Tailor job competency models to your organization’s vision, mission, and shared values

 

OFF-THE-SHELF COMPETENCY MODELS ARE NOT EFFECTIVE

We often get requests from organizations wanting to acquire off-the-shelf generic competency models. Can a generic off-the-shelf competency model be effective?  Don’t jobs with the same title require pretty much the same competencies in all organizations? Yes and No. I have yet to build a model for a sales job that didn’t include “influencing others” or “persuasive communications” as a competency. But, top performing sales people in one organization may have a team selling approach requiring the “fostering teamwork” competency, while it not being important in a different organization. And how is it possible for someone who is successful in one company to go to another company in what appears to be an identical position, and not be successful?

The job duties of a position may differ by industry or business strategy, thus requiring different competencies. Each organization has its own culture and “way of doing business”. Even a small difference could be critical.

Tailored models also permit an organization to imbed certain competencies in each model that reflect the vision, mission and shared values of the organization.

 

Workitect consultants only build models that are tailored to an organization, and teach internal consultants how to build their own tailored models in our Building Competency Models workshop, next scheduled for November 7-9.

Learn more about Workitect’s model building methodology and competency dictionary that is used to facilitate the building of models.

Our Model-Building Methodology
Our methodology for building job competency models is based on the Job Competence Assessment (JCA) methodology developed by Dr. David McClelland, a pioneer in motivation and competency research and testing at Harvard, and by the consultants at McBer and Company.

The modeling process starts with superior performers in a targeted job being identified, and then studied to identify the personal characteristics, skills, and knowledge that they possess that enables them to be superior performers. The methods used to collect data for building the model, such as behavioral event interviews and expert panels, are designed to get beneath mere opinions about superior performance and superior performers. Therefore, subjective data derived through group discussion, voting, or card-sorting are not components of our process.

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Six Steps to Building Competency Models Step 1: Conceptualizing the Project

The 6-step process infographic shown below is used by Workitect’s consultants to build job competency models for organizations, and is taught in the Building Competency Models workshop.
This blog will describe Step 1: CONCEPTUALIZING THE PROJECT


 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 1 – CONCEPTUALIZING THE PROJECT

The key components of conceptualizing the project are:

  • Thinking through the need
  • Clarifying the need through discussions with the sponsor and other key stakeholders
  • Developing an approach
  • Gaining the sponsor’s support for the approach

A. Thinking through the Need
In thinking through the need, it is helpful to consider the following questions:

  • What is the business need for the competency model(s)?
  • What HR applications will be built using the competency model(s) to address the business need?
  • What is the organizational context?
    • What business or organizational changes have occurred?
    • What other competency models exist or are planned?
    • Has the organization developed a mission or values statement?
    • What is the organization’s strategic plan or direction?
    • What aspects of the organization’s culture should be taken into account when considering this work?
    • What HR applications and programs are already in place for selection, professional development, assessment, and performance management?
    • Who will sponsor this work? What are the sponsor’s needs and concerns?
    • What other key stakeholders will be affected by the competency model and its applications? What are their needs and concerns?

B. Clarifying the Need
You probably will not have answers to all of the above questions and it is likely that the sponsor and other key stakeholders will have perspectives and concerns that you have not thought of. By talking with your sponsor and with some other key stakeholders, you can clarify what is needed. In addition, sounding out key stakeholders and demonstrating interest in their needs, you will begin to build support for the project.

C. Developing an Approach
There are three main approaches to competency model building. Developing an approach involves selecting one of the approaches and adapting it to the needs of the organization. The three approaches are:

  • Single Job Competency Model
  • One-Size-Fits-All Approach
  • Multiple Job Approach

A project usually focuses on one of these approaches, although it is possible to use a combination of these approaches within one organization.

  – Single Job Competency Model
This approach focuses on a single, narrowly defined job that is important to the organization’s success and has at least 10 job-holders. The jobs covered by the competency model should have similar responsibilities and performance measures. Any requirements for technical skill or knowledge should be similar across the set of jobs. Examples of jobs for which a single job competency model is appropriate include sales representative, customer service representative, project manager, and plant manager.

The single job approach uses extensive and rigorous data collection, to ensure that the competency model contains highly specific behavioral descriptions of what one needs to do and how, in order to achieve superior results. This approach often includes a detailed breakdown of the main responsibilities and tasks and shows how they are linked to the competencies. Compared to the other two approaches, the single job approach is more time consuming and expensive to implement.

