Optimize your performance management system

performance2Lately, there’s been a lot of press about the lack of value performance reviews bring to a talent management process. Some claim they are simply too subjective and that as a result, only serve a compensation purpose; while others say that because the process only takes place sporadically throughout the year, with little follow-up, it doesn’t help employees achieve better results.

In a recent post, we also acknowledged that performance reviews can indeed be time consuming for both managers and employees. Yet, our experience shows that the main reason why performance management systems rarely deliver on their intended promise is that management often fails to either 1) understand the true value and purpose of the reviews, or 2) utilize the process in an objective and result-driven manner… Or both.

What’s more, the very results that many companies seek to obtain from performance reviews are often quantitative (e.g., number of sales, revenue generated, etc.), whereas the real value of performance management resides in providing both a qualitative and quantitative assessment of an employee’s skills and competencies within an organizational context. In other words, companies primarily use performance reviews to determine compensation, rather than using them as strategies to generate additional value and optimize their output.

Let’s take a closer look.

The performance evaluation conundrum: Results or competencies?

One of the most common flaws of performance review processes is that they focus on evaluating workers’ quantitative output, rather than their competencies. There’s no denying that your workforce needs to generate value for your company, but are you evaluating your employees’ actual contribution to your success or focusing solely on financial results over which they may have very little to no control?

This line of questioning is critical as we move into a new era of workforce planning, one that is now past most of the hurts and pains caused by the financial crisis, which had many employees suffer the burden of additional responsibilities being assigned to them via employers’ cost-cutting strategies. And as we enter a brand new age of having to do more with less, it is even more critical to focus on the real value (i.e., current contribution and potential for future contribution) that your employees bring to your organization, rather than isolated financial targets.

A competency-based performance management system combines planning, management and appraisal of both performance and competencies by assessing not only results and accomplishments, but also the methods used to get there. This shift from evaluating quantitative results to rating desired behaviors and skills makes the performance management process more valuable in the sense that it becomes a tool to empower employees in their development of new skills, as well as a way to distinguish between ‘performers’ – one who executes as anticipated – and ‘bar raisers’ – one who contributes to the productivity, growth and competitiveness of your operations.

Many organizations shy away from a competency-based performance management system simply because it is easier to hold employees accountable for hitting or missing quantitative targets, rather than attempting to measure their qualitative input, especially when the bottom line is running thin.

But there is a big financial value in assessing overall contributions, as opposed to only focusing on specific financial results. An employee may be highly productive and provide great value for a company – be it in the form of peer motivation/inspiration or taking on additional responsibilities at no additional cost to the organization – but not necessarily hit his/her intended financial targets for the period under review. This ‘bar-raising’ behavior should be remarked and rewarded, as it may be contributing to maintaining a lower turnover ratio and/or overall human capital expenditures.

When you integrate competency models into your performance review process, it becomes easier to evaluate the metrics that really make a difference. Plus, it motivates employees by providing them with both feedback that takes notice of their input at many levels and opportunities to develop and advance; two distinct drivers of superior performance.

All things being equal: Past performance as a deterrer of future output

We cannot and won’t argue that past performance isn’t an important metric, or that it shouldn’t be included in a performance review process. But penalizing an employee for failure to meet a quantitative target may also come at a cost – as mentioned above, this employee may be adding tremendous value in other ways and not recognizing it can lead to a lack of motivation or desire to ‘go the extra mile’.

Where performance reviews solely or mainly based on past results fail is that they typically go on the assumption that management can predict an employee’s future performance based on what has been accomplished in the past. This ‘ceteris paribus’ assumption rarely bears any credibility in matters of human capital because while it is possible to draw fairly accurate conclusions when attempting to predict the behavior of individual X when placed in context Y, this assumes that we already know the characteristics of X and Y.

Yet, in an organizational context, these values (particularly Y – which can be time, operational processes, or workforce turnover, to name a few) are in constant movement. As a result, we are no longer attempting to predict the behavior of, say, an entry-level employee of 25 years of age with a college degree (etc.) to a specific environmental context. Rather, we are attempting to predict the behavior of an evolving individual as he/she experiences variations of Y, thereby making the ‘ceteris paribus’ assumption obsolete. It is therefore nonsensical to ‘bet it all’ on your managers’ ability to predict an employee’s future performance based on what has been observed in the past.

Competency assessments to ensure organizational success

The success of competency models as a basis for performance reviews is that they work to describe emerging and anticipated skill requirements, rather than skills that have been effective in the past. As such, customized competency models allow you to rate an employee’s strengths (competencies, skills, behaviors and interests) in accordance with what is required for your organization to succeed going forward.

This process makes it a lot easier to optimize your workforce planning strategy, as it helps you determine whether or not an employee is

1)     Suited to the organizational culture and strategic direction

2)     Possesses the competencies to master his/her current role or the potential to develop skills required by a different role (one in which he/she would deliver more value)

But evaluating competencies does not only serve the needs of the organization; it also allows employees to feel valued within their professional environment, as they are given an opportunity for development and mobility, in accordance with their skills and interests.

We recently wrote that one of the most common myths of succession plans is that companies believe a successor has to be ready now. This also applies to your performance management system, on the basis that a viable top performer is developed with this very purpose in mind.

