of “internal action learning” and “being more planful in my approach.” PowerPoint slides outline Wells Fargo Home Mortgage’s initiatives in performance management, organization design, and horizontal-solutions teams. Muckler describes leveraging internal resources and involving external resources — and she leaves her audience dazed. That evening, even the human-resources pros confide they didn’t understand much of it, either.

This, friends, is the trouble with HR. In a knowledge economy, companies that have the best talent win. We all know that. Human resources execs should be making the most of our, well, human resources — finding the best hires, nurturing the stars, fostering a productive work environment — just as IT runs the computers and finance minds the capital. HR should be joined to business strategy at the hip.

Instead, most HR organizations have ghettoized themselves literally to the brink of obsolescence. They are competent at the administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement, but companies increasingly are farming those functions out to contractors who can handle such routine tasks at lower expense. What’s left is the more important strategic role of raising the reputational and intellectual capital of the company — but HR is, it turns out, uniquely unsuited for that.

The author went on to describe four reasons he thought HR was “unsuited”.

1) HR people aren’t the sharpest tacks in the box.

2) HR pursues efficiency in lieu of value.

3) HR isn’t working for you.

4) The corner office doesn’t get HR (and vice versa)

Read the entire article.

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Seven Steps to Developing a Competency

It is difficult to develop all competencies through formal training. Some competencies are not acquired through specific training. Instead, the person is thrust into a situation where it is important to succeed and where success depends on certain skills and behaviors. In this kind of situation, the person may try to imitate available role models, and may also try out various new behaviors. If the behaviors are successful, they become habits or skills.

In this natural acquisition process, not everyone succeeds. For those who do, success comes from a combination of situational pressure, willingness to try new behaviors, and specific aptitudes.

To supplement this natural acquisition process, there is another process by which we can develop competencies as part of a professional development program. This process has seven steps: (1) identification of the required competencies, (2) self-assessment, (3) observation and study, (4) practice, (5) feedback, (6) goal-setting, and (7) on-the-job support.

Competency Acquisition Process

IDENTIFICATION AND UNDERSTANDING OF REQUIRED COMPETENCIES means that a either through a job competency model or another means, you are able to understand each competency well enough to recognize it in others’ behavior. Studying the behavioral indicators listed under each competency will help you accomplish this step. You must also be able to apply the competency to yourself, to know when you have demonstrated the competency, and when you had the opportunity to apply the competency but did not do so. To develop your understanding of a competency, think about how you can use the competency and its behaviors in your work. In which specific situations did you use the competency, and in which situations did you miss an opportunity to use it?

SELF-ASSESSMENT means generating an accurate perception of how often and how well you demonstrate the competency. This is often a difficult step, because many people
over-estimate their strengths. Research has shown that two-thirds of all employees see
themselves in the top third, in terms of overall performance. To assess yourself accurately, you need honest feedback from others who can observe how you work. (Tips on how to do this are provided throughout the remainder of this book.)

OBSERVATION AND STUDY, accompanied by the other six steps, will help most people develop a competency. The way in which you learn, i.e. your “learning style”, will determine whether you will more effectively develop a competency by studying the
competency and observing other people modeling it , and then practicing it. Many people will rely on the next step.

PRACTICE means trying out new behaviors and skills in a relatively “safe” environment, such as a training course or an activity outside work, where you can make mistakes and try to develop your skill.

FEEDBACK means receiving constructive information that conveys the extent to which your “new” behavior is observed and is effective. The feedback from others that contributes to the accurate Self-Assessment step is also important to knowing whether the development or strengthening of a competency is occurring. If you don’t know how you are doing, you won’t be able to modify your behavior to ensure that the competency is learned.

GOAL-SETTING means that you have established a specific goal and timetable to acquire a competency. The importance of goal-setting is described later in this chapter.

SUPPORT AND REINFORCEMENT means that when you demonstrate the competency back on the job, you are made aware that “it matters”. This support and reinforcement can be formal or informal, subtle or not subtle, immediate or long-term. It can be a pat on the back or satisfying appraisal discussion. It is another form of feedback and is essential to maintaining the new behaviors of a competency.

Read more in Workitect’s Competency Development Guide.