  – One-Size-Fits-All Approach
In the One-Size-Fits-All Approach a competency model is developed for a broadly defined set of jobs that may have very different responsibilities and knowledge requirements. Most often, the competency model is developed for one level of jobs, such as managers, associates, or senior leaders.

The competency model often includes competencies selected for alignment with the company’s values and strategic direction. Thus competencies may have names like “Fostering Teamwork” or “Results Orientation.” The competencies are often described in general terms that are not job specific, since the competency model covers a broad range of jobs which may have significantly different responsibilities.

  – 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). This approach is appropriate whenever competency models are needed for several jobs within an organization. The approach is especially useful when it is important to specify technical skill/knowledge requirements.

This approach is also 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. Because the administrative management of multiple competency models can be complex, many good technological solutions have been developed for this purpose. Some involve purchasing or leasing software, while others involve purchasing a license to use web-based applications that reside on third party servers. Technology facilitates competency assessment, development planning, and internal selection.

D. Gaining the Sponsor’s Support for the Approach
Before you can begin a competency-modeling project, you need to have your sponsor’s support, first for the general conceptual approach and later for a project plan that specifies the time, money and other resources that will be required. Before developing a detailed plan, it is useful to ensure that the sponsor supports your general conceptual approach. Therefore, you need to share your approach with the sponsor and check to see if you have your sponsor’s support. You can do this in an in-person or telephone meeting.

Next Blog: Step 2 – Project Planning

 

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Are You Including the Right Competencies In Your HRIS?

A Competency is an underlying personal characteristic of an individual expressed through behaviors that lead to superior performance.  Example: Empowering Others – conveying confidence in employees’ ability to be successful, especially at challenging new tasks; delegating significant responsibility and authority; allowing employees freedom to decide how they will accomplish their goals and resolve issues.

A Competency Model describes the responsibilities and performance measures, and the 8-20 competencies needed for effective or superior performance, in a specific job or role in a specific organization. Examples:
Marketing Representative
Project Manager
Account Representative
Executive Staff
___________________________________________________________________________

INCLUDING COMPETENCIES IN A HRIS

When a company considers or purchases human resource information system software, the software usually comes with a pre-loaded list of competencies that are integrated into the HR applications in the system. The competencies that are selected for inclusion in the system usually come from several different sources:

  1. Off-the-shelf competency models or pseudo models, such as job descriptions (mistaken for competency models), for job categories. For example, there are many different existing profiles or models of a generic manager job or sales representative job.
  2. Competency dictionaries or libraries compiled by an HRIS company’s staff from existing lists of competencies, usually based on the experience of a consulting firm, writer, or academic institution.
  3. Surveys and brainstorming sessions within a company, tabulating opinions about competencies required within the organization for effective or superior performance.

The problem with using these sources is that the competencies and models are:

  •  Not created with a proven research-based methodology
  •  Not tailored to the organization 

As a result, the applications may include competencies that will not lead to effective or superior performance. In fact, selecting and developing the wrong competencies may lead to failed performance.

The rationale for developing competency models customized to the organization is further explained in “Doing Competencies Well: 20 Best Practices in Competency Modeling”.* The 17th best practice is:

         Using Competencies to Develop A Practical “Theory” of
         Effective Job Performance Tailored to the Organization
Competency models explain the nature of effective performance in an organization.      They describe what really matters in terms of job performance and how to be successful. In this way, they are not only much more than lists of KSAOs (Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Other Characteristics) or job descriptions that result from job analysis, but instead are more of a theory in the following ways (Whetten, 1989):

  • They explain why the KSAOs matter in terms of creating effective job performance, connecting with organizational goals, and so on.
  • They usually include a description of the process (how effective performance occurs) as well as the content (what is effective performance).
  • They are internally consistent in that performance on one competency should not conflict with performance on another competency. They should reinforce each other in clear ways.
  • They predict and explain successful performance in a wide range (hopefully all) of job domains.
  • They may inform judgments with respect to likely outcomes (e.g., who will get hired, promoted, or rewarded).
  • They are provocative and promote thought and discussion about effective job performance. As such, they should yield more insight than a list of KSAOs.