Granted, this has important implications for management, as it explicitly commits them to provide employees with formal training, coaching, and other competency development activities. But the rewards are significant. In fact, this sort of competency-based system uses the principles of the “self-directed change” theory, which holds that adults change only when they:

  • Feel it is in their own best interests to do so
  • Feel dissatisfied with their existing situation or level of performance
  • Are clear about a “desired” situation or level of performance
  • Are clear about action steps they can take to move from the actual to the desired situation or level of performance

So where do I start?

Implementing a competency-based performance review system from scratch is a complex process, but here is an overview of the steps involved:

  1. Design the core of the performance management process, including the objectives of the process, senior management expectations, frequency of performance discussions, etc.
  2. Determine weighting for performance on the competencies, and identify the competencies required for superior performance in present jobs.
  3. Train managers and employees in the new performance management process. The training should include all the information identified above, as well as the competencies used as part of the performance management system.
  4. Provide training in performance coaching to all supervisors, including how to assess employees on their “actual” levels of competence. Managers should be able to objectively explain the reasons for their ratings, and show that they have considered feedback from peers to establish the ratings.
  5. Organize formal sessions during which employees are given the opportunity to identify their “desired” levels of competence to meet their career goals.
  6. Implement or enhance corporate professional development tools and programs to ensure that employees are given the tools they need to develop the competencies they need to succeed in both their current and future job roles.
  7. Schedule regular coaching sessions during which developmental progress is evaluated.

Of course, these steps only serve as guidance. You can learn more about competency-based performance management on our website’s dedicated area, where you will find valuable articles and downloadable PDFs, or by contacting us for a private consultation.

If you are ready to start developing a competency-based system, we invite you to read more about our onsite workshops and consultancy support for building and implementing competency models for a variety of applications in your organization.

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Competency Models for Succession Planning

Business MeetingSuccession planning is an ongoing system of identifying competent employees who are ready to move into key jobs in your organization, as well as those who, with specifically identified development, will be ready to assume key jobs at some stated point in the future.

Succession planning is one of the most complex responsibilities of CEOs and board members. And while it ranks high on the list of priorities of the great majority of companies, it is often written off as part of the executive’s ‘to-do’ list, with very little coherence to both the organization’s long-term objectives and the evolving nature of the role and the business.

At a time when more and more companies need to find ways to do more with less, particularly with respect to hiring, it is imperative to ensure that your succession-planning processes are optimized in order to avoid unnecessary turnover and development costs.

Succession planning: Whose job is it anyway?

Before we discuss how a successful succession plan should be developed and implemented, let’s first determine who should own this process.

Executives may appear to be best suited for the job, given their exposure to the pool of candidates and their understanding of the competencies required to be successful in their role. Yet, tasking executives with finding their own replacements can lead to unintentional yet avoidable turnover costs, and a considerable delay in anticipated profits.

We have indeed noticed that certain executives have a tendency to show bias in their decision to find a successor. Some, to maintain their ‘legacy’ by selecting candidates who can’t outperform them; others, by choosing their right-hand person, with disregard toward the potential of other employees who may be poised (i.e., have the potential) to develop into successful leaders.

Considering the above, many would assume that the board should be granted ownership of the succession planning process, if only to veto the short list of candidates brought forth by executives. But let’s remember that such a decision would be based on documented past performance, a measure that is, on its own, insufficient to assess the true potential of a candidate.

Research also shows that when a board is tasked with selecting successors, it tends to primarily look externally for candidates, rather than considering the company’s existing pool of talent. Yet, internally available and adequately skilled candidates present a much lower risk when compared with hiring an individual who has very little knowledge of the organizational processes and may not be a great fit for both the existing culture and the teams he/she will need to manage.

Conversely, omitting to look externally is a risk of similar consequences. “Having a viable internal candidate doesn’t ever excuse the succession planning process from looking outside to ensure that the best candidates for the job are considered.” Running internal and external searches concurrently is simply good governance.

Finally, there are organizations that leave this decision in the hands of the HR department. According to Workforce magazine, HR can indeed build a great talent development plan but “without active support from leadership, it won’t have the desired impact.” For instance, while HR may be aware of the main responsibilities of a particular job role, it may not have all the information pertaining to the position’s intricacies and the behavioral traits required to manage them successfully.

What HR can do however is “align (the company’s) talent management efforts with strategic plans, and educate executives and managers about the business value of succession planning efforts.”

Succession planning needs to be regarded as an organizational effort, which requires the input, vision and expertise of a diverse group of individuals. At times, it may even involve getting your top talent to the table. Nevertheless, the key is to gather your best experts in order to develop a comprehensive, stress-tested strategy that can then be implemented with ease.

Accuracy, objectivity and flexibility: The makings of a successful succession planning strategy

There are three main obstacles to a successful transition strategy:

  1. Accuracy: Identifying the most critical competencies for the job
  2. Objectivity: Knowing how to find and evaluate candidates
  3. Flexibility: Trusting in the development potential of existing talent

Accuracy: Getting the job done right the first time around

Not taking the time to accurately identify the competencies successors need to possess is by far the most common and the main reason why succession-planning strategies often fail. The Society for Human Resource Management puts this into perspective by saying:

“It is not enough to select people who seem “right” for the job. Not only should the experience and duties be considered, but also the personality, the leadership skills, and the readiness for taking on a key leadership role.”

Competency models serve to determine the skills that your successors 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 options. Leaders may seem easy to identify but as businesses change, grow, adapt and evolve, objectives are revised, and skills and competencies must follow course. The success of competency models is that they work to describe emerging and anticipated skill requirements, rather than skills that have been effective in the past.

