Competency models: Key to motivation and success?

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It’s a rather natural response for employees to become either curious or suspicious – or a healthy combination of both – when a new project or job role is created in an organization. While some may see it as an opportunity to possibly transition to a higher role, or at least one that appears more in line with their goals, others may fear for their own usefulness within the organization, particularly if they do not receive sufficient or adequate feedback on their performance.

Yet, when employees are given the transparency needed to understand a new project, where their level of involvement lies, and what the potential benefits of this project are to them and to the company, it becomes easier to turn ‘cautious optimism’ into support. After all, without adoption of a project by your workforce there can be no successful outcomes.

Job competency models are great tools to help companies become more transparent in their communications, allow employees to fulfill their own professional aspirations, and drive growth and development. In return, what you see is an increased level of motivation and higher performance ratios… if done right.

Skip the guessing games

Wouldn’t it be nice to skip the guessing games and know exactly what you need to do to be successful at work? Another key benefit that job competency models provide to employees consists in clear job requirements.

Competencies indeed serve to outline the key skills needed to perform at a high level within a job role, thus creating realistic expectations for your employees. For example, the role of a manager can be rather broad and complex, depending on the industry, but a well-developed and customized competency model provides this employee with explicit objectives within the context of your organization and industry, in addition to the skills required to excel in this role.

The road to career mobility

In addition to providing a road map to performance within each job role, a competency model allows your employees to understand what they need to access other positions within your organization, which in turns fosters motivation, performance, growth and development, not to mention greater collaboration and support.

What’s more, HR and managers are better equipped to provide useful performance assessments, as such a level of transparency allows everyone to understand performance evaluation criteria. The result is a clear impetus for professional growth and overall success.

These are of course only but a few examples of how a tailored competency model can work to improve your overall performance and employee satisfaction. You can learn more about the benefits of a competency-based talent management process by visiting the consulting section of our website (http://www.workitect.com/Consulting/competency-based.html), or by contacting us for an initial consultation.

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Looking ahead to a year of professional development

150x150_logo-no_textAs 2013 comes to a close, most companies have begun assessing their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth and improvement. Most reports that have so far been published indicate that professional development is likely to be a primary focus for many organizations.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Companies have gotten used to adapting to emerging technologies and an incessantly growing set of tools for every facet of business management. Yet, for a few years now, it seems this environment has led to the neglect of professional development, to the benefit of new recruits who bring new skill sets to the workplace. While this may sound like a great impetus for innovation, it also comes at a high cost.

As a result and out of a need to maintain – and hopefully reduce – costs to remain competitive, organizations are now refocusing their efforts in preparation of this important resurgence of renewed competencies and skills.

Defining the right competencies for now and the future

The first step to improving any talent management process entails acknowledging that an effective model requires both a clear understanding of the competencies required for success in each role, and an accurate assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of current employees.

As businesses change, grow, adapt and evolve, employees must follow the course. Superior performers drive superior results, and that in itself is what defines professional development. But because objectives are revised regularly, skills and competencies must also be reassessed and restructured.

How to fill the gaps and avoid excessive turnover costs

Once a company has identified the job skills that are lacking and those that are in abundance, the question inadvertently leans toward how to effectively fill in the gaps. An organization can choose to recruit new employees with the ‘lacking’ skills, or identify high performers who can acquire these skills. Both solutions carry implicit costs but to choose the most cost-efficient for your situation, you need current and well-developed competency models.

Job competency models serve to determine the skills that your employees must possess to perform to your expectations – and beyond. It is only once you have clearly listed these skills, knowledge and personal characteristics that you can truly evaluate your needs, and choose the solution (recruiting vs. coaching) that best fits your organizational goals and budget.

Furthermore, with competency models in place (granted they are maintained and kept up to date), you can better plan your succession and performance/compensation programs in order to attract, develop and retain top performers, and eventually achieve your objectives in terms of sales, productivity and profits.

Building models and producing superior results

One of the best starting point to building effective competencies models and improving performance is through professional development – i.e., by attending seminars or workshops.

Yet, there’s an important learning and acceptance curve, and several factors to consider before embarking on the competency journey – factors that can make or break your best efforts. We invite you to browse through our Consulting section to read more about competency models, or contact us for a consultation.

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Gaining executive sponsors for competency modeling

150x150_logo-no_textTimes are hard, and businesses continue to look for ways to minimize costs. That’s not news. But how can HR improve and support organizational growth if no case is made as to the true benefits of building, implementing and expending talent management processes?