HOW TO DEVELOP A “TAILORED” MODEL

  • Identify the Superior Performers
    In specific job or role, based on:
    Performance measurements/results
    Ratings by supervisors, subordinates, peers, and/or customers
  • Collect Data
    Behavioral Event Interviews
    Resource/Expert Panels
    Expert system data base
  • Create Model
    Identify Job Tasks & Job Competency Requirements, “Competency Model”

The complete six-step process that is used in our model-building work and taught in our Building Competency Models workshop is shown below.

THE RIGHT COMPETENCIES TO INCLUDE IN A HRIS

Include competencies that have been identified, through an objective model building methodology, to be possessed by the effective and superior performers in your unique organization. Review the competencies that are already included in the HRIS software. If they don’t match up with the ones that are included in your competency models, ask that they be included. The competencies may be contained in a competency dictionary that you used to build the models.

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How to Improve the Influencing of Others

IMPORTANCE OF INFLUENCING OTHERS
This competency, which is the ability to get others to do what you would like them to do, is fundamental to many goals and activities at work: selling, enlisting support for ideas, obtaining resources, motivating subordinates, energizing teams, and building support for an organizational vision. The higher your level in an organization, the more important is this competency.
More and more organizations are moving away from hierarchical organizations, in which influence depends heavily on the use of positional power. The increasing use of teams requires Influence Skill, rather than authority, to gain support.

DEFINITION OF “INFLUENCING OTHERS”: The ability to gain others’ support for ideas, proposals, projects, and solutions.

  1. Presents arguments that address other’s most important concerns and issues and looks for win-win solutions
  2. Involves others in a process or decision, to ensure their support
  3. Offers trade-offs or exchanges, to gain commitment
  4. Identifies and proposes solutions that benefit all parties involved in a situation
  5. Enlists experts or third parties to influence others
  6. Develops other indirect strategies to influence others
  7. Knows when to escalate critical issues to own or other’s management, if own efforts to enlist support have not succeeded
  8. Structures situations (e.g., the setting, persons present, sequence of events) to create a desired impact and to maximize the chances of a favorable outcome
  9. Works to make a particular impression on others
  10. Identifies and targets influence efforts at the real decision makers and those who can influence them
  11. Seeks out and builds relationships with others who can provide information, intelligence, career support, potential business, and other forms of help
  12. Takes a personal interest in others (e.g., by asking about their concerns, interests, family, friends, hobbies), to develop relationships
  13. Accurately anticipates the implications of events or decisions for various stock holders in the organization and plans strategy accordingly.

General Considerations in Developing this Competency
As the behaviors for this competency show, there are a wide variety of ways in which this competency can be demonstrated. Most of these ways involve careful analysis of the needs, interests, concerns, and fears of the persons to be influenced. Based on this analysis, the skillful influencer considers alternative approaches and develops influence strategies. The strategies reflect thinking that is not always shown in observable behavior. Developing Influencing Others requires learning this kind of thinking.

One of the best methods to develop Influencing Others is to work closely with a skilled influencer planning influence strategies. Another method is to learn about influence strategies through courses and books. Using influence strategies effectively requires practice and feedback. Courses which involve role playing and feedback can provide this practice.

This competency builds on several other competencies, especially Interpersonal Awareness and Persuasive Communication. Developing these competencies will help develop Influencing Others. In addition, Influencing Others often requires knowing or learning about the politics of an organization: the histories and agendas of different groups and the decision makers and key influences of particular types of decisions.

Practicing this Competency

  • The next time you need to influence someone, ask that person or others what are his/her most important needs and concerns.
  • Try to think of a solution that will address the other person’s needs or concerns while meeting your own objectives.
  • Consider involving others (by asking for input, checking out possible approaches, or working with them to develop a plan) to gain their support.
  • Think about what you can offer the other person or group in exchange for what you would like from this person or group.
  • Try to think of solutions that will benefit everyone involved in a situation. The book, Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, provides many useful ideas for doing this.
  • If an issue is critical and you have exhausted other approaches, consider escalating the issue to your own manager or the other person’s manager. This is a strategy which should be used only when absolutely necessary, since it often provokes negative reactions in the other person.
  • Before an important meeting, at which it is important to gain the support of another person or group, consider what you can do to structure the event (e.g., by orchestrating the setting, attendees, sequence of events, refreshments, entertainment) to achieve a desired outcome.
  • To influence a decision in your own organization or a client’s, try to learn who the decision makers are and what their concerns are likely to be. Try to talk directly to the real decision makers.
  • To build a basis for influence efforts in the future, develop and maintain relationships with others from whom you may need support. Find ways to help them. Try to learn about their interests and concerns.