To achieve the objectives of a succession plan, we believe that the single-job approach is the most effective, as this approach uses extensive and rigorous data collection to ensure that the model contains highly specific behavioral descriptions of what a potential leader needs to do and how in order to achieve the desired results. Because of its complexity, it is also received with great credibility by top management and senior executives.

While this process requires a considerable time investment, your HR department can easily get started using a generic competency dictionary, which can then be passed on to senior management and board members for customization to a specific role within the company. You can also call on competency modeling experts to help you build a sustainable model for your needs.

Objectivity: More than intuition

Companies often overlook the importance of objective competency models in the succession planning process. After all, they know what leadership looks like, and will be able to recognize successors without having to rely on a list of descriptors. But this subjective way of identifying leaders can deter change and stump future growth, as it is human nature to tend to seek people who are like us. In other words, foregoing objectivity is a great strategy to maintain status quo and preserve current leaders’ shortcomings.

On the other hand, relying on the board to make that decision means short-listing replacements based on past performance – in a different role, no less. Considering that board members rarely have a chance to interact with entry or mid-level employees, they often find themselves in a position where they must bank on employees’ track records to make a decision. This backdated assessment of candidates’ future potential may appear as objective as can be, but it provides very little insight as to how these individuals will perform in the future, in a different role, especially given the right development tools. We discuss this some more in a recent article on the cost-effectiveness of combining workforce management processes.

Flexibility: Providing a roadmap to excellence

Another great flaw of many succession plans is that the successor has to be ready now. Truth is, there is no way of knowing if a candidate is ready for the job, unless he/she gets a fair chance at proving that they possess the right competencies. At the very best, the candidate has demonstrated certain skills in his/her current job, under that role’s scope of constraints and responsibilities. But a true, viable successor is developed with this very purpose in mind.

“In order to prepare potential leaders, the gap between what they are ready for now and the preparation they need to be ready for the job when it is available needs to be determined.”

This advice from SHRM is critical. Companies cannot wait until they need a successor before beginning the ‘grooming’ process. With a competency model in place, aspiring leaders can develop their skills over time, preferably with the help of mentors, i.e., your best executives. Once employees understand the competency requirements for higher jobs and the gaps between their competencies and those required by the jobs they want, they ask for training or other developmental activities to close the gap. Similarly, once an organization is aware of the competencies it needs to be successful and the gaps between these needs and the capabilities of its existing or projected staff, it seeks selection or developmental programs to close these gaps.

You may even want to complement this professional development path with an annual assessment, by senior management, of your current talent pool, including performance and potential of direct reports and other high potential people within other groups.

Remember that the degree of readiness of a candidate depends on your reality, the risks you are willing to take, and the underlying job roles.

Building your succession plan using competency models

Understanding that the objective of succession planning is not only to provide you with a system for identifying a pool of replacements, but also to provide your candidates with a clearly defined career path to their advancement is half the battle; the other half entails finding and implementing a solution.

To develop a customized competency-based succession planning system, begin by listing the core competencies that are required to take over your key roles. Use competency dictionaries to save you time and effort; these are a highly effective starting point to customization.

Another great tool to help you find potential successors are behavioral event interviews (BEIs). In a BEI, the candidate is asked to describe how he/she approached a specific past experience of a particular type. The interviewer then uses a probing strategy to elicit detailed descriptions of behavior, and to keep the interview focused on what the candidate thought, did, and said at key points during the sequence of the event. Each “event” question is selected to elicit evidence for one or more of the competencies being assessed. BEIs may take from 30 minutes to two hours or more. To save you time, you may want to consider using competency interview guides; these help you interpret positive and negative behavioral indicators via key questions and answers.

Once you have identified a few potential replacements, don’t just sit back expecting them to become the person you want them to be. Rather, coach, develop and work to improve their competencies. Our development workbook provides instructions on setting competency development goals, along with specific suggestions for developing 35 competencies. The guide contains a variety of worksheets and information for each competency, including definitions, behaviors and general considerations in developing and practicing specific competencies, obtaining feedback for development, coaching suggestions for managers, and other similar resources.

The final step: Evaluating your succession plan

Once you have developed your succession plan, it is important to test it. Begin by asking yourself if your current system…

  • Presents the job requirements in a structured, focused and precise manner?
  • Explicitly describes the competencies a candidate should possess?
  • Accounts for a way to test your selection process?
  • Plans competency development actions with potential successors?
  • Identifies the most important competencies and requirements on your list?

These are, of course, just a few of the key elements that a successful succession plan entails. Simply put, you need to know 1) what you need 2) what you have access to and 3) what you can develop. Without this information, it will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to identify the right leaders to ensure your future success.

Read more on what it takes to build and implement a competency-based succession plan, or contact us for more information on the tools available to assist you in the process.

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Workforce Planning: Do More with Less


The latest criticism to come out of the Affordable Care Act relates to the idea that the law is motivating workers to work less in order to retain their eligibility for federal subsidies. Conversely, some companies – particularly small businesses – have been reported as claiming that the ACA may force them to either halt their hiring/growth strategy or cut their employees’ hours, both in order to avoid the penalty for not offering health coverage under Obamacare.

And to top it off, the prospect of minimum wage increases now has several employers squeezed between having to absorb increased costs or raise prices, either of which could lead to a reduction in labor and/or consumer demand.