Prior to diving into any substantial project, such as a competency model, you most likely must seek executive and/or board support, initially for the general concept, then later for the project plan itself. Whether or not you’ve tried before, you probably already know that there are tangible challenges to gaining your board’s full backing of a theoretical, long-term HR project. It’s one thing to gain their understanding for this ‘nice to have’ concept, but entirely another to obtain the official green light when it comes to the specifics dealing with time, money and additional resources.

Step up and take a seat at the table

In this age of predominantly electronic communications, if you’re looking to plead your case for a competency model, we recommend avoiding the risks associated with the telephone game by speaking face-to-face with the people who have the authority to sign off on your project.

Don’t rely on lengthy reports and emails, which may easily be discarded and if possible, bypass mid-level management who must then represent you to a higher tier without truly understanding the benefits of your project.

Focusing on the big picture for broader support

Once you’ve been granted some time to present your project, make sure you’re thoroughly prepared. There are two very important things to consider:

  • Know and understand your organization/sponsor’s needs, objectives and concerns
  • Know and understand how your project can meet those needs and objectives, and address those concerns

Remember, what you ‘want’ and what you ‘need’ are two very different things. Addressing a need is far more effective than filling a ‘want’. Your sponsor might want to see improvement within a specific area of the organization, while what they need is in fact a competency model to find the right worker to create that outcome. For instance, if your company is seriously aching over a department that has experienced a substantial downturn in sales, be fully aware of why, and present facts and figures as to how a competency model would help bring about positive change. It is your job, as HR professional, to understand your company’s most pressing needs, and to present your project as the ideal solution.

Focus, focus, focus: Gathering the right insights

There are many business reasons for developing a competency model: talent and performance management, succession planning, training and development, recruiting, etc. You’ll have much better results if you demonstrate the value of your competency modeling project by providing case studies, insights and data that are appropriate for your company’s current challenges, than if you dilute your message by listing all of the benefits of models.

Remember to focus on how this project can help move the company closer to its goals and overcome its challenges, instead of talking about how HR wishes to improve its internal processes. Your project must be in-line with company objectives, and not just HR objectives – that is a crucial difference that will help you in the sponsorship process.

Research, tools and support

As HR professional, it is your responsibility to communicate with sponsors not just to obtain their support for your project, but also to build and maintain solid relationships throughout the process.

For additional tips to help you build a case for your model, click here. Module 1 of our Building Competency Models workshop addresses business needs to help you gain your board’s support and choose the best approach for your organization.

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Avoiding the Bad & the Ugly with Competency Modeling

150x150_logo-no_textDo you know what makes for a successful competency model? It’s not so much the broader basics, such as having the right behavioral descriptors or meeting the needs of key users – although these initial thoughts are valid and important. Instead, to truly work toward maximizing the return on your HR investment, you must first consider the relationship between business needs and where a competency framework makes sense.

The nature of your business

What exactly defines the “bad” and “ugly” of competency model building? Essentially, it is the downward spiral that occurs in the very beginning stage, when users do not understand or take into account the nature of the intended application – the factors that shape the data collection and analysis.

For example, for a project to construct a competency model for new staff accountants working in a personal tax sector of a CPA firm, you know the competency model would need to be incorporated within a personal tax training program. When done correctly from the start, only then can adoption and real results take shape.

As a result, aligning competencies within the context of your business is an essential first step, and there are many best practices you can follow. Here are three great examples:

  1. Identify the most critical competencies by avoiding exhaustive lists and by keeping models smaller, thus more manageable.
     
    Try sticking with fewer than 14 competencies to help you maintain organizational focus. Include technical or functional competencies to specifically address the job skills that define superior performance based on your organization’s culture and vision. Anything beyond that becomes a greater challenge to manage, especially in times of performance reviews.
  2. Remember the consequences of having too many irons in the fire.
     
    This is never a good habit to follow, but it is particularly true when it comes to competency modeling. Instead, integrate your competency models into your existing recruiting and talent management processes in order to avoid having to manage a series of silos.
  3. Think of brand competency modeling as a strategic business initiative.
     
    Think beyond your HR function, and position your competency models as strategic initiatives necessary to the success of your organization. Remember that employees are the advocates and sounding board for establishing competencies that make sense on the job. Don’t neglect any feedback.

The solution, not the problem

When you position competency models as business solutions, instead of yet another HR process, they certainly seem far less “ugly”. And by keeping competencies focused on the areas of greatest interest for your organization’s success, the ROI of your competency models can only be increased.