Obtaining Feedback
Before implementing an influence strategy, discuss it with others and ask for their feedback and suggestions. After an interaction in which you tried to enlist the support of an individual or group, ask a colleague who was present for feedback and suggestions on your influence efforts.

Learning from Experts
Look for opportunities to work closely with skilled influences on tasks requiring the development of influence strategies e.g., planning a presentation or sales call, leading a group to achieve a particular outcome.
Observe a skilled influencer using influence skills in situations such as sales calls, speeches, meetings with subordinates, meetings to build relationships. Notice what the person says, how he/she says it, and the verbal and nonverbal reactions of the persons present.
Interview a skilled influencer about times when this person successfully influenced others. Try to get the sequence of what the person did and thought. Recognize that the person you interview may be reluctant to discuss some influence efforts, particularly those used to influence the person’s current supervisor.

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

  • Involve this person in some of your own influence efforts and share your thinking about your goals, plans, and the reasons underlying them.
  • Provide assignments requiring the use of influence skills: e.g., developing a presentation to senior management; planning a meeting with another group whose cooperation is needed. Provide suggestions and feedback on the planning and implementation of influence strategies.
  • Provide opportunities for this person to work closely with skilled influences.

Sample Development Goals

  • By September 10, I will read Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury and use what I learn to develop a strategy for gaining the cooperation of the R&D Division.
  • By November 3, I will hold meetings to build relationships with 5 individuals from other departments, whose support I may need over the coming year.
  • Before the October 5 sales meeting with Central Information, I will call the two project managers they are inviting to that meeting to learn what they would like to gain from the meeting. I will then plan and deliver a presentation that addresses these needs and interests.
  • By December 15, I will complete a course on Influencing Others.

Resources for Developing this Competency
Books, learning programs, courses, and other resources are listed in Workitect’s Competency Development Guide, a 280-page, 8.5″ x 11″ spiral bound handbook for the development of 35 competencies. An online version, the eDeveloper, and licenses for organization-wide use are available.

Other Applications

For many organizations, the guide has been a key component of an integrated competency-based talent management system that includes job competency models built with a competency dictionary of 35 competencies, interview guides, and 360 assessments.

Also available for HR professionals: the Resource Guide for Developing Global HR Competencies, second edition of a 166-page spiral-bound book that provides a comprehensive listing of resources for developing 18 strategic and tactical HR competencies required of HR professionals working anywhere in the world, including in locations with limited access to resources.

Contact us for additional information.

Join our LinkedIn Competency-Based Talent Management Group.

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Benefits of an Integrated Competency Based HR System

ATTEND WORKITECT’S BUILDING COMPETENCY MODELS CERTIFICATION  WORKSHOP ON NOVEMBER 7-9 AND LEARN HOW TO CREATE TAILORED COMPETENCY MODELS AND AN INTEGRATED COMPETENCY-BASED HR SYSTEM.

There are many bottom-line benefits of a competency-based HR system. Employee motivation leads to increased productivity and higher profits.  But the real values of an integrated human resource system are more complex–and more powerful.  Focusing on competencies will renew your company.  You’ll uncover startling energies and synergies that can give you the responsive, competitive edge you need.  Here’s what you can expect:

Enhanced Management:  With corporate goals clearly defined and a system of employee rewards in place that supports those goals, managers feel empowered.  They communicate more effectively with subordinates and with each other. Work proceeds more efficiently.  Quality measures go up.

Motivated and Committed Employees:  By involving employees in building your new competency-based system, you  ensure their early engagement with it.  And because the new system rewards employees for overcoming real, daily challenges, workers develop a sense of appreciation and commitment.  Less time is lost to wasteful activities.  Employees put creative energy into completing their tasks.

Increased Organization Effectiveness:  As all levels of your organization align with company goals, overall effectiveness increases dramatically.  And the focus on adding and refining key competencies augments this increase continuously.  Individual employees become more effective and, as a whole, your company becomes more dynamic, more competent.

Easier Cultural Change and Organizational Improvement: 
A competency-based, integrated human resource system supports your company’s strategic direction.  Necessary change becomes simpler when both management and employee goals are defined in terms of the company’s success.  With little incentive to cling to older methods or attitudes, both management and employees participate more willingly when change is necessary.