The debate rages on and whether the widely anticipated workforce reduction will come from workers’ decision, the aging of the population or a drop in businesses’ demand, the fact remains that numerous organizations are now faced with the conundrum of having to do more with less in order to remain competitive and relevant in today’s highly globalized marketplace.

Here are 3 solutions to consider:

Don’t reinvent the wheel; learn to use it better

Research shows that when dealing with limited resources, companies find more benefits from repurposing their existing processes, rather than attempting to create new ones, which too often only serve to further weigh down operations.

Case in point: Performance reviews are a time-consuming chore for both your managers and employees and while many argue that it is quickly becoming a dated practice, our experience shows that the main challenge of performance management resides in understanding its true value and purpose: i.e., not just evaluating past performance but mainly improving an individual’s productivity, which in turn, leads to improved organizational performance. (Read more about how performance reviews can actually add value for your company.)

What’s more, since the financial crisis, many mid-level employees have been assigned additional responsibilities in light of their employers’ cost-cutting strategies, and most now claim they can’t physically sustain the pace at which they have been working. This is extremely unhealthy for companies because while your bottom line may not yet suffer the consequences, the resulting costs can be exponential over time, namely in terms of healthcare, as well as the impact of stress and fear of layoffs on employee morale and productivity.

One counter measure to this scenario consists in combining processes, for instance, by merging your performance reviews with your recruiting strategy. The concept is rather simple: Performance reviews, when done right, serve to assess your current workforce’s output and plan for future actions that will allow you to reach your business objectives. By using the data gathered through performance reviews to pinpoint the specific areas where you are lacking talent, you can quickly identify the very competencies that are necessary to your future success. Your performance reviews could therefore be used to support your coaching and professional development needs, as well as identify those competency gaps that are preventing you from achieving an optimal output rate, i.e., your recruiting needs.

In other words, combining your workforce planning and management processes into one globally strategic practice is a much more cost-effective solution than requesting that your already-overloaded mid-level managers attempt to define your company’s needs – a costly hit-or-miss strategy when not based on real insights. In fact, by using the data already gathered through an existing process, rather than handling recruiting, reviews and development separately, companies are more likely to observe an amplified workforce planning, reduction, and management ROI for minimized and more targeted efforts – a win-win strategy for both employers and employees.

Achieving this isn’t all that complex, but it does require a thorough understanding of the variety of competencies and what they mean for your organization and business sector.

If you already have a competency-based recruiting or evaluation approach in place:

  1. Start with your most comprehensive competency model
  2. For every position, combine the skills, behavioral traits and objectives you may have spread across different documents (performance evaluation, recruitment, salary revisions, succession planning, etc.)
  3. Eliminate duplicates and remove obsolete data
  4. Streamline the competency descriptions with the use of a competency dictionary, and try to narrow it down to a maximum of 10 competencies per position (the higher the responsibility level, the more competencies you may require)
  5. Stress test your new model across different processes with the use of resource panels and event interviews
  6. Implement!

If your company doesn’t use competency models, first begin by determining the approach that is best suited to your needs. Then make sure you have the right tools at your disposal; generic competency dictionaries are often times crucial to the development of such a framework, and they allow you to build and implement integrated talent management systems. But beyond the dictionaries, you may also want to look into acquiring competency development tools, such as eDeveloper™, 360° survey instruments and interview guides. Many of these tools can be purchased or licensed, and can prove to be indispensable to your modeling process.

Once you have determined your approach and selected the tools to help you, follow the steps highlighted above.

At any time, you may contact us for advice or the development of a customized solution for your business. You may also attend one of our popular competency model building events, or book one of our expert consultants to visit your head office for a tailored onsite workshop.

Let go of the control

Silos can be destructive to a company’s productivity and as stated in a Forbes article “it is the duty of the executive leaders and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mind-set to break down this destructive organizational barrier”.

Over the past decade, numerous organizations have restructured specifically to avoid this very configuration, mainly because it created an unbalanced workload at the conjunction point of the silos, which was generally at a managerial level (e.g., approvals, sign-offs, strategic planning, etc.).

Such a blockage caused by an individual’s time constraints has dire consequences on the rest of your operations. When your mid-level managers cannot find the time to properly evaluate, review, optimize, and support their teams, they get caught in inefficient labor-intensive processes, and the benefits of having recruited great strategic thinkers are practically – if not entirely – erased.

Instead, try redistributing some the workload in a manner that allows your best non-managerial performers to oversee, or at the very least help manage, your recruiting and development processes. A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses how Amazon has implemented such bar-raising practices, which lie on the following premise:

Bar raisers are skilled evaluators who, while holding full-time jobs at the company in a range of departments, play a crucial role in the hiring process by interviewing job candidates in other parts of the company.

By empowering your top employees to select and coach new talent, you help ensure that your workforce planning, recruiting, reviewing and professional development processes (now that it’s all combined into one) is:

  • Cost-effective (your top performers being ‘on the clock’ already)
  • Fitting to your organizational culture (who better to understand the behavioral traits that will strengthen or harm the welfare of other employees than those who take your success to heart)
  • Optimized to the task at hand (top performers understand what others lack and what is required to get the job done right)
  • Productive (freeing your managers and HR staff of some responsibilities to focus on areas of more pressing importance)

Many companies feel reluctant to implementing such a process when it is first brought to their attention; after all, letting go of the control means giving your employees the opportunity to fail. Yet, keep in mind that those you are giving power to are the same individuals who, day in and day out, exemplify the ability to change, accept extenuating circumstances, ask the tough questions, and earn a reputation for success… all without expecting extra compensation.