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The Business Case for Competencies – Part Two

Background

Raising the bar: What if your employees controlled your recruiting process?In 1996, 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 has been long out of print. I recently discovered and re-read a copy I had filed away. What is interesting is that most of the findings are still relevant and insightful today. This section is taken from Part 4, “The Business Case for Competencies”, pages 15-18.

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To get a sense of how business and human resources strategy might impact decisions about competency applications, the research team had asked participating companies to state their primary business strategy objectives, how their HR strategies support these objectives and the intended purpose of implementing competency-based applications.

business-case-fig9

A Review of the Data

Following is a summary of specific findings identified by data collected from 217 organizations that filled out the primary questionnaire for this study:

  • A variety of HR strategies are identified that best support business strategies. Respondents identified from the list that appears in Figure 9 (above) the three most important human resources strategies that best support their broader business strategy. It is common for respondents to use these strategies in combination. Again, while many of these strategies are generic, they show the human resources context in which competency models are being created.The most frequently cited human resources strategies are:
  • creating awareness and understanding of the need for change in business
  • enhancing work-force skill levels
  • improving teamwork/coordination, increasing the link between pay and performance
  • reinforcing corporate values/strategy/culture.

For manufacturing respondents, the top strategies are creating awareness of the need for change and improving teamwork/coordination. Among service respondents, the top strategies are reinforcing corporate values/strategy/culture, enhancing work-force skill levels, and increasing the link between pay and performance.

• HR and business strategies are not strongly linked. Respondents indicated how well their human resources strategies support their broader business strategists. Given that HR and business strategies should be linked, it is interesting to note that less than one-third of respondents see their human resources strategy as strongly linked to business strategy. (See Figure 10 below)

• Competency-based applications focus behavior. Respondents indicated how competency-based HR applications are intended to best support their organizations business objectives. The three most frequently cited expectations are that competencies will enable the company to communicate desired behaviors, raise the competency level of all employees and emphasize people capabilities that lead to competitive advantage. These also constitute the most popular combination of responses, with 6% of all respondents choosing all three. (Figure 11)

Figures 10 & 11

When asked to comment on the effectiveness of competency-based programs in achieving their expectations, a substantial majority of respondents said it was too early to render an opinion. In fact, few respondents have quantitative measures of effectiveness. However, early indicators suggest that competency-based applications are helping organizations achieve their primary business objectives. This is particularly true for respondents with applications in place for one year or more.  Within this group, competencies are clearly viewed as having a positive effect on achieving the three most desired results mentioned above.

What do you think? What has been the effectiveness of competency-based applications in your organization?

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The Business Case for Competencies

Background

In 1996, the American Compensation Association (now WorldAtWork) sponsored a research study titled “Raising the Bar – Using Competencies to Enhance Employee Performance”.  It was authored by Michael Thompson of the Hay Group, Dr. Edward Gubman of Hewitt Associates, Sandra O’Neal of Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson), and Darrell Cira of William M. Mercer Inc. (now Mercer) The results were published in a 76-page booklet, which has been long out of print. I recently discovered and re-read a copy I had filed away. What is interesting is that most of the findings are still relevant and insightful today..

To get a sense of how business and human resources strategy might impact decisions about competency applications, the research team had asked participating companies to state their primary business strategy objectives, how their HR strategies support these objectives and the intended purpose of implementing competency-based applications.

An Overview of Findings

This comprehensive research 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 at responding organizations. Competency-based human resources applications were relatively new; many respondents said it was too early to judge whether competencies had 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.

HR Strategies that Best Support Business Strategy

Keeping in mind 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. 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 tailored 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 indicate 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 inform 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 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 had more than one competency-based HR application. (See Figure 1.) 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 sample, 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. (See Figure 2.) 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; recall that McClelland’s early work with competencies was to examine them for selec­tion purposes.

ovierview-fig2

These findings should not be interpreted as a prescrip­tion for the order in which to install competencies. The researchers have observed many organizations that started competencies in different areas of HR and then gradually worked 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 areas are ap­proached but how these applications ultimately are in­tegrated and linked to business strategy.

  • It is too early to tell how effective competen­cies are. The newness of many competency-based ap­plications in this sample means that the ultimate suc­cess or failure of these applications -and their integra­tion -remains to be seen. Among those respondents who felt comfortable passing judgment, reaction to the effec­tiveness of competencies was largely positive.”