Increased Resilience to Market Pressures:  Your company responds to outside stresses not as threats but as challenges.  At every level, the goal is not individual survival but group adaptation.  By linking employee well-being to corporate health, you tap the creativity and motivation you need to stay competitive.

Cost Savings and Increased Productivity:  An integrated human resource system cuts redundancy and waste.  It gives overlapping and competing departments incentive to cooperate and coordinate their work.  Individual employees see that they benefit by finding more efficient, effective ways to do their work.  Less time and material are wasted.  Productivity goes up.

Read a white paper on Integrating HR & Talent Management Processes.
Learn more about creating an integrated competency system for your organization.
Contact Workitect for information about our services and products.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September, 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Conduct an On-Site Building Competency Models Workshop

Building Competency Models workshop has been conducted on-site for Google, Air Canada, the U.S. Department of Defense, and other organizations. This workshop, and others, such as the Creating Technical Competencies workshop and Interviewing for Competencies workshop, are effective at training and certifying individuals and small teams to develop job competency models and HR applications. But, each organization has its own particular needs and situation that are difficult to address in a public workshop, even with an hour of individual consulting help that is a part of the BCM program. Onsite programs can be customized to the special needs of an organization. Consulting assistance can be a larger component, technical competencies can be included, or organizational issues addressed.

Other benefits include being able to:

  • Evaluate, and possibly modify, past or existing model building approaches,
  • Focus on strategy, planning, and implementation of specific applications
  • Achieve synergy; prepare implementation team members to collaborate and support each other
  • Ensure consistency in applying model building methodology
  • Obtain cost-savings; training more people with no travel costs

Here are a few examples of on-site workshops and planning sessions that have been conducted by Workitect:

Google:

This 3-day workshop was tailored and conducted for HR and non-HR staff responsible for rolling out a project for Google Fiber that involved the staffing of a new organization to install a fiber-optic high speed internet and TV service in major cities throughout the USA.

ac_white_stkAir Canada:

Our 3-day Building Competency Models workshop was modified to devote more time to plan the implementation of the various competency modeling approaches, and on the development of three high priority HR applications.

braskemBraskem (formerly Sunoco Chemical):

Tailored a 3-day workshop that combined the essentials of both the building competency models and building technical competencies sessions for the HR staff. The workshop also focused on developing a consistent approach for building models throughout the company.

“Workitect demystified the competency development process and gave us the confidence to move forward with our program.”

Kelly Elizardo
Director, Learning & Development

attachmentFranklin Templeton:

We developed and delivered a 2-day working session to review the essential of building competency models with the company’s HRD staff.  The second part of the program was to build expertise in how to explain and sell the benefits of competencies to clients and to facilitate a consistent process for building models throughout the company.

dod20ig20logoU.S. Department of Defense, Inspector General Office:

We delivered two 4-day on-site sessions for the staff who are charged with building models for their organization. The workshops included both building competency models and building technical models.

“This course is simultaneously practical, comprehensive, and intellectually rigorous. By providing the project methodology and modeling methodology, Workitect has given me all I need to succeed. I am ready to go!”

Deane Williams
Program Manager

Review a typical agenda for an on-site workshop.

To schedule an on-site workshop, contact Ed Cripe at 800-870-9490 or ec@workitect.com.

Editor’s Note; This post was originally posted in April, 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Develop a Job Competency “Profile”

Job Competency Model “Lite”.
Using a Virtual Resource Panel.
Apply the data to the development of a complete model.

This is an abridged competency model using a virtual resource panel and surveys to use when it is impractical to convene a standard resource panel of job incumbents, managers of job incumbents and other subject matter experts in one geographic location and at one time.

Data is collected and analyzed by a Workitect consultant who provides a summary and recommendations based on data about the job, obtained through a virtual resource/expert panel (VRP), i.e. an on-line, web-based survey containing open-ended questions and questions requiring ratings.

Purpose:

  • Improve an existing model
  • Build a model for a particular job or class of jobs that have similar tasks and competencies
  • Use when it is impractical to convene a standard resource panel of job incumbents, managers of job incumbents and other subject matter experts in one geographic location and at one time

The Output

  • A verbatim printout of all responses to all questions on the survey
  • A summary of the responses, including identification and tabulation of key themes in response to qualitative questions, tabulation of average ratings on all quantitative questions, and suggested competencies for a draft competency model.
  • Suggested non-technical generic competencies for the target job taken from Workitect’s Competency Dictionary. Any technical competencies that are identified are based on language used by panel members in their responses to questions about technical skill/knowledge requirements.