When dealing with having to do more with less, this delegation of responsibility opens up a whole new level of job performance, on which it is difficult to place a price tag.

Make time for strategic thinking to boost productivity

According to Mark Sanborn, president of Sanborn and Associates and best-selling author of The Fred Factor and You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader, most executives don’t think as much as they react to their environment.

The ability to think strategically is one of the most prominent competencies sought out in leaders, surpassing innovation; yet, a survey published on Talentlens.com reported that the competency most next-generation leaders lack the most is strategic thinking, followed by vision and the ability to understand the total enterprise, i.e., how the parts work together.

It may seem counter-productive to invest time each day to rethink operational processes when you are struggling to do more with less but remember that if you want to remain relevant with less resources, you need to fully leverage your executive expertise with the objective to draw up more cost-effective solutions.

In fact, a certifiedceo.com article reminds us that:

“Critical thinking enables leaders (…) to understand the impact of their decisions on the business as a whole, and ensures both alignment with organizational goals and accountability for results.”

If you’re not focusing on the big picture, there are very few chances that others will. What results from this are inefficient and outdated processes and reduced productivity for less-than-optimal results.

If there are always 3 sides to a story, there are always 3 solutions to a problem: your way, your competitors’ way and the right way. Critical and strategic thinking allows you to play the devil’s advocate to your ‘old’ ways, critique your competitors’ choices, and gather these results to find opportunities to carve your way forward. Creativity may seem to be key to doing more with less but in order to concoct creative solutions, you first need to sit down and think.

If you find yourself unable to make time to think, consider delegating some of your responsibilities to one of the employees you have identified as a potential successor. Of course, this requires you to have a valid succession planning system in place already, but we can help you with this as well. Click here to read a recent article about the development and implementation of a succession-planning program that ties into your competency-based multi-purpose approach described earlier.

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What if your employees controlled your recruiting process?

Raising the bar: What if your employees controlled your recruiting process?Whether they are for the purpose of recruiting, coaching or managing performance, competency models are intricate and complex processes to develop and implement. And as director, manager or CEO of a company that employs HR professionals, you may not view these tools as cost-efficient.

Yet, when used correctly, the proof of their efficiency stems beyond simply having narrowed down the right candidates for the job. Employees selected via carefully developed and customized competency models have the potential to become what field experts call “bar raisers”.

We have the proof in this week’s HR pudding.

A culture of stars selecting stars

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Amazon received some rather interesting press for having coveted the culture of bar-raising practices, and sticking to it. But just what do bar raisers do?

“Bar raisers are skilled evaluators who, while holding full-time jobs at the company in a range of departments, play a crucial role in the hiring process by interviewing job candidates in other parts of the company.”

In light of this definition, let’s revisit the title of this article: What if your bar raisers – those employees who go far and beyond their job description, with outstanding results – had a say in your recruiting talent management process?

Imagine that! Creating a business culture through which your star employees are empowered and trusted to select new stars. It’s certainly not mere luck that the process of recruiting and selecting the right candidates or developing employee performance could then lead to their initiation into that of a bar raiser. And yes, it all begins with developing and implementing the right competency models for your organization.

The foundation for performance

When used during the recruiting process, competency models have proven effective in identifying certain behaviors that could affect the welfare of other individuals or groups within an organization. Because they extend beyond the typical technical requirements for a given position, behavioral repertoires, such as motive and various personality traits, offer a better means of predicting an employee’s success within your company.

Knowing that, who better placed than your bar raisers to determine which competency or behavior benefits and which harms your group’s productivity as a whole? Imagine having your competency models developed by your bar raisers; those very individuals who, day in and day out, exemplify the ability to change, accept extenuating circumstances, ask the tough questions, and earn a reputation for success… all without expecting extra compensation. It’s not all rainbows and gumdrops, but it opens up a whole new level of job performance, on which it is difficult to place a price tag.

Read, network or call!

To learn more about how competency models can help you recruit or develop bar raisers, we invite you to browse other sections of our website, or register to attend our upcoming workshop in Washington, DC.

If you prefer, we also offer one-on-one consultations at your office. Simply contact us for more information.

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A Competency Model for Career Mobility

The Value of Competency Models for Employees: When Performance Evaluations Aren’t Enough for Career MobilityOur intention is not to burst your bubble about your professional future, but let’s be honest: Your potential to be promoted to other roles within your organization has most likely already been evaluated by your employer, based on the skills, competencies, knowledge and those ‘wish list’ attributes you are perceived to possess.

But just how accurate is your employer’s perception of your capabilities? And what if the skills required for the role you wish to obtain were competencies you haven’t been given the opportunity to demonstrate yet? Is there even a way for you to know what is contained in this proverbial wish list?

Evaluating the skills and knowledge you’ve already acquired and used in your current role is one thing, but it’s those intangibles on your employer’s ‘dream candidate’ wish list that truly make the difference in terms of assessing your potential for career mobility.

When organizations use customized competency models, it provides you – and all employees – the consistency and objectivity you need to understand not only your performance and potential, but also what it takes to move up. Think of these models as road maps to your professional success, charting your course towards the progression you seek in your career.

