Your Competitive Edge depends on your Employees

3D_pyramidThe business of human resources is changing. Given the accelerated rate of turbulence in almost every aspect of the economy, HR professionals have to work harder than ever to maintain the knowledge, skills, insights and experience that prove relevant for the companies and competitive markets within which they work.

As the HR function is expected to effectively measure these characteristics during the crucial selection process, it must also seek an exact combination of these factors – knowledge, skills, insights, motives and experience – in every candidate in order to fill a role successfully and thus support the company’s viability and growth.

But in today’s changing workforce, this means getting more specialized, and this isn’t always easy if your HR processes are not keeping up with your evolving environment.

It’s not business as usual

As the future role of HR has begun to undergo change, competencies are now being used as an effective and highly accurate way to refocus an organization on what is really important to its success specifically, as well as what it takes for the workforce to be successful in achieving both their and the company’s main objectives. In other words, it is no longer a process that seeks to find a candidate who can ‘do a job,’ but now one that needs to determine if the prospective employee can do the job in a manner that consciously accomplishes the top business goals.

A customized technical competency model highlights specialized skills and proficiencies required within each job role, in addition to the behaviors, motives and self-traits sought out by the corporate culture. According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, implementing such a model further supports the future and success of the HR function within the business context, as it:

  • Provides a strategy that binds organizational culture and individual performance
  • Serves as a tool to explicitly define technical roles within the context of the overall business and market
  • Aligns individual performance with that of the organization, as well as with the industry within which it operates

An aptly tailored competency model that includes a set of technical skills for each role can prove to be the mechanism by which organizations link the specialized aspects of a particular job to the bottom line results desired by management. The outcome: a selection and recruitment process that is adapted to the evolution and goals of the organization, and a workforce that understands and works toward the same objectives.

Click here to learn how technical competencies can help your HR team gain a competitive edge.

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Are technological advancements undermining your HR processes?

man_using_clear_touchscreen_sqWith rapidly advancing technologies, the majority of industries are faced with the double challenge of 1) staying informed and current and 2) effectively integrating new systems, processes and software into existing job functions.

Within the context of an organization, and even more so in terms of human resources and job performance management, this modern reality can prove to be an even greater challenge, as the workforce naturally habituates itself to its acquired skills, while monetary investments needed to provide coaching on new developments seem to grow exponentially.

Even with a renewed workforce of students entering the job market, the tasks and responsibilities pertaining to a job are often not as expected, and the skills required to execute them therefore aren’t as perfectly aligned to the candidate as originally conceived.

So how can companies hope to find, attract, retain, and ‘update’ their workforce with the right technical competencies in their HR processes?

Not your average pyramid scheme

A competency model can be conceptualized as a pyramid, from personal competencies (or soft skills) at the base, to industry-specific and sector-specific skills in the middle, and task-specific competencies at the upper tier.

Competencies considered to be industry-specific are technical competencies pertaining to a very specific domain, role or industry; let’s think, for instance, of standards and certifications, core technologies and processing methods, etc. Because they are so technical, it can be extremely challenging for a ‘generalized’ HR function to both identify and update these competencies over time.

The benefit of dictionaries

Aside from the obvious benefit of providing a starting point and uniform language for the development of a competency model, a competency dictionary is often a crucial source of up-to-date industry-technical skills that will help you optimize your recruiting process and the performance management of your existing workforce.

You can also learn to identify, plan, and implement technical competencies into your competency model at our 1-day Creating Technical Competencies workshop.

Contact us for more information.

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Managing Role-Specific Technical Competencies

Health care professionals in lab.With the continuing evolution of the business environment, it has become necessary for companies to adopt a competency framework that is not only sufficiently solid and accurate to provide guidance to your workforce and HR staff, but also flexible enough to account for regular updates – and even additions – to role-specific skills.

In other words, your talent management or competency model should seek to identify the required technical, functional and professional skills for a given role, as well as be easily adaptable to change within your organization.

Let’s get technical

Technical competencies refer to the technical proficiency required for an employee to perform as expected within a job function.