If you wish to learn more on how to connect competencies with your business strategies, browse our website for more tips and tools, or let us come to you to help you build and implement the right model for your business.

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Getting Specific with Behavioral Descriptors

Book - OpenIf you’ve ever used or researched competency models, you probably know that their value is essentially measured with regard to their behavioral descriptors. In other words, the more accurate the descriptors to the roles, functions, objectives and culture, the more value the model has for the organization.

Although these indicators can certainly be – and often times are – adapted from a generic competency dictionary, it’s important to remember that when a job role requires specific abilities, then behavioral descriptors must also be highly customized for the model to have any bearing to the recruiting, retention, management and success processes.

Identifying a superior performer within a specific role

Behavioral descriptors indicate patterns considered to be contributory to superior performance in a given job role. As such, a competency’s definition represents an ability or trait, while the behavioral descriptor indicates the way in which that ability or trait is demonstrated.

For example, let’s say your organization is looking to fill a sales role. In that environment, the competency named “interpersonal awareness” is therefore of great relevance. This is defined as having the ability to notice, interpret, and address customer concerns and feelings. Behavioral indicators for this type of competency that make the most hypothetical sense would include:

  • Thorough understanding of the interests and concerns of the customer
  • Ability to anticipate how the customer will react to a given situation
  • Pro-activity to address customer concerns before they are even voiced (at which point, you have most often reached a critical moment in the customer’s “non-buying” decision)

In light of this example, you can now see why it’s important to equip your HR or managerial professionals with these precise descriptors in order to successfully recruit, evaluate or even train the right candidate for this sales role using competency models, as a generic competency – in our example, “interpersonal awareness” – may not speak as clearly of superior performance to a recruiter or manager as would our bullet points defining this competency.

Turning generic into specific

Whenever a competency is used, particularly when sourcing from a generic document, it is generally defined. But the work of developing competencies doesn’t stop there. These behavioral descriptors must be customized with respect to the role, the organization and the industry.

It is of course very important for an organization that is new to competency modeling to begin the process of developing competency models and indicators with the use of a competency dictionary license. Yet, it’s as important – if not more – to then know how to tailor this information to your needs in order to generate considerable value from such an approach.

As a starting point to companies who are new to competency modeling, Workitect offers a dictionary containing a full list of competency and descriptor options, but we also provide support and training to help you further customize this information accordingly. Throughout the year, we hold a variety of workshops around the country to bring you the tools and educational material required to make truly valuable use of your dictionary. Companies in cost-control mode or those requiring a high level of customization may also be interested in our on-site consulting and training sessions. Our consultants travel to your office, at your convenience, to teach your teams all that they need to know to build, implement, and assess their competency models and talent management processes.

Click here if you’re interested to learn more about our workshops, or here to read more about our competency dictionary.

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Modernizing competency models for millennials

Group of businesspeople having a meeting.Competency models are defined as blueprints of what an organization seeks from its workforce, based on its top-level objectives. As a result, competency models are typically used as a hiring tool to find those employees who meet the exact criteria set forth by the employer: culture fit, soft skills, abilities, interests, etc.

Yet, it appears that the roles have changed, and employers must now adapt to the expectations, styles and demands of new generations. More specifically, Millennials are known to demand a better work-life balance, as well as greater flexibility and diversity in their role. The benefits of this new reality can be argued at length, but what’s important for employers to understand is that Millennials are not afraid to move on to bigger and better things if they are not entirely pleased with your offer and current work conditions. In fact, 60% of Millennials leave their companies within three years of hire, at a cost of $20,000 per person for the organization[1].

This prompts the following question: Should an organization adapt to the output potential of its workforce, or should it focus on seeking only those employees who can deliver on its pre-established objectives?

The power of a growth-focused culture

The answer to the above question is ‘neither’. Knowing that each generation has different views and expectations of the workplace, employers – mainly managers and HR professionals – must instead seek to create a plan of action that will ensure that all employees, no matter their generation, work together to achieve the organizational goals for which they were hired in the first place.

This can be achieved by developing a talent management system that will:

  1. Define the goals and key culture elements sought by the organization
  2. Identify the skills and competencies required for each role within the organization
  3. Determine the skills and competencies that are lacking in the current workforce
  4. Develop a training and coaching program that will seek to bride that gap between steps 2 and 3

It is important to note that it’s the organization’s responsibility to ensure that such a program is communicated appropriately to its workforce. Without clearly defined benefits of following such an approach, even the best of programs may be set for failure, particularly with Millennials who are recognized for demanding a higher level of transparency and feedback.