Core skills are not enough

If you’re looking for career mobility, it’s not enough to simply possess and master the core technical skills required by your current job role. What makes you most attractive and valuable to your organization is a combination of, yes, these core skills, but also personal and intangible competencies. These intangibles are what sets you apart and what makes you shine in the eye of your employer.

But intangibles are, by definition, things that are not concrete. More specifically, they can be explained as things you can grasp the meaning of, but can’t wrap your hands around. So how can you know what is expected of you and, better yet, how can you develop competencies that are typically so subjective?

In comparing candidates’ performance and potential, a competency model provides a consistent, objective and valid framework for the evaluation of your skills. If none exists, you cannot really know what is being used as a measuring stick, e.g. loyalty to boss, tenure, etc. A model allows your employer to give you clearer, more concise and understandable feedback about your strengths and development opportunities. For instance, would you prefer to hear “you need to work on your selling skills” or “you would be more effective in selling your ideas if you more actively sought to understand others’ needs and concerns before trying to promote your ideas”? The latter is a lot more specific and helpful to you.

A competency model therefore helps you build your own development plan by pointing to specific behaviors that you master and those that you should improve. That’s the true value of a competency model for you.

Half the battle to your aspirations

When your company hired you, they were most likely evaluating you against a holistic group of qualifications: core, personal and potential intangible skills. Really, half the battle to achieving your career aspirations has already been won – you’re hired!

Now, as your workplace and industry evolve, you are expected to continue to learn and develop new skills, to adapt to change and take ownership over your professional growth. A well-executed competency model approach can help provide this… and we can help!

To learn more, visit our webpage here and don’t hesitate to share this article with your employer!

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Career gold for you in your employer’s talent management process

Career GoldA truly effective competency modeling process doesn’t just serve the needs and purposes of the company or HR department; integrated with a performance management process, it can also include a focus on measurable outcomes and definable behaviors to help you, as an employee, by providing you the information you need to understand:

  1. What is expected of you in your current role – i.e., your performance objectives and scope of accountability
  2. The knowledge and skills you need to strengthen or develop in order to ensure a bright career path – in other words, your potential to grow and succeed within a particular field or company.Career Gold

Too often, employees tend to view performance evaluations as a one-way street; instead, you should view this process as an opportunity to not only increase your output in your current role, but to also build the skillset you need to access those very positions you have set your eyes on for the future.

Become your organization’s “wish list”

Competency models are one of the best tools an organization can give its workforce. We already know that companies invest many resources in developing and implementing talent management programs, typically with the primary objective to optimize their workforce’s performance. In addition to serving this purpose, competency models also support management’s complex task of communicating clear job expectations to employees – an area where too many unfortunately fail. This leads to employees’ low opinion of the usefulness of performance evaluations.

Fortunately, by developing a competency model for your job, management can include “wish lists” of expectations – at every job level and for every role in the organization.  A model allows you to understand what needs to be done to boost your performance in your current role, while providing you with valuable information regarding the skills you need to acquire for career mobility and progression.

Think of a competency model as a checklist of requirements on an application form. A professionally designed model is clear and concise, and always accompanied by a competency dictionary defining the different skills and behaviors, as they apply to the company. It’s easy to see, with such a carefully defined roadmap, how a model can benefit you, as an employee – whether you are looking to hone your skills or acquire new ones.

Take the reins of your performance

To employees, performance reviews often seem like yet another utopian corporate process, but when the right competency models are in place, your career, your future and your skills – all of the elements that define you professionally – are placed at the center of the process, affording you the opportunity to:

  • Assess your own strengths and potential for growth within a field and/or company
  • Increase your self-awareness and natural capabilities
  • Improve your success rate
  • Draw up the map to your ideal career mobility journey

As an added benefit, properly designed competency models allow you to take the reins of your performance by giving you the ability to track and document your own accomplishment, giving insight into how well you have acquired and demonstrated those “wish list” behavioral indicators your employer seeks.

Learn more – “How Can A Job Competency Model Benefit You Personally?”

Visit our website for more details about how competency models and other talent management tools can help you forge a path toward an exciting and successful career.

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Modernize and reduce the cost of your workforce planning strategies

Your HR team is tasked with many responsibilities: recruiting, performance management, coaching and training, compensation, succession, etc. But how do these functions tie in to your business goals? In other words: Is your HR department compliance driven, i.e., focused on independently dispensing services such as payroll and benefits, or is it integrated to your high-level business strategy?

According to HR expert Karen O’Leonard, business-integrated organizations have ‘40% lower turnover and more than twice the revenue per employee, as compared with compliance-driven organizations’. Additionally, these companies generate higher employee engagement, higher promotion rates, and superior capabilities in workforce planning, including succession.

The grass isn’t always greener: The benefits of looking inward

In a recent post, we mentioned how recruiting and talent management processes can no longer focus on a company’s immediate staffing needs. The typical idea of posting a job to find a qualified applicant to fill an open position is a passive and ineffective way to build a high-performing workforce. Plus, let’s face it: the recruiting process can quickly become very costly, as it has been shown to generate higher turnover rates.

As a result, more and more employers have been tweaking their workforce planning strategy to focus on developing leaders in house, instead of finding promising free agents on the marketplace. In fact, according to a study on leadership development, companies are now investing 14% more resources in developing leaders than they have in years, with a focus on training high-potential leaders, i.e., those individuals who are critical to a business meeting its goals now and in the future.