In addition to supporting your hiring process, including a set of technical competencies provides opportunities for continuous learning and growth, which can be perceived as a real performance motivator for employees and a great talent management and retention strategy for your company.

Set it but don’t forget it: A dynamic process

There is no doubt that when executed skillfully, a set of well-defined and current technical competencies help you hire the right people for the job and, in turn, allow employees to become vital contributors to the success of your organization. After all, when you have a match between the employee’s competencies and those required to effectively perform the task at hand, it’s nothing short of a recruiting success!

However, in times of reorganizations or when a transition occurs within the workplace, it becomes necessary to assess the previously established competencies required to perform a task to ensure that they not only remain relevant to the updated role, but that the employee assigned to the task has retained and adapted to the revised position.

Because technical competencies are so job-specific, there are no competency dictionaries or libraries from which to draw competency definitions. You can however learn how to establish and manage technical competencies by collecting and analyzing the right data at different levels in specific jobs at our interactive 1-day Creating Technical Competencies workshop that can be scheduled on-site at your facility and can be combined with our 3-day Building Competency Models certification workshop.

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The Cost of Higher Quality Decision-Making

How do successful human resource teams manage to do more with less, thus earning their respective title? Less staff, less outsourcing… all thanks to higher quality decision-making, which drives lower costs. Sounds easy enough, right? It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Here’s a little insight to how having an integrated talent management approach can help manage costs and promote resiliency.

Foster resiliency, foster freedom

We all ideally want to achieve that sense of purpose in our careers – after all, our “job” is simply an aspect of identity, while our “career” serves as an aspect of our lives. When the concept of resiliency is fostered by the HR function, both parties (HR and employees) are provided the freedom to make choices and act on them, thus allowing everyone involved to feel ‘in control’ of their professional life. This, in turn, assists in boosting productivity and overall performance.

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Some tips for promoting resiliency include:

  • Engaging employees via communication regarding the influence they hold in daily tasks and their career paths.
  • Re-framing stress into opportunities for growth & development (i.e., incentives).
  • Cultivating creativity by involving employees in the process of any organizational change.

Research has shown that the more an individual views their job as a calling rather than simply a set of tasks, the more committed they are in the workplace. By fostering resiliency and applying tips, such as those mentioned in the above bullet points, you allow your employees to adopt a sense of freedom and true purpose – and a better chance they will stick around in the face of high-stress situations or corporate change.

Sharing a common language

Along with cultivating a resilient staff, successful HR organizations understand how to remain focused on the business’s objectives in order to effectively identify the skills needed for the job, both present day and well into the future.

Before adopting a talent management program, it’s important to recognize what it means for the HR function to ‘share a common language’. An integrated talent management system shares a communicative architecture, contrasting from a typical system where:

1)     Selection decisions are made via one set of criteria

2)     Performance is appraised on a second set of criteria

3)     The training function teaches a third set of skills

Using a more integrated approach, for example a selection decision, is based on the understanding of not only on how employees should be identified, but how their skills align with the company’s vision and culture.

To learn how you can begin taking the first steps to successfully do more with less by fostering resiliency and building an effectively integrated talent management system, please visit our webpage.

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Developing Technical Competencies

Technical womanThe demand for and interest in technical competencies has significantly increased in the past few years.  When the concept of competencies first emerged, the focus was largely on the behavioral factors that led to successful or exceptional performance in a job.  The original positions targeted were generally leadership jobs.  The models were created to identify and describe what differentiated the best managers from the rest.

The positions targeted for development of competency models have evolved to include a variety of individual contributor roles where there is much more emphasis on technical knowledge and skill requirements.  We have found that technical competency models can be created using similar approaches to those we use in developing traditional behavioral (non-technical) with a few notable differences:

  • For technical competencies, we are much more reliant on the expertise of incumbents and their managers to identify both the competencies and the behavioral indicators.  While we may have an in-depth understanding of what the influence competency involves and the typical behavioral indicators, our understanding of an engineering competency called “uses technical models and tools” is very limited.   We use resource panels made up of incumbents and managers to identify the technical competencies and create definitions for each.
  • While using levels with behavioral competencies is common, we seldom see a technical model that doesn’t have levels.  The 4 levels are typically labeled Basic Proficiency, Intermediate Proficiency. Full Proficiency, and Expert.  Again, we rely on the SMEs to write the definitions of the levels as part of the resource panel activities.
  • Finally, we work with the managers of the department to determine the technical competencies required for each job and the needed proficiency level.  This builds consensus among the leaders about the technical requirements for each job.  We also find that it defines the difference between jobs, e.g. the difference between an engineer 1 and an engineer 2, which is welcomed by the jobholders.