Questions for discussion: 

Which findings are still valid? What has changed since this study was published? What has not changed? What do you envision for the future? Challenges and opportunities?

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Google’s approach to competency-based talent management

imagesOver the years, there has been much ink spilled over the recruiting practices at Google. The company is now very well known for having successfully implemented a talent management strategy that permeates all levels of the organization — from top executives to entry-level employees – and attracts the very best talent on the market.

Even in its early stages, the company understood the importance of engagement and motivation as performance drivers and competitive advantages. But building engagement and retaining top talent is no easy feat. Many organizations continue to believe that compensation and benefits are key to achieving these goals; yet, there is a new generation on the marketplace and while affording a certain lifestyle is certainly important to them, it is far from being the main criteria for selecting an employer, much less exhibiting superior performance in their job.

A Forbes article explains how, decades ago, Google decided to give every employee 10-15% free time to work on pet projects. Not financial incentives, but the opportunity to show their skills and work on projects of interest of them. This ties in nicely with McClelland’s need theory, which claims that humans possess three main needs, or motives – Achievement, Affiliation and Power – each of which dictate specific behaviors in the workplace.

Capitalizing on the achievement motive as a primary driver, employees used this free time to come up with new business ideas and projects, thereby supporting the organization’s growth, innovative competitiveness and overall success.

This talent-focused culture for which Google is now known is, of course, funded today by a budget that very few companies have the privilege to manipulate. Yet, Google’s success (with respect to talent management) isn’t entirely the result of large HR investments.

Let’s take a closer look.

A culture of competency

Google has long understood that it needs skilled, driven and innovative bar-raisers to outperform its competition and to that end, has managed to change the way its employees work in order to build a culture that attracts and retains the very best.

Forbes’ mini case study reveals that to support this new culture, Google goes through a process of identifying critical positions in the organization – those very job roles where performance can differentiate them from their competitors – and emphasizing the search for top performers in these roles. Not for every job function in the organization, but for positions that make a difference in Google’s environment.

But finding top performers, even if only for a handful of roles, is easier said than done. After all, there is really no way of knowing if a person is “right” for the job unless they get a fair chance at proving it. At the very best, an employee may have demonstrated certain skills in a given role, under a specific scope of constraints and responsibilities, but a true top performer is developed with the idea that motivation is key to raising the bar.

For Google, this meant allowing employees to work, one day a week, on projects of interest to them, a strategy that not only motivated employees to prove their skills and demonstrate the extent of their contributions to Google’s success, but also allowed the company to remain on the cutting edge of the competition as a result.

Of course, we are not implying that this “pet project” solution can work for any organization, particularly if your company is struggling with an inadequate workforce-to-workload ratio. What we are saying however is that you need to identify the key roles in your organization, along with the competencies (skills, behaviors, knowledge, interests, motives, etc.) required to perform in these jobs, and then provide your employees the latitude and flexibility they need to outperform.

For optimal results, think clarity and transparency

Defining competencies is key to executing your company’s strategy and reaching your long-range goals. But the essential first step consists in establishing clear directions, and ensuring that your strategic directions are communicated to your workforce. Transparency is the only way to gain the support of your employees, and build a coherent team that works toward achieving the same objectives.

Top performers who seek to put their skills to use for your company’s success can only show you what they can accomplish if you allow them to understand your goals and participate in the process of getting there. Getting your bar-raisers to the table is a critical part of creating a truly high-performing and motivating culture because without transparency, even your best employee will resolve to only doing what is required of them. That is exactly what Google managed to avoid by granting employees the chance to actively participate in idea generation and process creation activities.

The result of this effort is an integrated workforce and human resource systems that promote and reward talent and outperformance, not to mention enhanced accountability and innovation. And while the bottom-line benefits include increased productivity and higher profits, the true value of a competency-based approach to talent management is a lot more powerful.

Implementing a transparent, competency-based approach will renew your company, uncovering startling energy and synergies that can give you the responsive, competitive edge you need. But you first need to know which competencies are needed to take you to this next level. And that’s what competency modeling aims to accomplish.

The following white paper presents all the benefits of this system, along with the steps to move forward.

We also invite you to browse our blog for many more articles on applying a competency-based talent management system to various HR applications within your organization.