Show me – and the world – the money

It’s no secret that most organizations dream of compensating employees strictly based on performance. While this is difficult to implement as most workers seek a secure and steady salary, a business-integrated talent management process can help you allocate your payroll budget wisely by rewarding high performers. In other words, you still hold the power in driving performance… if you know how to show employees ‘what’s in it for them’.

One way to achieve the level of performance you seek is to ensure that your evaluation tools are not only intended for your HR staff to assess employees’ contribution to your organizational success, but also to identify the results these employees need to generate to get what they want: more money and better career mobility. By being transparent in your remuneration and performance evaluation process, you engage employees and set the roadmap to performance.

Case in point

Digital news publication, Quartz, just recently published an article about a social media startup, Buffer, which publishes the salaries of every one of its employees for the public to see. While this strategy is intended to make operations as transparent as possible, it also serves to explain how management calculates an employee’s worth. By creating a transparent formula, Buffer is working to promote long-term engagement with its workforce. And it is difficult to argue that such a transparent map to performance – and higher wages – isn’t likely to convince motivated employees to ‘get to work’.

The journey to self-reliance

Admittedly, changing your HR processes takes time and some level of investment. Yet, the payoff can be quite high – not only in monetary terms with considerable decreases in turnover costs, but also with respect to employee engagement, satisfaction and performance.

As you may know, at the very heart of an effective talent management and leadership development program are competencies and the first step to improving any workforce planning process first entails understanding the skills required for success in each role, and having the ability to accurately assess the strengths, weaknesses and intent of current employees. It’s by bridging that gap between where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow – rather than by filling an immediate void that may not be needed tomorrow – that you achieve success over the long term.

So instead of spending money on non-critical immediate hires, why not invest in training your HR team to better analyze and strategize for future needs?

For further assistance and tips on improving the output of your HR function, please contact us or browse our website for more insights.

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Keeping your Employees Engaged Lies in Their Future, Not Yours

Group of businesspeople having a meeting.According to a Bloomberg article, globally, 161.7 million workers are expected to depart from companies in 2014; that’s a 13% increase from 2012! At this rate, companies who do not take action today may be setting themselves up for extensive HR-related costs down the very short road ahead. For large companies, these costs can even translate to millions of dollars wasted on trying to offset a turnover ratio that could have been minimized with relatively simple practices.

Needless to say, this phenomenon leaves little doubt to the fact that one of the top issues facing organizations, leaders and managers in the New Year is employee retention.

Fulfillment in the workplace

When we hear of employee retention strategies, many first think of ‘engagement’. But what does this mean? How can you ensure you’re truly engaging your employees, and, most importantly, how do you keep that engagement level up week after week, month after month, year after year?

Surely, having engaged employees supports organizational success, at the very least through minimal turnover costs, but keeping employees engaged is no easy task. Essentially, engaged employees are fulfilled employees – i.e., employees who have everything they need to do their job effectively, under good conditions, and who take pride in what they accomplish and in the organization for which they work.

A great indicator of an effectively engaged workforce consists in employees who are not only present in the workplace day after day, but who are also invested in generating positive results for the company – rather than just performing a task in exchange for wages. This is often why small businesses attract spectacular talent, despite a lower salary range. These employees thrive on the challenge ahead, on the contribution they can make to this growing organization. They will often devote many more hours to the job, taking pleasure in knowing that their work will be noticed, rewarded and praised. In other words, they are given the opportunity to make a difference.

Finding ‘success” in succession planning

If you’re a larger size company, granting that level of freedom to all employees may prove to be a challenge, if not impossible. Instead, take a look at the reasons why your employees have chosen to be part of your organization. For many, the opportunity for career advancement is a driving force behind choosing a job within a large organization. If that’s the case, an effective engagement tool could very well be your succession planning system.

Every well-executed succession plan has goals – goals pertaining to change, productivity and costs, for example. These objectives have a far greater chance of coming to fruition with a workforce that is driven by career advancement and professional development. So why not invest in training an entry-level candidate with this passion and drive, instead of hiring a rightly skilled candidate who isn’t all that convinced about what the future holds? When looking at it from this perspective, the secret may lie in defining the right competencies for your organizational goals, instead of focusing strictly on job-specific (or technical) competencies.

The not-so-secret recipe to engagement and retention

There are many factors involved in engaging and retaining driven and talented employees, but begin by considering the following:

  • Do your practices ensure that your employees feel like they are “part of the team”? This means allowing employees the constant opportunity for a voice in the goings on within their department. Keeping them “in the loop,” so to speak.
  • Are your career advancement opportunities and higher-level job expectations clearly defined? Do your employees know what is expected of them to be afforded the chance to grow within your organization, or is it all guess work?
  • Are your employees being valued and recognized for their contribution – not just through a rewards system, but also with simple “thank you’s”?

To keep turnover costs low and retain your best talent, start thinking of your workforce in the same manner you would a personal relationship: Nurture, consider, listen and communicate. And most importantly, don’t ignore their desire to build a future of their own… with you.

To learn more about retention or succession planning strategies, contact us or browse our website for more information.


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Implement change through competency models

150x150_logo-no_textLooking back over this past year, it is clear that the topic of change is on everyone’s mind: Where is a given industry heading? Who has to change within the organization to allow it to succeed? And, of course, what elements will indefinitely change and how?