Advantages

  • Requires less time and cost to complete
  • Collect data from geographically dispersed participants
  • Apply the data to the development of a complete model

CONTENTS OF JOB COMPETENCY PROFILE REPORT

  • The Virtual Resource Panel Respondents
  • Main Responsibilities for the Job
  • Performance Criteria and Measures
  • Technical Skill Requirements
  • Trends in Technology, Industry, and the Company
  • Average Importance Ratings for Generic Competencies
  • Generic Competencies Ranked by Importance Rating
  • Relationship of Main Responsibilities to Generic Competencies
  • Competencies Recommended for Inclusion in the Competency Model
  • Most Challenging Aspects of the Job
  • Definitions and Behaviors for the Generic Competencies
  • Main Responsibilities

Sample Report

How it Works

As an alternative to a standard Resource Panel,  this virtual resource panel is an on-line survey allows panel members to provide the same information that they would in a standard session, but individually and at their own convenience and in their own work location. Participants are sent an email with a link to the survey set up in Survey Monkey.

Participants copy the survey link for their project into their internet browser and take about 30 minutes to complete the survey. A consultant downloads the survey responses, reviews and analyzes them, and prepares a synthesis based on themes mentioned by multiple panel members. It may be useful to set the stage for a Virtual Resource Panel by holding a conference call with the participants to explain and sell the project. Later, a second conference call can be held to review the synthesis of the panel members’ input.

Contact us for more information.

Learn more about competencies and competency models.

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Behavioral Descriptors – Options for Job Competency Models

Much of the value of a competency model comes from its behavioral descriptors. There are three main options for Human Resources staff to consider: (1) behavioral indicators, (2) evaluative competency levels, and (3) competency levels describing job requirements.

1. Behavioral Indicators
The majority of competency models use the first and simplest option, behavioral indicators. Behavioral indicators are descriptions of behaviors and thought patterns that are hypothesized to contribute to superior performance. A competency’s definition represents an underlying ability or trait, and the behavioral indicators describe specific ways in which that ability or trait is demonstrated. For example, in a generic competency framework the competency, “Interpersonal Awareness,” has the following definition and behavioral indicators:

Interpersonal Awareness:  The ability to notice, interpret, and anticipate others’ concerns and feelings, and to communicate this awareness empathetically to others.
a) Understands the interests and important concerns of others.
b) Notices and accurately interprets what others are feeling, based on their choice of words, tone of voice, expressions, and other nonverbal behavior.
c) Anticipates how others will react to a situation.
d) Listens attentively to people’s ideas and concerns.
e) Understands both the strengths and weaknesses of others.
f) Understands the unspoken meaning in a situation.
g) Says or does things to address others’ concerns.
h) Finds non-threatening ways to approach others about sensitive issues.

When behavioral indicators are used in a specific competency model, they are sometimes altered or written more specifically, to describe how the behavior is demonstrated in this job. For example, indicator (b) above was rewritten for use in a sales competency model:
“Notices nonverbal behavior and asks questions, when appropriate, to clarify its meaning”

Creating good behavioral indicators depends on conducting and analyzing critical event interviews with outstanding performers. Each behavioral indicator is a theme derived from examples from several interviews. Behavioral indicators can also be taken or adapted from a generic competency dictionary, which includes generic competencies and behavioral indicators previously identified in several competency models.

2. Evaluative Competency Levels
The second option for behavioral descriptors is to use evaluative competency levels. Under this option, several key dimensions are identified for each competency, and each dimension is ranked in order of effectiveness. The highest level describes outstanding performance, and the lowest level describes poor performance. Lyle and Signe Spencer used this approach to develop a generic set of competencies with levels. For example, one generic competency, “Interpersonal Understanding,” has two aspects: (a) depth of understanding of others, and (b) listening and responding to others. Listening and responding to others has these levels:

-1 Unsympathetic
0  Not applicable or makes no attempt to listen
1  Listens
2  Makes self available to listen
3  Predicts others’ responses
4  Listens responsively
5  Acts to help

Each level has more specific behavioral descriptors, which are too lengthy to reproduce here. But, as an example, the behavioral descriptor for Level 4 is, “Reflects people’s concerns, is easy to talk to; or responds to people’s concerns by altering own behavior in a helpful, responsive manner.”