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Creating Competency Based Talent Management Processes

Air CanadaCompetency modeling has received its fair share of criticism over the years, particularly with respect to the level of complexity involved in the process of adapting these models to the many HR-related needs of large organizations. There’s no denying that developing customized competency models that can be applied across many HR applications and a growing multitude of job roles is an arduous challenge; one that requires time, resources and commitment.

Yet, as many organizations continue to focus on education and experience when assessing candidates for a job role, more and more studies show that acquired skills and past experience no longer support organizations’ need to adapt to a modern, rapidly changing, global environment. As groundbreaking technologies make their way into our professional lives at a pace faster than most companies can adapt to, can the simple fact of having learned a certain skill – often years, if not decades, prior – guarantee a company’s future success?

Online resources and public workshops, such as our 3-day Building Competency Models workshop, are effective at educating and training individuals and small teams on the benefits and process of developing job competency models and HR applications. But large organizations tend to deal with very complex and unique issues, and each situation is difficult to address with generic documentation or in a public workshop.

A truly customized program caters to the special needs of an organization, with one-on-one or small group consulting, highly technical competencies, and solutions to address unique organizational issues.

Furthermore, a customized consulting approach can better evaluate and improve on past or existing model building approaches. By focusing on the strategy and implementation of specific applications, companies gain a superior edge in achieving synergy across teams, and ensure consistency in applying model-building methodology.

Case in Point: In late 2012, this large Canadian-based company looked for a consultative competency-modeling workshop that could be built upon its own internal data, and tailored to different segments of its HR department, for a variety of applications. It was also seeking guidance on current best practices for organizations with similar challenges.

Their performance management program already included competencies, but the company was hoping to use Workitect’s dictionary and resources to further refine its models by job role (individual contributor, manager, director level) and branches (sales, marketing, law, finance, human resources, etc.), in addition to separating competencies between generic levels and specialty jobs.

Their competency model had been developed for performance management applications, with 5 core and 17 branch competencies, through a 360-review process for leaders. The response from this process had however been slightly negative and as such, the HR team had been given the mandate to remove ‘behaviors’ from performance management. This eventually resulted in competencies being officially removed from all performance management assessments the following year.

A few years later, the company decided to re-introduce ‘behaviors,’ but this time by incorporating Leadership Competencies and Corporate Values into its performance management program. Competencies were developed in house, and some branches even launched their own competency-based initiatives. A specific group hired consultants to develop branch competencies by level and use assessments, while another moved to implement a series of workshops focused on the development of leadership skills, based on the Learning Organization theory (The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge).

However, these leadership competencies were not correlated to the many HR applications, and the company was then looking for experienced consultants to help integrate its HR processes to all aspects of workforce management: recruiting, performance management, professional development, succession planning, etc.

When the company came to us at Workitect, the team was already equipped with a project plan and timeline. The company requested that the workshop be customized to ensure that its HR professionals gained a thorough understanding of various competency modeling approaches, but also that, from a recruiting perspective, they learned how to extract critical competencies required for positions from the intake session with hiring manager, as well as how to select the right behavioral competency questions for interviews.

In order of priority, the company wanted to focus on:

  1. Succession planning
  2. Leadership development
  3. Assessment and selection decisions
  4. 360° feedback instruments
  5. Training design and development
  6. On boarding
  7. Performance management, review and appraisal

The company also requested consulting on using competency models to the benefit of optimizing client consultations and interventions, e.g., rightsizing, learning programs, job descriptions, leadership development, employee/candidate assessment, etc.  The company needed to provide its key players with a ‘toolkit’ that could be used for designing processes and solutions for its clients.

Process Using the basis of our 3-day competency-modeling workshop, we modified the content to focus more on the implementation and integration of various competency-modeling approaches to different applications within the organization.

Twelve participants attended the workshop; 1/3 of which were HR advisors, 1/3 covered key areas such as recruitment and talent acquisition, and 1/3 focused on development and succession planning. This group covered the entry and employee lifecycle within a company.