The humanization and modernization of the model

A PwC & University of Southern California study has revealed that most organizations still embrace old models of talent management, which are inconsistent with Millennials’ expectations of the workplace.

Competency models are one of those systems often perceived as ‘old-school’ by many young leaders, mainly due to the fact that they are highly technical and focus primarily on current skills, instead of an individual’s potential for growth and development. In other words, they are considered too mechanical and impersonal, not factoring in the oft-overlooked benefits that a different perspective can bring to an organization.

Yet, competency modeling has also evolved over the years, and many experts in the field have since adopted a more modern and human approach. In fact, implementing competency models that match the needs of both the organization and the workforce fosters unity, a crucial element to motivation, teamwork and performance. It’s simply a matter of giving employees an active role and the freedom to understand the importance of that role in achieving the organizational goals. By using competency models to establish a clear path from hire to development to promotion, with explicit expectations at each step, employees are put in control of their professional success, all the while facilitating the performance assessment and succession planning process for managers.

At Workitect, we offer a wide array of tools and training opportunities to help you customize your competency model to your workforce. For more information, contact us or visit…

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The importance of application in competency model building

22571540_sModern technology and the arrival of a new generation, the HR function is evolving rapidly, particularly with respect to recruiting, retention and talent management. At the heart of these processes is competency model building and implementation; that is, a system designed to group a series of competencies, which together describe the skills and behaviors required to achieve the level of performance within a particular role, in a given organization.

Competency models serve many purposes, the most important being able to define characteristics to not only hire the right employees for the job and the company culture, but also to promote efficient mobility within the organization.

HR professionals and managers can no longer view these models as a novelty, meaning an organization simply cannot build a model without an initial application in mind, only afterwards contemplating how it should be used.

More than a job description

Competency models allow an organization to implement talent management systems that integrate staffing, performance management, succession planning, and development in a way that both increases the percentage of outstanding performers in the workplace and drives results.

Common types of applications include:

  • Precise identification of superior performers in an organization, and what they actually do
  • Performance appraisals using relevant behavioral descriptors
  • Addressing specific technical competencies on an individual in the context of a given role
  • Training and assessment programs designed around an actual job function

The above list is by far nowhere near exhaustive, but because of models’ many uses, it is essential for HR to have a particular application in mind when building a model. In fact, determining the application before implementation allows for more precise and purpose-driven data collection and analysis, as well as ensuring that a budget and necessary resources are made available from design to implementation.

You can read more on effective competency model building here, or contact us to see which tools or training programs are suited to your organization.

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Stakeholders involvement in the competency modeling process

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There’s no doubt that for a company’s processes and tools to be cost-effective, senior management must be involved in their development, albeit to varying degrees. The creation and implementation of competency models are no exceptions. But just how involved should a company’s stakeholders be in the talent management process?

First step: Determining the key stakeholders

A company’s key stakeholders are the individuals who hold a vested interest in the decision-making process of an organization, as well as in its results. This therefore involves everyone from the actual owners of the company to upper-tier management, including the Board of Directors.

Just as these same individuals are responsible for the success and growth of the company they manage, they cannot turn a blind eye to their most important asset, their employees, particularly with respect to hiring and retaining a workforce that is so detrimental to their top-level objectives.

The why and how of senior management’s involvement

Simply put, HR is tasked with creating a model that addresses the company’s objectives and direction so at the end of the day, there is a pressing need to ensure that this model is aligned with the proper behavioral queues for the organization.

Key stakeholders are not only invaluable resources to the competency modeling process, they are also the source of the resources HR needs to build and implement an effective model that adheres to both the company culture and mission.

Having key stakeholders involved in the competency modeling process allows for:

  • Increased trust in the model within the organization
  • Complete transparency and consensus
  • Considerable value added in the data collection and validation process
  • Unique insight that might otherwise be missed or not considered

Of course, despite these benefits, involving senior management requires careful planning and a significant investment of time into a project that may be regarded to be “HR’s job”. As such, obtaining a commitment and true engagement in this process is not always easy.

To learn more about how HR can plead the case for competency modeling, or to better understand the different steps required to build an effective model tailored to your organization, visit our website or sign up to attend our upcoming workshop.

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Research for Building Competency Models

iStock_000003902282_DoubleOne of the main concerns we hear about implementing competency models within an organization pertains to their reliability and validity; that is, how accurate and precise are these models in terms of effectiveness? The fact is that it all depends on how they are developed, as well as how they will be used: performance management, recruiting, career development, etc.