When this approach is used, the levels form a behaviorally anchored rating scale. Whether this kind of rating scale improves the reliability and validity of measurement is open to question, since behaviorally anchored rating scales have generally proved to be no more reliable and valid than other, simpler rating scales.

Rating scales with three or more levels for each dimension of a competency are generally too cumbersome. There are too many behavioral descriptions to read, when assessing someone on twelve competencies, each with two to four dimensions, with each dimension further broken down into four or more descriptors of different performance levels. It may be more useful to specify only the highest and lowest levels, as in the following example of a rating scale used to assess a competency called “Personal Credibility:”

ResearchReport_Chart_1

Creating behavioral descriptors in the form of evaluative performance levels is most useful when performance appraisal is planned as an immediate application. Once the competencies for the job are identified, the content for the rating scales can be determined by meeting with managers of persons in the target job. Key evaluative aspects for each competency can be discussed and identified.

3. Competency Levels Describing Job Requirements
A third option for descriptors is to create levels describing the extent to which a competency is required in a particular job. This alternative is most useful when the multiple competency models are being created within an organization and the Human Resources staff need a way to distinguish the requirements of the different jobs (e.g., to help people within the unit plan career progression paths). 

This approach was used in developing competency models for a variety of jobs in the commercial sales division of a manufacturing company supplying optical fiber for the telecommunications industry. The first step was to agree on a set of generic competencies, including both technical and non-technical ones, to describe the skill requirements for jobs in the commercial sales division. This was accomplished by reviewing, modifying, and adding to a generic competency dictionary. Next, drawing on the generic competency dictionary and other projects involving competency levels, a set of levels for the competencies was drafted. Drafting the levels required first identifying several key dimensions for each competency and then writing behavioral descriptors of several levels. In this case, the internal Human Resources project team wanted three levels specifying basic, intermediate, and advanced demonstrations of each aspect of each competency. The levels for one competency, “Energizing Others,” are shown below:

ResearchReport_Chart_2

As one moves from the basic level to the intermediate and advanced levels, the competency is demonstrated in larger groups and more challenging situations. The behavioral descriptions often target performance outcomes rather than specific behaviors demonstrated to achieve the outcomes.

In deciding which type of behavioral descriptors to use – behavioral indicators, evaluative performance levels, or levels describing job requirements – the most important consideration is how the model will be used. Sometimes, when a model will be used in multiple ways, more than one set of behavioral descriptors may be created. For example, behavioral indicators might be needed to support development planning, and evaluative performance levels to support performance appraisal. 

When 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. The following seven questions may be useful to Human Resouces professionals responsible for planning and implementation:
1. What HR application should be included in the initial model building project?
2. What will the key users of the model need from it?
3. How should key stakeholders be involved?
4. How extensive should the data collection be?
5. How should research be balanced with intuitive approaches?
6. What format of behavioral descriptors will best suit the application?
7. How can additional, future competency models be accomodated?

This blog addresses question #6. Each question is addressed in Key Questions to Answer before Building Competency Models, Adapted From Practical Questions for HR Professionals Who Are Building Competency Models—a Consultant’s Experience By Dr. Richard S. Mansfield.

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Build Better Job Competency Models

 

Many HR executives are satisfied with the competency models they have developed in their organization and about the impact those models have had on their HR practices and the organization as a whole. Many say that they want to improve the models they have created, and some want to trash what they have done and start over, or build models for the first time.

POPULAR MODEL-BUILDING PRACTICES

For those who have already created models, when asked to describe the process they used, many HR professionals say that the models were created by:

  1. Interviewing the CEO, other executives, incumbents of the position being modeled and their managers and asking for their opinion as to the competencies required by employees to carry out the organization’s strategic plan. The focus of the model is often on managers in the organization, and may be referred to as the leadership model.
  2. Collecting the same or similar information in a meeting or series of meetings or focus groups.
  3. Other means, such as card-sorting, surveys, computer selection, off-the shelf models, adaptations of job descriptions, self assessments by employees, etc.
  4. A combination of the above.

Models created using these methods often achieve their intended purpose. Competencies are incorporated into performance management, selection, training, and other HR applications. But, they are “basic” models. They, and the applications that are developed, are based on the opinions of various people about competencies required for specific jobs. They are not determined using a validated, research-based analysis of superior performers. There is a better way, a way that produces a far greater ROI for a model-building project

A BETTER COMPETENCY MODEL – UNBIASED & ACCURATE

I believe that the best methodology for building job competency models is Job Competence Assessment (JCA), developed in the 1970’s by Dr. David McClelland, a pioneer in motivation and competency research and testing at Harvard, and by consultants at McBer and Company.