Using select generic competencies from the Workitect dictionary, the team focused on defining key competencies that were suited to their needs and reality, including:

  • Providing motivational support
  • Fostering teamwork/empowering others
  • Managing change
  • Interpersonal effectiveness (influence)
  • Analytical/forward/Strategic thinking
  • Fostering innovation
  • Customer/Results orientation
  • Decisiveness and self-confidence
  • Adaptability
  • Flexibility
  • Personal accountability
  • Personal credibility

Implementation The implementation process was handled internally, with Workitect’s consulting advice and plan. The company began the process with live sessions to senior management teams, followed by “people manager” training, both with very positive feedback from attendees.

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

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Executive Power: A Form of Bullying or Effective Leadership?

CEOWhen Marissa Mayer took over the leadership at Yahoo!, headlines of radical changes to strategy, direction and company policies flooded the papers. She came on board taking charge, and making sure everyone knew that it would be her way or the highway.

Many senior executives who assume control of a company feel that it is important to come in with a bang. It asserts leadership, and demonstrates that the status quo will no longer be tolerated. Things are about to change.

Typically, this behavior is exerted with good intentions; often, the new executive has a vision and a strategy, and intends to make it happen as fast as possible to prove his/her worth to the board in this new role. But is it really effective?

The leadership competency: Empowerment as a driver of change

There are several types of leaders and thus, many different characteristics to describe leadership. While subjective in nature, it is up to the organization to determine the type of leader it seeks in a given role, depending on the main task at hand.

Yet, despite the laundry list of competencies to be mastered to become a truly efficient leader for any sort of change to occur successfully within an organization, employees need to be given reasons to “want” to change.

Barking orders and demands at employees may help establish who’s in control, but it isn’t likely to encourage employees to desire change, and much less to support the company’s growth and success.

Rather, in today’s environment, CEOs and senior executives would generate much better results by joining the workforce as a team member, enlisting every person’s opinion and expertise in furthering the company, and empowering them with responsibilities to make it happen.

Can leadership be taught, or is it all a matter of personality type?

There is a great debate raging on about whether or not leadership – good leadership – can be taught. While some individuals are indeed natural born leaders, knowing exactly how to exert positive influence and assemble the troops, does this mean that leadership skills are purely genetic?

In October 2013, William F. Roth, Ph.D wrote an article for ISPI’s magazine, Performance Improvement, in which he presented some findings from Blakeslee’s The Right Brain:

“According to the theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls a different type of thinking. Left-brain oriented people are considered to be better at such things as logic, language, critical thinking and numbers. Right-brain-oriented people are considered to be better at dealing with people, at reading and expressing emotions, at thinking intuitively, and at tasks calling for creativity.”

By those findings, it may appear that leadership is a matter of genetics.

In contrast, a New York Times article claims that leadership qualities “are developed through attitude, habit and discipline — factors that are within your control.” The author asserts that many good leaders have in fact become as such by observing other effective leaders, and learning what made them great. A simple process on its own, but this also implies that the individual must have the competence to properly assess not only a circumstance (or environment), but also the individuals involved in the event.

The bottom line is that effective leadership is a product of genetics and skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics (competencies).

But, if Yahoo! succeeded in dethroning Google as the leading search engine, can we simply look at Marissa Mayer’s competencies to determine the secret behind Yahoo!’s success? Or should we not also observe every other variable at play, including Google’s own leadership, and the competencies that contributed to its success?

Conditioning, education and rewards

The truth is, to become an effective leader, one must possess an ensemble of characteristics: competencies dealing with people, with business, and self-management as shown in this competency “dictionary”.

Workitect Competency Dictionary

Source: http://www.workitect.com/Products-and-Licenses/workitect-competency-dictionary-license.html

If research has shown that genetic patterns can be changed, given the right set of circumstances – incentive, understanding, conditioning and education – then organizations can indeed develop very effective leaders, with the right coaching, training curriculum, assessment processes, rewards program, and talent management systems.

When looking for a new leader, it is important to begin by defining the ideal leader for the role through a customized job competency model. This will help you accurately assess candidates based on both acquired competencies and the ability to learn new competencies, because remember that some self-management competencies such as Personal Credibility are difficult to be developed through a training program. It is therefore those individuals who already possess the characteristics that cannot be taught that are most likely to succeed.

For more information on leadership competencies or to get started on a leadership competency model, we invite you to use our Competency Dictionary and other competency development tools, or contact us for a private consultation.