Building competency models requires that a certain level of data collection and analysis be conducted collectively by HR and senior management. After all, how else can an organization begin to understand the behaviors displayed by what is considered ‘superior performers’ if proper research is omitted? But just how is validity achieved? How much evidence is considered ‘sufficient’?

A sufficient research approach

Research approaches to competency model building emphasize a systematic data collection and analysis. However, it must remain of great priority in deciding specifically how much evidence is considered sufficient for the inclusion of competencies in the model.

Developing a competency model is a multi-step process. Just as specific steps are required to finalize and apply a model, another set of steps must be in place to determine validity, thus, sufficiency, namely by:

  • Using a broad panel of incumbents (focus groups, employees, surveys, etc.) to test the model in order to increase the probability that all competencies have been captured and make sense to both those doing the job and those determining objectives for these jobs.
  • Analyzing the qualitative and quantitative data collected to determine if there is concrete correlation between the competencies identified and the objectives of the model.

Fact checking and validation

Aside from withstanding any potential legal challenges, the main advantage of a research approach is in fact achieving validity. A fact-checked research approach can identify behaviors currently demonstrated by superior performers, as well as employees’ beliefs regarding what is important to superior performance.

HR professionals can be taught how to collect, code, and analyze the data needed to build an effective model using resource panels, job analysis interviews and structured event interviews. They can learn how to:

  • Plan a competency-modeling project
  • Build models for multiple jobs
  • Use resource panels to collect data
  • Conduct structured key event interviews
  • Analyze and code interview transcripts, and write job models
  • Develop HR applications for talent management, assessment, selection, succession planning, development and performance management, and implement competency-based systems to produce bottom-line results

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Click here to learn more about a Building Competency Models workshop, or access a library for additional information about building competency models for your organization. The next public workshop is scheduled for July 18-20, 2017 in Washington, DC. The workshop can also be conducted on-site for organizations.

If you are contemplating the building of models, or have already built models, what kind of rigorous methodology research has been

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Develop competencies to fulfill basic professional needs

In today’s environment, employees and managers can no longer just think of a career ladder concept when assessing performance and growth opportunities within an organization. Mastering the skills needed for one role does not guarantee success in another function. For instance, a waitress can excel at her job, yet lack the necessary competencies to take on the role of manager.

Instead, HR professionals should focus on developing sets of competencies for each role within the organization in order to promote opportunities for mobility and advancement. By laying out the critical requirements for each role, employees gain autonomy in pursuing other opportunities by working toward developing the competencies required to accomplish their own aspirations. This type of framework puts employees in control of their career path, thus helping drive motivation to perform beyond current responsibilities and specific-job requirements.

Competencies to fulfill basic professional needs

It is safe to assume that every one of us wants to feel like we contribute to our organization’s goals. We seek to improve our performance and the competencies that help us become experts at what we do – or aspire to do. The need for professional recognition is a key driver to performance. Yet, there are many factors outside of an employee’s performance within a specific job function that influence career opportunities and often times, employees resent the fact that although they are performing as expected or beyond, they are not given a chance to access other roles that are more in line with their goals.

One can say that organizations prefer to preserve top-performers in the role they excel at, but the reality is that they often do not provide a sufficiently clear framework for employees to know – and as a result develop – the competencies they need to access other functions. Employees therefore peak in their respective job and have nowhere to go from there, leaving them motivated to either leave the organization or maintain an average performance, instead of going above and beyond.

Building a model for organizational success

A competency model is a set of 8 to 16 competencies with definitions, which define the underlying abilities of each. The more complex the job, the more competencies can be identified. The key is keeping in mind not only what is required to do the job, but also what is necessary to achieve the organization’s primary objectives to succeed.

Once the competencies have been determined, your HR team, along with your management officials, must create clear and concise definitions for each of them. A competency dictionary makes it easier to start as it provides a starting point for discussion and help you customize each definition to your company’s needs, but you can also write them from scratch. Whichever approach you use, remember to use the language of your organization.

With a customized and detailed competency model, you not only offer your employees a tool by which they can develop and grow within your organization, but you also facilitate performance reviews and promote a unified culture and workforce that work together to achieve the same goals.

Of course, it then also becomes necessary to implement a process by which you can evaluate employees on these very competencies and assess their degree of success. Our decades of research and data gathering have allowed us to develop several tools that help you accomplish every one of these steps.

You can also attend our workshops to learn to create and implement these models in house. These practical events allow you to share your concerns and experiences with industry peers and experts so as to help you get over some of the hurdles of performance management.

For more information, contact us or consult the different sections of our website for more information on developing models for your success.

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