Technical competencies models can be used to define the essential levels of knowledge and skill that technical professionals need for effective performance.  However, when it comes to determining what differentiates the best technical professionals from the rest, we find those answers lie within what we traditionally have labeled as the behavioral competencies.

We teach people how to create technical competencies and a technical competencies dictionary in our Creating Technical Competencies workshop.

Author: Dick Gerlach

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Selecting for Success: Succession Planning

Talent Management PuzzleThe challenge with any corporate succession plan is ensuring its adaptability to the dynamic nature of the actual succession process, as well as the shifting demands of a given position. Translation: gaining a baseline assessment of your internal candidates, truly understanding the talent pool, avoiding the myths associated with the process, and implementing the right competencies once the requirements for a position have been determined.

Of course, as with any plan, the hardest part is execution. Have you tested your selection process recently?

The myths surrounding succession plan failure

There is a common misconception of how to go about the business of succession planning, and top management and board members are often quick to assume that they cannot truly find a viable successor from inside their organization. This often leads to several myths, including:

  • External candidates are more exciting and/or promising
  • The successor has to be ready “now”
  • What worked in the past will work in the future

In such scenarios, it is frequent to observe that failure with succession planning has nothing to do with the competencies of employees, but with the company’s establishment and assessment of these very competencies.

Look far and wide

The first step is, of course, to identify the competencies of the top performers in each job, ensuring that the competencies match the responsibilities of the job. Once the requirements for a given position have been determined, you must gain a baseline assessment of your internal candidates. Avoid focusing on favorites or those who have been high performers in their current role – this is not always indicative of how they will do in the future.

Instead, look wide and deep to better understand the talent pool within your organization. It is critical to create and continually refocus a succession plan on the moving target – that being the knowledge, skills and abilities (competencies) the successor for any role will need in order to succeed. It is only at this point that you can begin to make decisions about candidates.

You can read more about this topic in the article “Succession Planning: How To Do It Right” on Forbes.com.

To learn more on how we can help you design a competency-based succession plan, please visit our webpage.

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Key Questions to Answer before Building Competency Models

HumanResources_WordCloud_v2 copyWhen planning the development of a competency model or models, there are practical considerations that affect the design of the project, the format and content of the competency model, and the success of the project’s implementation. There are key questions to answer before building competency models, including “what HR application should be included in the initial model-building project?”.

Some organizations build a competency model but never get around to applying it. And a competency model alone provides little value to anyone. It is essential to have a particular HR application in mind when building a model and build the implementation of that application into the initial project plan.

There are three important reasons for doing this.

  1. The nature of the intended application can shape the data collection and analysis.
  2. The planned application can shape the format of the model, especially its behavioral descriptors. Having a clear idea of the model’s intended application shapes both the data collection plan and the format in which the model was presented.
  3. Ensuring that money and other resources will be available for the application. If the initial application is not part of the budget for the model-building project, there is a chance that financial support will no longer be available when the competency model has been completed. The organization receives little benefit from its investment, until the model is applied in a way that enhances productivity.

From “Practical Questions for HR Professionals Who Are Building Competency Models

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The First Competency Model

Harvard University

Harvard University

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

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

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

Workitect uses the McBer methodology to build competency models.

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What about Performance Management?

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

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

 A system for sustainable growth

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

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

CirclesGraphicResults equal rewards

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

Invest in your best

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

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

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The Competent New Human Resources Manager

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

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

The competency connection

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

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

Beyond human resource knowledge…

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

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

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

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

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