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Succession planning strategy can hurt company competitiveness

C-suite succession planning strategy can hurt company competitivenessLast March, we wrote about the benefits and challenges of using competency models for succession planning and mentoring leaders. In today’s employment environment, where there is a clear shortage of skilled workers, the practice of succession planning has however evolved beyond the grooming of future senior executives to include the development of employee skills at every level of the organization.

By understanding the advantages of building competency models for entry or mid-level employees, companies can learn to adequately cope with an increasing number of lateral moves – e.g., an employee transferring to a different function, a different team or a different geography.

It is indeed critical to grasp the idea that in most lateral moves, the employee’s job responsibilities and environment change, thus affording the employee new opportunities. Concurrently, it affords the company the opportunity to build upon its workforce, provide growth paths, and engage employees.

Succession planning or retention strategy? It doesn’t matter; it’s a win-win.

The fact of the matter is, despite a declining unemployment rate, most of the recent improvement has stemmed from workers dropping out of, or never entering, the labor force due to weak job opportunities.

A recent article from the Economic Policy Institute states that if the 3.4 million “missing workers” (those jobless workers who would be in the labor force if job opportunities were stronger) were in the labor force looking for work, the unemployment rate would be 9.4%, instead of 7.4%. In other words, the labor market remains extremely weak by historical standards.

We continue to believe that this environment is caused by the fact that many “workers” lack the right skills. And if hiring isn’t a possibility for many companies, due to weak demand for non-essential goods and services, more education and training to help workers make lateral job transitions could be the best way to boost productivity.

To achieve this increased productivity at the same staffing levels (or what we like to call ‘the art of doing more with less’), companies need to find ways to not only retain their high-potential workers, but also to motivate them to develop competencies that serve the organization’s main objectives by granting them access to better-suited – and possibly higher-paying – roles.

Giving your workforce the opportunity to succeed

A typical corporate scenario of job advancement consists in personnel internally distributing an opening, or job posting, and giving its employees the chance to apply.

But more often than not, employees who may be interested in this position – and worse, those who would have the competencies to become top performers in this function – have never had, until then, the chance to review the skills required to access this role, much less given the opportunity to develop and demonstrate those skills.

What we observe as a result is the company admitting to not being able to find suitable talent in-house, and investing considerable sums to recruit externally a new candidate who may or may not succeed. What’s more, at the other end of the equation, in-house employees feel betrayed, and lose their motivation to remain an actively invested part of an organization that fails to recognize their potential or that does not provide sufficient opportunities for development and advancement.

Organizations would have a lot more to gain from developing and implementing competency models, and making those available for consultation to all employees. Managers could then use these models in their regular discussions with their staff, particularly at the time of performance evaluations, to create a career path “progression map”, develop skills, retain employees, and keep motivation high.

Not convinced your organization needs competency models?

There are several valid reasons to include competency modeling in your talent management strategies, but one key issue that indicates a need for competency-based succession planning systems is poor promotion or placement outcomes. In simpler words: when too many people hired, promoted or transferred to new responsibilities fail or quit.

For instance, your organization may have promoted the best salesperson to sales manager or the best technical professional to supervisor, only to find out that this employee lacks essential interpersonal understanding and influence skills.

From line worker to supervisor to manager to director to vice president… an employee may exhibit signs of top performance at some of these levels, and fail at others. The reason is that these positions require very different sets of competencies. Your best technical expert may be your worst manager but until you have the right tools to accurately assess 1) the skills each job role requires and 2) the skills each worker possesses and has the ability/interest to develop, you cannot continue promoting and hiring, and hoping for the best. Your HR ROI depends on it.

In her Forbes article “What Employers Need To Know About The Class of 2012,” Jacquelyn Smith cites a recent study that shows that the majority of graduating students are looking for career advancement over anything else. Creating career paths through competency models is not something most companies do well, and most employees don’t understand how to move either horizontally or vertically in an organization.

To boost productivity and minimize turnover, your company must make clear how and where your employees can move on their career path…. or you not only risk losing them to a competitor, you jeopardize the success ratio of your talent management strategy – whether that is at the recruiting, promoting or retention level.

Learn more about Workitect’s approach to competency-based succession planning.

For more information on building competency models for your organization, we invite you to attend of our workshops or contact us for a tailored strategy.

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