The modeling process starts with superior performers in a targeted job being identified, and then studied to identify the personal characteristics, skills, and knowledge that they possess that enables them to be superior performers. The methods used to collect data for the study, such as behavioral event interviews and expert panels, are designed to get beneath mere opinions about superior performance and superior performers. Since each organization has its own culture, mission, and ways of doing business, performance in one organization may require competencies that are different than those required in another organization. This is the reason that off-the-shelf models may not be useful.

An adaptation of the JCA methodology is used in Workitect’s consulting practice and is taught in our Building Competency Models workshop. JCA also influences the content of our products, including the Competency Development GuideCompetency Interview Guides, and Competency Dictionary. A detailed description of the JCA methodology is provided in Competence At Work, a book by Spencer & Spencer and on pages 5-7 of Integrating Key Human Resource Processes, a 10-page booklet that describes competencies and how to create an integrated human resource system with applications for selection, succession planning, career pathing, performance management, and training.

Additional Tips On Building Better Models

Changes in organizations and in the world of work over the past 30 years have affected the practice of competency modeling. These changes suggest that seven practical questions be asked and answered by human resource professionals and others who are planning to develop competency models in their organizations. (PDF)

In summary, JCA is an accurate, unbiased approach to predicting job performance and success. It is characterized by its rigorousness and yet its accessibility to managers and HR professionals with little or no background in statistics and competency research, the JCA methodology enables you to match the right people to the right jobs.

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How Competencies Drive Performance Improvement

It is probably safe to assume that, unless we are mentally or psychologically challenged, each of us wants to improve our performance and the competencies that will help us perform. So why is it so difficult for organizations to achieve high levels of individual and organizational performance? There are many factors that influence performance. The development of competencies is, in a broader sense, also about improving performance. As employees and managers working to build additional competencies, it may be helpful to understand some of the key concepts about performance improvement and management.

“Systems thinking” has been found in recent years to be a good way to analyze and solve human and organizational performance problems. Books such as ‘The Fifth Discipline” and “Improving Performance” have helped foster this belief. We can think about each of us being a human performance system. This graphic depicts the various components of this “system in which we receive inputs, and then utilize our competencies to generate outputs. 

In a business setting, the inputs we receive come from our customers and environment, internal or external. We also need clear direction on what is required, access to resources and minimal interference. As the performer, we need the necessary competencies (which include attitude and motivation). There needs to be appropriate consequences for our output. We should receive positive consequences or rewards, e.g. a pat on the back for “doing it right” and negative consequences for not doing it right. The standards or criteria for evaluating performance must be consistent and sound. Is the same “benchmark” or measurement applied to each person? And, finally, do we receive timely, adequate and appropriate feedback on how we did?

This same system applies to the performance of a group of individuals who make up a team or an entire organization. Only this time, individuals need to work together to produce output, and issues such as group processes, strategy, information flow and work processes must be managed in order for the team to be productive.

The disciplines of “organizational development” and “performance technology” utilize models like these to help analyze human and organizational performance problems, and improve performance. “Performance management” utilizes the same principles, but focuses on specific organizational and human resource processes such as goal setting, performance appraisal and pay for performance. Career planning, succession planning and progress reviews are often included. Relating back to the performance models, you can see the importance of providing clear direction, selecting and developing competent employees, providing appropriate consequences and frequent feedback.

The ultimate goal of organization development, performance technology and performance management is the same – to improve performance. Developing your own competencies, or those of others, is one of the most important requirements of performance improvement. (In fact, it is depicted as the center of both performance models.) Although the focus of our Competency Development Guide book is on developing competencies, understanding the entire human performance system may give you added appreciation for the importance of receiving clear direction on what is expected of you, obtaining feedback of how you are doing, etc.

In summary, developing additional competencies will not guarantee an improvement in performance. Other factors contribute to performance. If you have management responsibilities, pay attention to all of the factors so you’re able to create an environment where people are motivated to utilize their competencies. The ideas and tools contained in the Competency Development Guide can help you develop the competencies you need to manage the performance of yourself and others.

What examples do you have of job competency models or competency-based performance management systems producing substantial improvements in organizational results?

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