Numerous pundits have published their vision of tomorrow, particularly as the end draws to a close, but is predicting change really the key to success, or are organizations missing the general idea?

Workforce planning: The very definition of success

True organizational success depends on having the right employees with the right competencies at the right time. And this is where the real challenge lies, as being able to assess future needs before change has taken place is a much more crucial step toward success than identifying said change. It’s a simple matter of pro-activity.

Workforce planning is a coordination process, which seeks to identify gaps between the workforce of today and the human capital need for tomorrow. It is one of the most important HR issues being discussed today, as it carries multiple impacts on where a business can improve when done effectively, including:

  • Eliminating surprises
  • Smoothing out business cycles
  • Identifying problems early
  • Preventing problems before they happen

Proper workforce planning provides organizations with a strategic basis for making the right human resource decisions by anticipating needs as a result of change, rather than change itself.

Enabling a culture of change

It is important for organizations to act as enablers of change and organizational improvement in order to remain competitive, regardless of changes in their respective industries. This can be achieved by altering your leaders’ mindset and emphasizing unique abilities, such as:

  • The ability to take initiative
  • Demonstrating of a sense of urgency
  • Persisting in the face of resistance
  • Refusal to accept the status quo

When it comes to planning and implementing change-based competencies, there is great emphasis placed on understanding the difference between what constitutes a forward-thinking competency and general leadership competencies. The difference is often identified in job competency models. Once the distinction is clear, then a true change-focused culture can be implemented to prepare the company for the future.

The future is now

In reality, organizations cannot operate by simply anticipating change. They need to understand that actions must be taken today to be ready to act once change has arrived.

Whether your organization requires assistance in any or all aspects of change within your workforce, we can help. Please visit our website and take the first step into the New Year!

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Competency modeling: Think through the business needs

150x150_logo-no_textCompetency modeling is a mainstream HR management practice that has evolved considerable over the past 30 years, mainly in response to changes in organizations and the workplace.

Although not the objective of this article, it is interesting to understand why competency modeling took hold and became widespread. Of course, personal characteristics are, to many, more interesting than tasks, and insights about outstanding performance are more interesting than those about effective performance. But beyond personal preferences, the success of competency models is that they work well as unifying frameworks for a variety of applications in HR management. A manageable set of personal characteristics can serve as a conceptual framework for selection, assessment, professional development, performance management and other human resources programs.

What’s more, competency models describe emerging and anticipated skill requirements, rather than skills that have been effective in the past, which serves the needs of new or restructuring organizations.

Approach and applications: What’s your style?

If you’re contemplating building a competency model for your organization, you first need to identify the applications of the model (selection, assessment, professional development, performance management, etc.), as well as your business needs and culture in order to determine whether you need to implement a single-job model, a one-size-fits-all approach or a multiple-job model.

a. Single-Job approach

The single-job approach focuses on a single, narrowly defined job that is important to the organization’s success and for which there are at least 10 employees. This model may apply to more than one role, but the jobs covered by the model should have similar responsibilities and performance measures. For instance, this approach would be appropriate for sales representatives, customer service representatives and project managers.

Compared to the other two approaches, the single job approach is more time consuming and expensive to implement. Yet, it also has high face validity and high credibility with jobholders and their managers. The model provides a recipe for superior performance, and the specific behavioral descriptions are useful when developing training programs.

b. One-Size-Fits-All approach

The One-Size-Fits-All approach is typically applied to a broadly defined set of jobs that may have very different responsibilities and knowledge requirements, but share the same level, such as managers, associates or senior leaders. It serves to send a clear and simple message about the personal characteristics and skills that the organization considers to be important.

The competencies of this model are often described in general terms that are not job specific. As a result, employees may not feel that it applies well to their particular role. Yet, this approach is particularly appropriate when management wants to promote alignment with vision, values and strategy, with little complexity or when the budget for developing competency models is limited.

c. Multiple Jobs approach

In the Multiple Jobs approach, competency models are developed simultaneously for a set of jobs (e.g., all professional jobs in marketing; all R&D jobs, or all the job in a small organization).

To ensure consistency among the models, it is crucial to first identify a set of building block competencies from which each competency model will be constructed. One source of building block competencies is a generic competency dictionary, which is then adapted to fit the organization’s language and culture. These dictionaries typically focus on non-technical competencies so if the competency models need to include technical skills and knowledge, as is often the case, a set of relevant technical skill/knowledge competencies can be identified with the help of subject matter experts.

This approach is appropriate when HR staff plan to apply the competency models for career planning and succession planning, which involve matching employee assessments to the requirements of multiple jobs. One advantage is that the models cover many jobs in an organization, thus achieving a broad impact. Plus, the building block competencies can become a common conceptual framework for the requirements of different jobs and from which HR can develop a training curriculum and other developmental experiences applicable across jobs.

The right tools

Regardless of the approach or application of your model(s), you need to acquire the right tools to get you started. As previously mentioned, generic competency dictionaries are indeed a crucial tool for creating a framework of competencies within a job role or level. Furthermore, they allow the organization to build and implement integrated talent management systems.

Beyond the dictionaries, you may also want to look into acquiring competency development manuals, eDeveloper, 360° survey instruments and interview guides. Many of these tools can be purchased or licensed, and can prove to be indispensable to your modeling process.

To learn more about competency modeling steps, customizing a dictionary to your needs, or the tools that can further assist you in the process, click here: http://www.workitect.com/Products-and-Licenses/index.html

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